Yesterday I was reminded of another reason I, at least, was drawn to Alaska. J and I returned home from grocery shopping to notice spider-webbing cracks emanating menacingly from a small, distinct hole in our across-the-hall-neighbor’s window.
J made a joke about someone planning a drive-by, shooting their window, hearing our Charlie bark in annoyance and running away.
I didn’t find this funny. I blanched when he said “drive-by”, instantly going back to my sophomore year of college.
It was one of those hot, sunny days when it should have been cooler but wasn’t. To top off a bad day, I missed the bus home by less than two minutes. I then had to wait 20 (well, FSU said their buses came every 20 minutes, but let’s be honest, it was 30) additional minutes in the searing heat. I was getting home half an hour late, which seemed much more intrusive at the time due to the heat. I was also expecting something in the mail, and was anxious to get home and see if it had arrived (not that I was looking forward to walking all the way down to the community mailboxes, either).
The bus finally arrived, took it’s sweet time getting to my stop in the less than heavy 4 p.m. traffic. I hiked up the steep incline from the bus stop to the apartment building and walked a bit faster to get the that shady spot along the way. My apartment was at the back of the complex, 100 feet or so from the pool and community mailboxes. I had originally been signed up for a second floor apartment, but some disaster or other had ruined that one, forcing my roommate and I into a first floor apartment (we should have noticed this as a sign we should move).
I rounded the (thankfully shaded) corner, sweat forming in the crook of my arm and small of my back in that irritating way that makes everyone feel gross, to a surprising scene in front of me. Because ghettos and poorer areas tend to sprout up around universities, I had become overly-used to the sound of sirens and didn’t register hearing any on my route home. I was most likely absorbed in whatever book I was reading at the time. Thus my surprise when I rounded that shady corner to find police cordoning off areas of our parking lot with their shiny yellow tape, their cars haphazardly parked and an ambulance speeding off in the opposite direction.
I walked towards my apartment, intent on checking on the wellness of Charlie and guaranteeing his afternoon walk was not further delayed. To my relief, the police stopped taping off access to apartments ten to twenty feet from my front door. (Funny how perspective works– I was relieved to have access to my department despite the fact that a serious crime had clearly just taken place in my oft-overcrowded parking lot).
After walking Charlie (in a courtyard behind our apartment and out of the crime-tape vicinity), I turned on the news and googled, wanting to know what horrible thing had happened outside my door and then proceeding to look for a new place to live. Within a few hours, my apartment complex’s name being said on the television lured me away from my computer. A student from another university in town had been shot– and killed– during a drive- by in my parking lot. Right next to my mailboxes, actually.
Suddenly I was not only afraid to get my mail, but to stay in my apartment at all. The reports were sketchy on details, but the incident appeared to be drug- related. Oh, drugs and murder. What a world. The deceased student had lived in this complex, and the proximity of both crimes made me both sad for the world, and his family, but also very uneasy.
I also became very, very thankful I missed the bus. I arrived precisely 30 minutes after the crime took place. Meaning, had I made that bus, I would have been rounding the corner as the man was shot, making me a witness and very much putting me in danger.
I have never before–nor have I since– been so thankful for FSU’s perpetually off-schedule bus system.
Why do I feel safer in Alaska, where pretty much everyone and their mother owns a gun? Because the police and troopers are prepared for everyone and their mother to have a gun on them at any given time. Perhaps because the decrease in suburban areas makes even neighborhoods close to town feel rural. Perhaps because the lot sizes houses are on are larger, giving everyone a bit more breathing room. And perhaps because I get my mail at the post office.
Of course, there’s always the fact that I’m (probably) more likely to run into a moose while hiking and get trampled than I am to get shot while retrieving my mail. Strangely, that’s comforting.