“Someone tried to break into our house,” Joel announced as I walked through the door on Monday night. I hadn't thought much of the cop car I'd seen parked in the middle of the block as I came in. There's a decent police presence here, and they often stop their cars to talk with people or write tickets and such. This guy, however, had been talking to everyone on our block after being alerted to a string of alley break-ins that afternoon.
Most rowhouses in Baltimore, including ours, share an alley with their neighbor. The alley runs between the two houses, allowing residents to take things like garbage cans out to the street without having to drag them through the house. Unless you’re us, and your side of the alley is blocked by an adorable scooter, which you have to keep behind the security of a locked alley gate so it doesn’t get stolen. Again. Our neighbor uses her side of the alley as a garbage-storage-site-slash-dog-run for her yappy mutt. Anyway, the situation looks like this:
(Note: totally not our house.)
At some point on Monday afternoon, a gang of miscreant adolescents had tried their best to break the lock on our alley gate using a couple of screwdrivers, a bottle of bike lube, and chunk of broken cement. How do I know all this? Well, they left their set of junior locksmith tools in my potted plant. Plus, a woman across the street watched the entire fiasco and described it to our neighbor when she got home from work, and our neighbor in turn told us. Unfortunately, this woman across the street neglected to do anything about the scene she witnessed – like, say, call the police and report a burglary in progress – but on the plus side our poor little lock held, although it was badly mangled and will need to be replaced. The people a few houses down weren’t so lucky, and the little thugs got into their alley and stole two bikes.
We assume they were after our scooter, which you may remember was already stolen once before. We got that scooter back, by the way, did I ever tell you that? The police recovered it a few days after it was taken, during an unrelated raid. (People are always incredulous that I've never watched The Wire, but why do I need to watch a TV show about crime in Baltimore? We're living the dream!) After a three-day fight with the city lot that houses stolen vehicles and several hundred dollars in ridiculous fees, we dragged it back home in Joel’s old pickup truck. It’s not usable because the thieves destroyed both the ignition and the gas tank when they stole it, but it’s home, resting dejectedly under a tarp on our back patio. We replaced it with a nearly identical scooter from Craigslist, which we keep in the alley, out of sight and behind a locked iron gate.
Our neighbor was quite upset, as were we. We pushed the scooter farther up the alley and closed our secondary gate, which separates our half of the alley from the neighbor’s, so that it’s no longer visible at all from the street. We haven’t ridden the poor thing in over a year because it’s such a pain in the ass to wiggle it out of that alley, which is barely wide enough to accommodate a trash can, let alone a miniature motor vehicle. Now we’ll certainly never use it, since we’d have to haul it to the side just to get that secondary gate open. We should just sell it, but that would be admitting defeat. I almost want to challenge these thugs to a scooter theft olympics; see if you can get it over the secondary 5-foot gate, wiggle it down the ridiculously narrow alley, get the massive Kryptonite lock off the front tire, and then contend with the long-dead battery. It’s also possibly out of gas. Ready? GO.
Last night I was vacuuming the first floor around 10:45 (shut up, my mom is coming to visit this weekend), and Joel pulled aside the curtain and looked out the front window. “Someone’s in the alley!” he said, and raced out the door.
I started FREAKING OUT, justifiably, I think. I dropped the vacuum, grabbed the phone and called 911 – all while trying to look out the window and see if my husband was being stabbed to death outside our house. Dramatic, maybe, but there have been a rash of assaults, muggings, and all other sorts of misdeeds in our neighborhood lately.
I had the following conversation with the woman who answered the phone:
911 operator: “Hello?”
Me: “Someone’s trying to break into my alley! I’m at [my address]!”
911 operator: “Your alley?”
Me: “Yes. Someone is trying to break into my HOUSE. They are in my alley. SEND THE POLICE.”
911 Operator: “OK, we’ll send a unit.” [CLICK]
I have a few problems with this conversation:
- What ever happened to answering the phone with “911, what is your emergency?”
- Could you please hold the backtalk and just send the fucking police? I realize that this whole alley-between-houses thing can be confusing to people who don’t live in this city, HOWEVER, you’d think a 911 operator would be somewhat familiar with the city they serve, or at very least have the courtesy dispatch police first and ask questions later. And sure, maybe I wasn’t being crystal-clear, but I think that’s acceptable when you are in the midst of being burglarized.
- So that whole “Don’t hang up, ma’am, help is on the way?” line is just a TV gimmick? CLICK, gotta go, have fun with that burglary in progress you’ve got going on isn't quite as reassuring.
Just as the 911 operator was hanging up on me, Joel came back in (without any stab wounds). It turned out that the hooligans hadn’t actually gotten into the alley, they were just messing with the lock again (fine, but he said IN THE ALLEY, Ms. 911 Operator. Bite me.). The police did arrive 11 minutes after I’d called 911 (yeah, I timed it), took a description from Joel and headed off in the direction the thugs had fled to resume their patrol. We went to bed, I moved to the couch at 2am and finally fell asleep around 3:30. It was a very restful evening, as you can imagine. Around 2am I had the brilliant idea to use one the U-locks we have for our bikes as a failsafe in case the bandits came back and finally managed to crack the lock on the gate, but I was far too scared to go outside.
I clipped the bike lock onto the gate before I left for work this morning. Yippee-kay-ay-ay, motherfuckers. I am so very ready to get out of this city.