A couple of weeks ago as Jeff and I sat snacking and discussing our “favorite” topic of conversation – schools – we heard the Pasadena police helicopter begin to buzz overhead. I know that the helicopter serves a purpose, but I have to admit that I loathe it – I find it impossible to relax or feel safe when it drones overhead like an overgrown mosquito – the sound of the blades signaling that there is yet another criminal to pursue. There has been a dramatic increase in crime in and around our neighborhood over the past year and it is now common to hear the helicopter circling over our house three or four times a day – annoying enough during the “short” stints of a few minutes of searching and deeply troubling when it flies above for hours – seeking but never finding its prey. That evening a couple of weeks ago was such a night and after two hours of listening to the helicopter, checking to make sure the house was tightly locked and the alarm system armed, Jeff and I were both noticeably anxious and jumpy wondering what had transpired.
The next morning we found out the grisly details: a young man had been shot and killed about one third of a mile from our house. This murder followed three other shootings within half a mile of our house since January of this year. Then there was also the armed robbery two blocks from the park on the same day of the murder and the armed robbery the week before at the park. The week after the murder there was a stabbing on the train. And let us not forget the burglary of our own house in January and the burglaries of dozens of other houses in the neighborhood over the past year. The phone number to the police department is now programed into my cell phone on speed dial and I have called at least a half a dozen times this year about suspicious cars, drug deals, and kids at the park drinking and bragging about the houses they have broken into.
I distinctly recall one hot July day when Thomas was about eight months old. Thomas was particularly fussy and refusing to sleep and so we took him out on a late night walk. We walked and walked in the refreshingly cool air. Thomas didn’t fall asleep but the night refreshed us all and Jeff and I chatted happily while Thomas calmly looked around in the stroller. We didn’t get home until after midnight. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve taken the train to the farmers market or out to dinner and walked back home well after dark.
We won’t be doing either of those things any more. We just don’t feel that our neighborhood is safe anymore.
We’ve been thinking about moving, applying for and interviewing for jobs out of state for a couple of years now. And although we have both had job offers, in the end we decided that we wouldn’t be happier in those particular locations. Now our equation for happiness has another consideration. I don’t think that I can be fully happy living somewhere that I don’t feel safe going out after dark. I don’t think that I can be happy hearing the helicopter overhead two, three, or four times a day. I don’t think I can be happy when my son asks me when we leave the house, “Mama did you set the alarm, I don’t want any bad guys to get in while we’re gone.”
We don’t know exactly what to do, but we know that we can’t stay here indefinitely anymore. In the words of one of my neighborhood friends, we need an exit strategy. So with heavy hearts we have formulated Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is looking at a few areas to target an intensive job search (right now Portland, Omaha, and Northern VA are under consideration with some Wisconsin and New England possibilities). However, there is absolutely no guarantee (especially in this shitty economy) of actually finding good job(s) in those areas. So Plan B is to consider selling our house sometime in the next year and then move to a nearby city with low crime and better schools (assuming we actually find a city with what we believe are better schools – we will be taking tours this fall). It isn’t clear whether we would buy or rent a house under Plan B. Both of us are still quite firm in our belief that the housing market has a great deal further to fall, yet renting might send me over the edge of sanity. Both buying or renting a house in a safer, better school district would cost us considerably more than what we are paying now. We could afford it – if I worked more and the kids spent more time at daycare – not something any of us want; hence the reason Plan A is our first choice.
In the end, we may be forced by circumstances to choose none of the above and simply stay here. If it wasn’t for the crime and school issues staying here wouldn’t be keeping me up at night. I like our house and despite the prevailing American cultural notion of “bigger is better” I am mostly content with the idea of raising three children in a two bedroom house. In the words of one of our other neighbors who grew up in a rather ghetto area of Los Angeles – this level of crime (and worse) is a way of life in most of the world. Maybe this is the new normal and we just have to deal with it.