Saturday, September 6, 2008
A recipe for neighborhood peace and quiet
Following Hurricane Gustav, a number of residents in various areas have formed their own temporary Neighborhood Watch-style organizations. They're different from normal Neighborhood Watch groups in several ways. For a start, everyone in them knows each other, and knows who can be relied on in their neighborhoods. Secondly, the groups actually go out on patrol, particularly during the hours of darkness, and particularly in areas where the power's still out. Finally, they're armed - sometimes heavily so.
We've had the usual crop of wannabe looters, thieves, fake "contractors" out to do quick - and very shady - business, and so on. The "contractors" are the main problem. They're typically unqualified to do anything, unlicensed, not bonded or insured, and usually out to steal what they can and then run for it. They particularly look for confused or elderly residents, who can be "hustled" into signing a contract and/or providing a large cash payment up front. Of course, as soon as they're paid, the "contractors" disappear, never to be seen again. Another tactic is to move into a yard and start cleaning up hurricane debris without so much as a "by-your-leave". When the homeowner comes out and objects, he/she is told that they "owe" money for the work already done, and if they don't pay, there'll be "trouble".
Around here, those tactics don't work. We've distributed our telephone numbers to all nearby, and asked them to call us if there's any indication of trouble. We also patrol our area at night, taking it in shifts, keeping an eye on houses whose occupants have evacuated, or who are on duty with law enforcement, medical services, fire brigades and other essential services. Of course, we've informed our local cops about our activities, and they're very happy about it. It means they can deploy their limited resources to areas where they're most needed, and leave us to handle things here. (The fact that a number of us, including yours truly, are former or retired military or law enforcement personnel of one sort or another also helps matters.)
My small group has had a fairly peaceful time (somewhat to some members' disappointment, remembering the shenanigans after Katrina). We've detained three people and called the local PD to pick them up for questioning. Two were alleged "contractors", and one was the former husband of a resident (who has a restraining order against him). She'd evacuated North, with her kids, and he apparently decided that this was a great time to break into her home and trash the place. She'd warned us of her absence, and his proclivities, so some of our group were keeping an eye on the place. The muzzle of a 12-gauge shotgun, placed gently over the point of his nose, persuaded him to remain very (very!) still while waiting for the cops to take matters further. He's now sitting behind bars, and will doubtless stay there for some time.
Our group's downright jealous of another, a few streets away. In that street there's an elderly couple in a small cottage. Their neighbors on either side evacuated North, but this couple have ridden out Heaven knows how many storms together, and decided they'd stay put. After Gustav blew through, they got together with some other, equally elderly folks nearby to form a temporary ad-hoc watch group, just as we did. They include veterans from the Second World War and Korean War. (Vietnam vets and those from later conflicts are regarded with tolerant affection as "youngsters".) So far their tally is up to seven looters and/or scumbags and/or wannabe "contractors" and/or others nailed on general suspicion, as in "Ya sure don't look like ya belong around here, boy!" (The term "boy" is generic - anyone younger than 60 [including yours truly] qualifies, irrespective of race, creed, etc.)
(Hint to wannabe looters: "ghetto"-style gangbanger clothing isn't normally encountered on our streets - or not for long, anyway!)
Grandpa's leading the charge with his trusty Winchester .30-30, which dates back to 1923! It was his father's before him. The blueing's long since worn off, leaving only silvery metal behind, and the stock and fore-end are dinged and dented, but he's maxed out his deer limit every year since Noah with that darn rifle. I'd hate to have him shooting at me with it! Grandma and the other ladies back up the good ol' boys with copious amounts of coffee and soup. Grandma dishes it up hot and strong several times each night, kept company by her "old faithful" Stevens double-barrel 16ga. shotgun, also worn silver, and the victor of many contests with ducks and other feathered things.
(I asked her, just yesterday, "Why a 16ga.?" She informed me, with a gentle smile, that a 12ga. "wasn't considered ladylike when I was growing up", while a 20ga. wasn't big enough for ducks. That made a 16ga. "just right for a lady." Hey, who am I to argue?)
Their oldest son (now in his late 50's) and his son (now in his mid-30's) came in yesterday from out of State, wanting to make sure that their parents/grandparents were OK after the storm. Not only were they doing fine, but son and grandson got roped into the evening's patrols. The grandson, who served a term in the Marines, found the whole thing hugely amusing, and told me privately that these "old guys" were probably better shots, and more dangerous men, than his former uniformed colleagues. He'll get no argument from me on that score!
The success of our neighboring group has caused much grumbling among some of our members, complete with suggestions that our neighbors are "hunting over bait" because so many houses in their street are dark and empty. There's been talk of us going over there to help them (a.k.a. "poaching"), but so far Grandpa's firmly refused our offers of "assistance". He's having too much fun with his huntin', shootin' and fishin' buddies! We haven't pressed the point, but members of both groups occasionally rendezvous for coffee and soup with Grandma, or come over this way to sample what our local families can provide. There's this couple who make the best home-made jelly donuts I've ever tasted . . . (Slurp! Yum!) I, on the other hand, have (or, rather, used to have) a bottle of genuine ten-year-old French Calvados, which goes down very well with coffee. Seems these old guys have acquired a taste for it - I've been instructed to acquire a few more bottles. "Hey, hurricane season ain't half over yet, boy! Stock up now, so you'll be ready for us next time!"
The cops don't even bother to drive down our streets now. They just wait for the call, come and pick up our "harvest", thank us, and get back to patrolling harder-hit areas.
It's kinda nice living here.