Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer suspicion season

My existence depends on people not paying attention. I live in people's neighborhoods, at their sufferance. As long as they don't notice me, I'm happy and safe. That's usually the case with suburbanites-- they're locked in their houses in front of the TV most of the time. And especially in winter, which is rainy season here in California.

But summer is the season of suburbanites stepping out of their houses for the first time in 9 months, and actually talking to each other. They finally start paying attention to what's going on... including my presence, and suddenly they don't like it.

This happens to me every summer. Last year it really rattled me. This year, I've gotten used to it. The solution that worked last year, and will probably work this year too, is simply to abandon my favorite spots and find new ones.

But when suburban suspicion hits, it really hits me like a punch in the stomach. It's very unsettling. And I've had three of these in the last week! First, in one of my favorite spots, two people were walking some dogs. The dogs were barking like crazy at my van. The man walking the dogs doesn't think it's any big deal. The woman walking with him is wondering why the dogs are freaking out. She asks him whose truck that is. He says, "Hmm, it's a commercial truck, but there's no sidepanel on it, could be anyone's, I don't know", and doesn't give it another thought. She's not buying it though. On the way back, the dogs freak out some more, and she says, "Wow, they keep wanting to look backwards". Yeah, at me, no doubt. I saw no reason to panic-- thanks to the man's utter lack of concern--, but I left the next morning, haven't been back, and won't be until fall, thank you very much.

Then two days later, another favorite spot, I park at like 10pm, and get ready for bed. As is my habit, I usually turn off my headlights and just use parking lights to park. And I hear someone saying, "It drove up with its lights off!" Great. In this case, I left immediately.

Then another couple days later, in a totally new spot in a somewhat more rural area that I rarely visit, I wake up from a nap to hear two neighbors talking to each other, and one guy says, "Something's not right about that truck." Then I hear the other one talking about blocking the street or sidewalk (I was parked same as everyone on that street), how technically something or other, etc. I left an hour later.

What's hard about this is that I feel like I'm getting beaten up, from all sides, and that there is nowhere I can be safe. I need to escape to a place where I'm not hated and feared. It is no fun to be hated and feared.

Last year I went camping, where I could pay for a parking space and be somewhere I had absolutely every right-- I paid for it!-- to be. And that took the anxiety off. And then I started just looking for new parking spots. I think that will work this year too, so off I will go.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The sounds of Crown Victoria

I have really good hearing. This helps me with a lot of things, like overhearing conversations, or diagnosing/recognizing mechanical problems. It's also annoying, as when I'm parked around noisy motors, power tools, etc.

But another useful thing is that I can recognize very clearly the sound of some vehicles. Crown Victorias, for example, with their police-outfitted engines, are very unique-sounding. Whenever I hear one, I know exactly what it is (and it almost always gets my heart rate up too) . A trip over to the window-- or the sound of a radio, or worse, a flashing light, a knock on the door, or a ticket on the windshield-- always confirms it (though I have occasionally confused a taxicab-- still a Crown Vic with the same kind of configuration).

I think the unique thing about those vehicles is the way they idle. They're powerful engines, and always well-maintained, but they sound like they're working hard at idle. They usually have either two alternators or a very heavy-duty alternator, to run all the police-related 12v equipment (laptop, sirens, radios, powerful lights, etc), so that's probably why the engine is pulling hard at idle. The loud whining/grinding of the alternator is an easy giveaway too.

So the past two days, in two completely different jurisdictions, I've heard cops idling near me. Very disconcerting, but apparently they weren't interested in me, which was a huge relief.

Two days ago, in the middle of the night, I heard one idling, for about 15-20 minutes. The cop got out of the car, walked around-- thankfully, not towards me. Then got back in. No radio sounds, no lights. I didn't hear the cop drive off, but all of a sudden the sound was gone. Huh? I went to the window and looked around-- nobody around. Wow, he drove off fast, and cleanly and SMOOTHLY too, no screeching tires. Just vaporized, from idling to gone in an instant. Then a few minutes later, off in the distance, I hear a siren, and some very serious guy talking at someone through a megaphone. Hmm, well maybe the cop was sitting around doing paperwork, or getting instructions, or something. Sounds like he got whomever he was looking for. I looked in the morning, and no tickets on my windsheild, no "friendly notices", nothing. So that was good.

Yesterday, in broad daylight, in a totally different city, I hear the same sound. This time I go right to the window, and sure enough, the cop is right there acrooss the street. He's parked on the opposite side of the street, which is a very good sign-- when they are after you they park behind you, so if you drive off they can run after you, or directly in front blocking you, or both. The cop doesn't get out of the car. About 20 minutes later, he drives off. Hmm, another paperwork moment? I have no idea.

I'm pretty sure none of them are interested in me or has any reason to be. I don't worry nearly as much as I used to, now that I have a bit more understanding of what they're about and what motivates them.

A few months ago I was parked in a huge shopping mall parking lot with 4 cop cars parked right next to me-- all of them hanging out-- while I was doing the same-- visiting with a friend in here--, and I had no fear at all, just said my goodbyes after a while and then drove off. They either didn't know or didn't care that I was there-- just another delivery truck serving one of the businesses in the mall.

So this cops-idling-around-me thing is probably coincidence, but if it keeps going on, then I'll have to try to figure out what's up and why.