In my year of no-fixed-address, I have repeatedly come up against the creepy car phone convo conundrum. While living with friends or in a barely assembled house whose walls are full of holes or half started upgrades, I find my car is the only place I can have a guaranteed private phone conversation, and so frequently that’s where I’ll go for longer conversations with friends.
In Parker, Colorado that sometimes means I pull over a couple of blocks away from the house where I live in Pinery Glen, to avoid both the creepy sitting-in-one’s-driveway convo, and the exhausting driving-around-aimlessly convo. The last night I did this several concerned neighbors called the police, alarmed that my stationary phone-talking position meant that I was casing their homes, and possibly relaying vital information about their valuables to a co-conspirator over the airwaves. The Parker police to responded to the call were visibly bored when none of their theories about me panned out–no, I wasn’t drunk (I even stepped out of the car and walked around successfully) –no, I wasn’t transporting clearly marked bags of cocaine (my trunk did reveal two old California license plates, which the cop cunningly deduced meant I had “just moved from California.” I didn’t argue. I like to keep these exchanges as streamlined as possible)–no, I wasn’t sobbing or distraught. I was really just talking on my phone in a parked car in my neighborhood. Just to be sure, they called in my address, license number, and also made a note of the make and model of my vehicle, and sent me on my way with the instructions to either talk on the phone in my driveway, my garage, or my home in the future. And then they shined their brights on me as I slowly–oh so slowly–drove my car in the direction of the address I had given them.
The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of rugged individualism that flies from a neighbor’s house in Parker got waaaay more ironic for me after that night. The social contract you enter into in a controlled community like this one means that you enter into a tribe mentality based on shared construction of the illusion of rugged alone-ness. It is all about treading in order to maintain the fantasy. Hey, I dye my hair to maintain my own illusions, so I’m not knocking it–I’m just saying stuff out loud.
The people in Marquette don’t really love it when you park on the Main street of shops and talk in your car, either. Yesterday a woman hooked up to an oxygen tank strode purposefully toward my driver’s side window and then seemed to change her mind about engaging me, and turned to her minivan, where she started the engine and took herself and her husband home after an evening at the Don’t Care Bar and Grill.
I think it is hard for people in low density areas of population to understand why the functions of phone conversations sometimes need to take place outside of one’s domestic space. I think it’s also sad that people live in such fear that instead of coming out to my car and checking on me that night in Parker (maybe I was breaking up with my boyfriend, maybe I was having a seizure) that they felt their first (and only?) course of action was to dial 9-11.
I have no idea to what degree and frequency this sort of thing happens to a person of color. Absolutely no idea. I’m guessing people of color don’t sit in their parked cars to have phone conversations in Parker. I’m guessing I developed a habit of it partly because I’m a blond white woman and usually I can get away with parked-car talking without having my license run for outstanding violations.
In Beltsville, Maryland, farms-turned-urban outlier of D.C., where I spent a good deal of my childhood, people of all sorts lived and worked near each other. My friend’s father had weekly visits with my friend C. after her parents divorced, and he’d usually take us out to McDonald’s or Godfather’s pizza. Without fail, he found something or someone that caught his eye–a reason to engage with the larger community. He’d open unlocked cars and turn off their headlights on occasion, or he’d help a mother with three kids load her groceries–all three carts of them–into her car. And if he saw something out of the ordinary, he stopped, and said something.
This dispatch is in honor of Al Sanchez, who went out of his way to show me and his daughter that his interactions with people in his community would rarely be guided by fear, and who would definitely approach my driver’s side window to say, “Just checking to make sure you are okay.”