Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Adventures at Wal-Mart

I was out of Sudafed, and the last few nights I've had some sinus congestion that was making it a bit challenging to breathe at bedtime. So I decided I'd better head over to Wal-Mart before the pharmacy closed at 9:00 and get some more.

Everything went smoothly inside the store. I got my drugs, picked up a couple bananas, had no wait in line, and then walked out the door toward my car. I had a really great parking spot very close to the door, and on the way I saw a couple cars, one of which was a police car, coming down the next lane where a tall man was waving his hand up above his head, trying to get someone's attention. It quickly became clear that the man wanted the cop.

He walked around to my lane with the police cruiser following him, and by that time I was at my car. The man pointed to another car two spots over, and the cop got out of his car while I got into mine and settled my stuff on the passenger seat. I wasn't overly filled with curiosity as I started up the car, but when I looked in the rearview mirror, the cop car was blocking me.

Okaaaaay. I stayed put.

After a little bit, I got out of the car to see if the policeman was nearly finished, just in time to see him shining a small flashlight in the car with his left hand while he held his cocked gun in his right. He said, "All of you in the car, put your hands up and keep them there."

I was stunned into motionlessness. Then the cop straightened further, pointed his gun more menacingly at the windshield and said, "If you put your hands down one more time, I will shoot you."

I got back in my car.

The police officer stayed there with his flashlight and gun pointed at the car until another officer, also with flashlight and drawn weapon, arrived at the front of the car and then moved out of my view, which was partially blocked by the car next to me and by the reflection of one of the parking lot trees in all the side windows of the suspects' car. But not long after that I saw in my mirror that the second cop was cuffing and frisking someone, who he led away to one of the (now) two police vehicles.

When the second cop came back, the first one had the driver get out of his car, which he did by sliding out the window. Police #1 proceeded to search and cuff the driver and then lead him away, presumably to police car #1. The second cop was talking to someone who was still in the suspect car, and I rolled down my window a bit and heard him saying there had been a report of one of the people in that vehicle having a weapon, so they were being arrested and he really appreciated the suspect's cooperation. This conversation happened with the gun still trained on the car.

After cop #1 came back, a third suspect was taken out of the car, cuffed, searched, and made to sit on the curb next to the rear of my car. Finally, the fourth person was arrested, and as he was led away, the other two officers (a third had arrived by then) searched the interior of the empty car with their flashlights as best they could through the windows.

Then one of them saw me watching, and I gave him a smile that I hoped conveyed appreciation without any exasperation. He walked away from the car and said to the first cop, "I'm going to move this vehicle (police car #1) so she can get out." Before he did, he apologized to me, and I said, "No, no. I'm fine."

As soon as it was clear, I backed out of my really great parking spot very close to the door and stopped when I was alongside where the police car had been moved. I told the officer, "Thank you. And thank you for what you do."

I drove home with my Sudafed and my bananas and a shifting sense of the world I live in.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Good News Indeed

I was checking the news before bed tonight, and I saw that Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, is dead. It was a little strange for me to learn this, because it comes on the heels of a conversation I had with my son just a few weeks ago. Before that I hadn't thought of Ramirez for years.

My son had come over to hang out, and he asked me about Ramirez and what it was like then. The question came up because my son had posted about the killer on his tumblr blog, Today in Depressing History, back in April.

We lived in the city of Orange in the year of 1985, with our brand new baby boy, when Ramirez was doing his serial killing. CNN's Greg Botelho describes that time this way:

A serial murderer, a serial rapist, a Satan worshiper, a man who inflicted physical and emotional pain on his victims in myriad ways. Richard Ramirez was all those things, but to Californians terrorized during his violent spree in the spring and summer of 1985, he was simply the "Night Stalker."

Botelho didn't come close to capturing the feeling. Yes, we were terrorized, but it was a terror that went on, night after night, week after week, seemingly without end. At first they called him the "Walk-In Killer," because he simply walked into the homes of so many of his victims, through slider doors or windows left open to the cooling night air. Even after checking that every one of our windows and doors was firmly locked before we went to bed, we didn't sleep well. The word was out that his victims all lived close to freeways, and our house was just a few blocks away from three different freeways (just below the "O" of "Orange" on the interactive map (move the map up a bit), two towns south of Fullerton and Yorba Linda).

We lived on a short cul de sac and knew our neighbors pretty well. Every morning we checked the paper for news, dreading there being another victim and hoping for word of the killer's capture. Every evening the neighbors would all talk about the latest that we'd learned, trying to glean some bit of information that might make us safer.

The men on our block, especially, felt the burden of trying to safeguard their families. Finally, three or four of the men, all of whom owned guns, decided to mount an all-night, armed patrol. Each one took a two-hour shift on the roof of his own house and watched over the street. The neighbor a couple doors down told us one morning that during his shift that night, a van had cruised into the cul de sac as though casing the place. When the neighbor made his and his shotgun's presence known, the van turned and rushed away.

We slept well, in peace, through the nights of those two weeks of patrol, but the men were getting tired. They started talking about reducing the patrols. And then the news came that Ramirez, who had only a day or two before been identified as the suspect, was caught and had the crap beaten out of him by some people in Los Angeles. It was satisfying to hear that, but I was disappointed that the police stopped them before they finished him off, because the relentless fear he put us through--millions of us in the greater Los Angeles area--deserved so much worse than the beating they gave him.

The death of Richard Ramirez today doesn't make us safer, since he was securely behind bars, but it does remove the possibility of his escape. He was an unrepentant, savage murderer, and I for one am glad he no longer draws breath but is enduring the torment he chose for himself while he lived. May God have mercy on me for my hard heart.