Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Sleepless Night in Chopper City

Wherein a very long post describing the latest, freshest Hell that 2008 had in store for me....

Late Tuesday night I got a call from my brother. He's been living with my mother for the last several years. I'm not particularly happy with this arrangement for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. But it does (allegedly) have two benefits: first, he can keep an eye on her health-wise; and second, I hope that his presence will help deter the neighborhood thugs from trying anything too egregious. Tuesday night it got put to the test.

Sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 PM two men kicked in a side door to the house. (There may have been a third man involved. That point isn't clear.) That door leads into the room that we made by enclosing the garage. It's just a storage room now, so that door is rarely if ever used. Because of that it has had a heavy bolt lock instead of a regular door knob. It's a heavy duty lock, and so it held. So did the frame of the door. But the door itself splintered horizontally at the level of the lock. The door caved in, the lock fell to the ground, and in came the wolves.

Here I'd better give a brief description of the layout of the house. The garage room leads into the back of the house. That's where Mom spends most of her time, regardless of whether she's awake or asleep. (She's been in the habit of sleeping on the couch since I was a little boy.) This back room (which is another addition to the original house) opens into the rest of the house, which is laid out kind of like an 'L'. At the top of the 'L' are the two main bedrooms and the back room is at the lower left end. My brother sleeps in one bedroom, Mom occasionally sleeps in the other.

Another thing to know is that my mother is completely deaf in one ear and probably about 90% deaf in the other ear, and she refuses to get a hearing aid. This means that when she watches TV it's turned up LOUD. You can clearly make out what's being said at the front door of the house. Between that noise, the lights in the house, and the two cars in front of the house, it had to be obvious to the thieves that the house was occupied. They didn't care.

So they kicked in the side door, ransacked the garage room and then moved into the rest of the house. (Amongst the items they stole from the garage: a new shop vac, and a large supply of paper towels and toilet paper. No, I'm not making that up.) Here's the first incredible thing: My mother slept through the whole episode! (She once famously slept through at least one devastating hurricane, as well, so I shouldn't be surprised. I come from a family that sleeps soundly, when we finally get to sleep.) Sleeping through this may or may not have prevented something really terrible from happening to her.

But as it was the thieves passed her by and ransacked other parts of the house, especially her bedroom. The got away with some jewelry and such, but nothing truly important. The thieves made at least three trips to their car to load up their ill-gotten (and ultimately rather petty) gains. They also raided the back porch and stole Mom's lawn mower. They had moved a bunch of tools around to the front corner of the house but they got scared off before they could get it loaded up.

Eventually my brother, who is another famously sound sleeper, woke up to go to the bathroom. As he was returning to bed he saw a couple of shadows pass in the hall. Realizing that there should have at most been only one shadow he followed them into the front room. At that point they realized that HE was there and fled the scene. They must have known that he was in the house, but they must not have thought that he would wake up.

I can only assume that they thought Mom must have had a lot of jewelry or that my brother was a drug dealer. Wrong on both counts. I imagine that's why they ran off when my brother startled them. Someone breaking into an occupied house HAS to be prepared for violence. They probably decided that it just wasn't worth the trouble at that point. I should note that there has been a wave of home invasions and burglaries in recent weeks (No shit!), and the homeowners have frequently been shot. So I guess that Mom and my brother sleeping through most of the event was actually a blessing in disguise - it gave the crooks enough time to realize there was no point in committing additional felonies.

After the thieves fled my brother called the police and then woke Mom up. (!!!) When the police arrived they started putting the story together. This was greatly helped by the eyewitness who had seen everything. A neighbor had been sitting out in front of her house and watched the whole thing, which is how we know for example how long they were in the house. Now this leads me to the second incredible part of the story: The neighbor never called the police! For all the neighbor knew my mother was being raped and killed next door and the neighbor didn't do squat to help. Not one god damned thing. You see, the neighbor is black, the thieves were black, and Mom is white. She'd never turn in a brother to help a white person. (My mother and brother account for two of the three white people still living in that neighborhood. I guess they're the blockbusters now.)

So around 1 AM my brother called me and told me what was going on. He wanted me to bring Mom back to my place. Fortunately I hadn't gone to bed yet, so I put on some clothes, woke up Kim and explained the situation, and drove over to Mom's house.

I live about 30 minutes away. (That's the middle-of-the-night-no-one-else-on-the-road-going-15-mph-above-the-speed-limit time.) On the way over I reflected on the fact that I was driving down Murder Alley to Murder Central. These are just the names I use for the route I take. The local paper had mapped all the murders in Orlando and Orange County for 2007 a couple of months back and I noticed that the biggest cluster was in my old neighborhood and that a great many others were centered on John Young Parkway starting at Sand Lake Road and heading north into Pine Hills. That's also my route to Mom's house. (There's also another cluster of murders in the east part of town where another big section of illegals live. Mexico's chief exports are dirt cheap labor and crime.) It really put me in the mood for the night, and I was good and paranoid when I got near Pine Hills. I decided to take Colonial over to Pine Hills Road so as to try and bypass any shit that might be going on near Mercy Drive. (You've still got to cross Mercy Drive but I know and trust the intersection at Colonial more than I trust the intersection on Princeton.) Turns out I had made a good call as there were about 8 police cars in the middle of Colonial near Mercy with their lights going, with more backup arriving as I sped by. I have no idea what was going on, nor do I really care - just another night of fun in northwest Orlando. Some asshole was probably being tazed and beaten into a bloody pulp by the police, but I didn't have time to stop and cheer.

When I got to the house the police had already left. I took a look around the house and noticed a few other things that had been stolen and some items that they had meant to steal but left behind in their haste. I checked out the door and inspected everything I could think might be important. After talking it over with Mom and my brother I decided that it would be better for me to stay their with them instead of leaving my brother alone. I didn't really think they would come back (I mean, there just isn't that much to steal), but I didn't think leaving someone behind was a good idea. I talked them into getting some sleep. We had already barricaded the broken door, so if anyone came through that direction they would at least have to make enough noise to alert me. So I sat up through most of the rest of the night with a machete in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

Really the cell phone was the better of the two weapons. The machete would be useless against a gun and if the attackers were Haitian (highly probable in Pine Hills) then they would know a hell of a lot more about hacking people up with a machete than I do. Curse my lousy education! But with the cell phone I could at least give the police a description of my killer before dying. All of which is to say that for the second time this year I really REALLY wished that I owned firearms. I may have to correct that situation in the near future.

But night gave way to dawn without incident, and so clean up and repair work began.

The most immediately frustrating part is that none of this should have happened. My mother HAS the financial wherewithal to move. We've been trying to get her to leave for years, but she just won't budge. This isn't going to change her mind either. She's the original owner of the house, and when she moved into the house in late in October of 1960 she swore she'd never move again. She appears set on living up to that vow even if it kills her. (Or me. I'm lucky that the drug dealers across the street don't realize that it was me they were trying to catch in a car chase one afternoon. Fortunately I know those streets way better than they do.)

I'd say that I really hate my old neighborhood now, but that's not fair. Pine Hills now is not the same as Pine Hills then. The same is true of Orlando in a larger sense, too. The city has grown so rapidly that it bares no resemblance to the city I grew up in, or even to the city that I moved away from in December of 1994. (I returned in September 2003.) Hell, most of the people here don't even know that they should hate Shaquille O'Neal for screwing over the city all those years ago. (And no, it's not that he left, it's how he left.)

All the growth (which has been cancerous in its appetite) has wiped away almost all the vestiges of where I grew up. I can't even imagine what it's like for natives that are 20 or more years older than me. When I was just a child they said the town was unrecognizable from when they grew up. Everything has changed. The orange groves are mostly gone because of the combination of the southward creep of the frost line and the ravenous development. All of the wild spaces are gone, too.

In 1980 Disney World to the southwest was way past everything, as was Orlando International Airport to the south and UCF to the east. All three of those landmarks are essentially in the middle of town now. And the people just keep coming! In the next 40 years the state of Florida is supposed to add as many people to its population as now live in New York state. I almost hope the worst of the Global Warming scenarios is true. I'd love to see all of these people who have ruined the quality of life down here get chased away by a mighty flood. Besides, I always wanted to be buried at sea.

(It's hysterical to hear someone who moved here in 1998 or 2000 talk about how the place isn't as wonderful as it used to be. No shit, asshole, it's because you're here now!)

No, the City Beautiful, which used to deserve that moniker long ago, gave way to the City Plastic, and hence to the City Suburban Blight. With that blight has come crime, displacement, more crime, yet more suburban sprawl and blight, and the destruction of anything that resembles community.

When I grew up in Pines Hills we knew everyone that lived around us. We knew their habits and foibles and who could be counted on in a pinch. I've lived in my current neighborhood just shy of 5 years now and I don't know the name of even one neighbor. I still know the people around Mom's house, though. Rather I know what they do for a living. The house across the streets where the W**** Family used to live, whose children I grew up with, is now owned by a not-terribly-successful drug dealer. Two houses down from that house where the crazy Greek Orthodox family lived, towards the lake at the end of the street, lives the guy who breeds pit bulls for dog fighting. (He advertises when he has a new batch of pups ready for the ring with hand painted signs in his front yard.) Across the street from them is the house where the people who broke into Mom's house the other night live. (Yeah, we even know who committed the crime, but they'll never get caught or even serve a day for it. However, if I'm lucky, they may get pulled over by the cops at random some night and get the living shit beat out of them. Use the Tazer! The Tazer! God Bless Local Law Enforcement!) I haven't checked in a while, but last time I did there were several rapists and pederasts living within a block of Mom's house. Pine Hills is where all of the sex offenders go to live (or at least where they say they live) when they can't get housing anywhere else.

Yep, Chopper City, nee Pine Hills, is the shittiest place in town, and possibly the worst place between Liberty City in Miami and whatever passes for a bad neighborhood in Atlanta. I actually heard someone bragging recently that it is purportedly the "ghettoist" place in the South now, but that seems like wishful thinking. Surely New Orleans is worse. But I guess we take pride where we can. (It seems I forgot to write the post I had intended about Pine Hills Second Most Famous Former Resident. If you want to know how bad Chopper City is, consider this: at least one African dictator hired his chief torturer from Chopper City. Yes, this guy grew up in my old neighborhood. Out-stand-ing!)

As I've been typing this I've been listening to the street racers tearing ass up and down John Young Parkway and Orange Blossom Trail. The roads are each about a mile away from the house, but the racers like to set up their rides to make the maximum amount of noise. Too bad they don't actually learn how to drive. Several of them seem to get killed racing every month. When we're lucky they only kill themselves, but sometimes they kill other drivers or even pedestrians. I remember a few months ago they seemed to have all decided at once that it would be better to race in the morning, and in the space of a week about three elementary school students got run over by these idiots.

You know, if it wasn't for the weather and the skies I wouldn't even know this was my home town. Everything else is completely alien at this point, including the people and the spoken language. There are too damned many people for the local environment to sustain. The aquifers can't handle the increased water demand, the local infrastructure has NOT grown enough to support all of these people, and the strain is showing. If there's an afterlife then I can only hope the developers and the politicians who have created this mess all find suitable punishments in Hell.

The worst is that there's no place else to go. Anyplace else where I would want to live has already experienced this burst of growth, or is about to. (For example, sleepy little Gainesville is supposed to be as big as present-day Orlando in another 50 years. There won't be an oak left standing in that town by then.) And I would HATE to be the person that ruins someone else's paradise by showing up and fucking up the place. No reason to add that to my personal list of sins.

God, I hate this city.


Trooper York said...

That is an amazing story. I feel for you and your mom. Most of the idoits who post on Althouse have never been the victim of a crime or have the fustration of knowing who did something and having no way to right the wrong. Maybe you should get your mom one of those pit bulls or some other dog. That might be the only safeguard you might have. Good luck man, I feel for you and will remember your mom in my prayers.

reader_iam said...

This is the best post you've ever done.

Cold fury works for you.

reader_iam said...

Oh, and hi, Troop!

('Pick, speaking of deteriorating neighborhoods! Prepare for insults rendered in Creole, or something.

; ) )

vh: sxcut

Trooper York said...

Reader you are such a saucy minx.

Icepick said...

Thanks for the kind words, guys & gals. They are appreciated.

Reader you are such a saucy minx.

She has been lately!

bill said...

One set of neighbors breaking in the house when they know people are there and another set of neighbors just sitting on their asses watching the whole thing. That's just all kinds of bad.

I foresee the day when you and Hiaasen just start feeding people to the alligators.

ps: just reminding myself I need to send you an email, we'll be down there in June.

Icepick said...

If I'm really lucky I can get Michael yon to help out, too. He's also a Florida boy, moreso than I am, in fact.

Bill, do you have my home and/or work email? If not I'll email them to you tonight.

bill said...

Email addresses -- I know I have the work address.

justkim said...

Rage has always worked for him.

The sad thing is that he's not kidding even a little bit. The worst part is that, with regard to his mother, our hands are completely tied.

Pastor_Jeff said...


Somehow I missed the post in my feed reader, so I'm a little late here. Sorry to hear about the mess with your mom and especially the uncaring neighbors. Thank goodness she's okay. I'll be praying for your mom.

Icepick said...

Jeff, prey for her to see the light on the value of moving.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Oh, I will. I know only a little of what you're going through.

My mom's in Florida (800 miles from the nearest son), crippled with arthritis, and getting to where she can't physically manage on her own. But she doesn't want assisted living, and she doesn't want to move. I can certainly understand her feelings, but I am concerned for her health and safety.

We've entered the stage of life where we're caring for kids and parents both.

I will be praying for you and your mom.