K. Mennem 7:17 p.m., June 17
The cultural dichotomy of my neighborhood is one that leaves me with polarized feelings of appreciation and resentment. Though my apartment building is technically located in Talmadge, it has more resemblance to City Heights. For all of the San Diego transplants, I’ll explain each. City Heights is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the United States. It is located in central San Diego, in which the residents are mainly poor and “working poor”. Talmadge is adjacent to City Heights, and is a predominantly white, middle/upper-middle class suburb. Within Talmadge, there is a noticeable divide in which south of Madison Ave. resembles City Heights, more so than Talmadge. When I cross my street to the north, I literally go from Boyz N The Hood to Leave It To Beaver.
I’ve lived in this community for 6 years. I can afford some of the cheaper housing in the area, while enjoying the view of green lawns and eclectic homes during walks with my son. As a pre-licensed marriage and family therapist, and part-time college lecturer, I consider myself close to being on the verge of success. After three decades of poverty and struggle, I look forward to owning one of those homes that I mentioned. My sentiments towards Talmadge changed a bit after an incident that took place on the night of May 4th 2008.
It happened at approximately 10:00pm. After an intense argument with my lovely wife (ex-wife), I decided to use one of the anger management skills that I teach to troubled youth. I left my apartment and started walking. I had no destination, just needed to do something physical and get fresh air. Walking north of Madison Avenue, I called a close friend on my cell phone. About 10 minutes into my walk through the peaceful, quiet, and lit streets of Talmadge, I was startled by the headlights of a vehicle pulling up behind me. My heart took a brief recess, as I spun around, barely able to get the words “what the…” out of my mouth. The vehicle behind me was a white van with the words Talmadge Neighborhood Watch on the side. I made sure to stay on the phone, so that my friend could witness whatever was about to go down. The driver was a retirement aged white male and the passenger a white lady in her 40’s. My heart clocked back in to work (but at a vigorous pace), as the passenger asked me a series of questions:
“Where are you going”, “Where do you live”, and “What is your name”, etc…
By this time, a brief moment of fear had turned into anger. The lady claimed that residents in the area reported a suspicious looking man wondering through the neighborhood. She asked me if I was with the “two Hispanic women seen sitting in their car up the street”. My answers to her question were:
“Don’t worry about where I’m going”, “I live on Winona Ave.”, “You don’t need to know my name”, and “No, I’m not with them”.
Of course my answers also contained a few expletives. I refused to answer anymore of her questions, and continued walking and talking on my phone. About 5 minutes and a two blocks later, I noticed the van trailing a half block behind me. I stopped, waited for them to approach, and asked what the problem was. She continued to ask questions, almost inviting me to cuss her out. I told her to stop harassing me, and to call the police if I did something wrong. She replied:
“I already called them, they are on their way”.
I also told her that I have a right to walk in my neighborhood without being harassed. If I was a criminal, she would’ve been my very first victim! Besides, who burglarizes homes at night wearing a white t-shirt, grey sweats, and running shoes? I guess a crack head or a tweeker would…but I digress. I demanded the information to the next neighborhood watch meeting, so I could give them the business. She fumbled her words, while trying to quickly think of the false information that she gave me. I continued walking, and as I got closer to my apartment I spotted two police cars coming my way. They pulled over and I put my phone in my pocket without hanging up. Hopefully, I’d have a witness to my potential ass whoopin’ by America’s Finest. As one of the cops interviewed me and took my information, a third cop car pulled up. All of this for a suspicious wanderer! I’m sure that someone on the other side of El Cajon Boulevard was being stabbed or robbed, while they were shaking me down. However, the cop was a nice guy, and after he realized that the call was bullshit, he told me to have a good night. When I arrived at home, I took a shot of something warm, and watched ESPN Sportscenter. I had forgotten about the initial argument with my wife…it was irrelevant.
I found out the correct information for the neighborhood watch meeting from the Mid-City Police Department. Two weeks later, I went to the meeting and told them what happened. The “neighborhood zealot” was present and on the defense. She accused me of being belligerent and aggressive. Of course I was belligerent! She scared the mess out of me and then interrogated me! The end result was an apology by their person in charge, and an invitation to be a part of the neighborhood watch. No thanks!
Since then, I’ve moved a couple of blocks away, but still on the more affordable side of Talmadge. There is an alley behind my apartment building, where some shady activities occur sometimes. I often wonder, “Where was that ‘neighborhood zealot’ when someone knocked down my patio fence running from the police?” Where were they when a suspected pimp beat the mess out of a lady right in front of my bedroom window? Or, when someone stole my grandpa’s fishing poles out of my patio? Would she have pulled up behind that pimp, driving the Talmadge-mobile and asked him where he lived? I doubt that. I also realize that if the over-zealous patrol woman was armed, it could’ve easily turned into a Travon Martin incident. Vigilantes are often more dangerous than the police.
Despite all of this, I continue to enjoy walks with my son through the “Mayfield” side of the neighborhood. In the daytime, the people of Talmadge are nice and friendly. At night however, they are vigilant and suspicious of those who look different. How could a counselor, educator, and law abiding citizen turn into the boogie man within a few hours? Regardless of the answer, I got their message loud and clear. If I need to take a night-time walk, I’m better off walking down El Cajon Blvd. where I blend in.