Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trouble in River City: A Summer Crime Update

Iowa City likes to bill itself as “the River City” which--considering that we don’t live on the Mississippi or Missouri, but rather the small (though lovely) Iowa River--is a little piece of Midwestern hubris. Still, it’s a nice catchphrase that invokes the quiet, peaceful, bucolic town that Iowa City usually is. Lately, however, “River City” is a woefully inadequate slogan for a friendly town that seems to have suddenly become crazed with Crime Fever. It’s like—you know how trucker hats are just catching on out here and the radio stations and bars still play Will Smith on heavy rotation? Well, I guess it’s sort of the same with sex assaults and arson.

This summer, my historic Northside Neighborhood has been haunted by a mystery groper who knocks women over, pins them down and fondles their business. He is described as a white male, about 5’8, usually wearing a baseball cap, which helpfully describes almost everyone who lives in the state of Iowa. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of weeks ago, several blocks away, at ten in the morning, four houses caught fire at the same time and burned to a crisp. Cops are calling the fires, ahem, “suspicious.”

Luckily, so far I’ve avoided a run-in with the perv. But imagine my surprise last night, when, returning home late from the state fair, Brad and I turned the corner for home and almost ran headlong into a flaming, exploding van that was parked on our street. We beat the fire trucks who were already on their way (we were told after calling 911) and most of the neighbors who had apparently written off the first few smaller explosions to drunken college kids with leftover fireworks. For a few minutes, it was just me and Brad and a towering inferno blocking our entrance to the back alley where we park. It was actually quite breathtaking. I didn’t get a picture even with my cell phone, I was so entranced by the thing. Also: worried that if I turned away from the wheel even for a second we’d be tomorrow’s headlines--Couple Decapitated By Burning Shrapnel. I kept my foot on the brake and the car in reverse and we watched the thing blow it’s gas tank until the fire trucks arrived and we felt safe going around the back way to our house.

One of our neighbors, a lady I don’t know but who seemed trustworthy enough, said she heard a crash and looked out her window to see someone biking like crazy away from the van, which was just starting to catch fire.

Cops are calling the fire “so weird! Huh. Yep. Anyway, anybody up for a Donutland run?”

To top it off, in the ensuing melee, someone walked off with Brad’s dill plant from our front porch.

So in the spirit of keeping open the lines of communication in a troubled neighborhood, I would just like to use the rest of this post to write an open letter to my hometown:

Iowa City, I get you. I know you’ve always had this chip on your shoulder about your perceived lack of sophistication and culture in comparison with other cities like Chicago and even Minneapolis. I understand that. I’ve often felt the same way in my own life. And you do an admirable job--you can be as pretentious as SoHo; as decadent as L.A. I’ve seen it, Iowa City. I know what it’s like when you go too far to try to prove that you are an urbane and chic community with contributions to make to bourgeois society (we’ve all been snubbed by Writers Workshop students, Iowa City). But listen: The New York Times has written travel features about you! Denis Johnson set his iconic novel Jesus’ Son in you! Kurt Vonnegut curmudgeoned up your nubile coeds for years!

I get it Iowa City. You’re hip. I really, truly believe you. Trust me, you don’t need soaring urban crime rates to prove it. That is not sophisticated, Iowa City. That is Newark. And I didn’t leave New Jersey for this bullshit.


Anonymous Mindy said...

This is great info to know.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Screwsan said...

Hi Mindy, keep in mind this was summer 2007. Not that there haven't been arsons, sexual assaults (and worse) since then. But it was a post of the moment.

I left IC this summer, so I don't know how my old neighborhood is faring. BUT: one problem Iowa City has had with crime and I think will always have is that it is tied very closely to the city's binge-drinking scene. These things (and worse) tend to happen in a small town whose bar scene rivals that of a moderately sized city. The problem there is twofold: people get very drunk and commit crimes they wouldn't if they hadn't been blind drunk (two recent murders come to mind) and the cops are usually tied up busting underage drinkers and "drunk walkers" in the pedestrian mall which is the heart of the bar scene, leaving residential neighborhoods unprotected and unpoliced, especially late at night and on weekends.

If you are moving to Iowa City (I assume that's why this info might be useful to you) take the same precautions you would take in any larger city--don't walk home alone at night, always guard your drinks when you're out at bars, always be aware of your surroundings, and don't leave your dill plants on your front porch.

Hope this is useful as well, and good luck to you!

1:34 PM  
Blogger Screwsan said...

Hmm...or perhaps, upon further examination, you are a spam robot.

In any case, Future Blog Stumbler-Uponers, my epilogue stands.

1:36 PM  

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