Sunday, November 2, 2008

Moving into City Heights

You know you are in City Heights when the street noise is a mingle of police cars, revving engines, mariachi music and voices in Spanish.

I have this idealistic frame of mind that moving to an area dominated by minorities would help me mature as a journalist. If I survived Asia for five months, I could probably survive City Heights. Right?

My first night, I drove onto Highland Avenue in City Heights and parked my sister's red Ford Mustang in front of the apartment complex. There were three spots open, so I thought it wouldn't be a big deal.

There was a Lexis down the street so I felt okay parking in the neighborhood.

I went upstairs to apartment number seven and saw my new 60-something-year-old roommate, Barbara, sitting on her couch through the screen door.

"It's unlocked, come on inside," she yelled.

I pulled open the heavy screen door and walked inside. The smell of bunny fifth met my nose. I jumped as Barbara's pet rabbit hopped in front of me and scurried beneath the bed where I sleep.

We chatted for a bit and I tried to relax.

"Wait here, I have to show you what I found for my granddaughter at the thrift store today," she said.

I waited and she brought out a plaid Christmas dress with lace that would have felt more at home in a funeral parlor than a little girl's dress.

But never mind that -- it was only $3.

Barbara has two modes: talking or not talking. When she talks, it's a million miles an hour. When she doesn't talk, it's a strange silence. There is no middle ground. It's either off or on.

Her name, means "weird" or "strange", she told me.

I said good night and got no response. I curled up in my bed and turned off the light. It didn't take long until I heard the hip, hop, hip, hop of Bunny the rabbit.

She pushed the door open and scurried across the floor until he reached the area where his litter box was. His names went clip, clip, clip across the plastic mat. I turned over in bed and he ran out the door, evidently frightened to realize I was inside the room.

This repeated off an on throughout the night as I woke to the sounds of sirens, helicopters and the bunny running around.

The next morning I got up slowly and tried to leave the apartment. Try is the operative word here.

When I went downstairs to pull out my car from the parking space I quickly realized that I was not going to be going anywhere for awhile.

Backed up behind my car, touching the bumper was a dark green cadillac with shiny silver hub caps and a Mexican flag elevated over the roof. There was not a hair of space behind the green car and my mustang.

I wondered if the Mexican flag was an emblem of a local gang. I tried to remember what the San Diego Union-Tribune reporter I'm friends with told me about the gangs here. I gulped.

I walked all around the cars, trying to figure out how I could back out of the spot by angling the car. No luck. I turned, and cranked and yanked the wheel, but the green cadillac was just too close.

I threw my keys at my bag and rested my head on the steering wheel and started laughing.

A latina next to my car stopped and stared. She started laughing too. We laughed and laughed.

I got out of my car and realized that the cadillac had a 'for sale' sign on it with two numbers. One for the U.S. and one for Mexico. I dialed the U.S. number and a sleepy man answered.

"Hello," I said. "My name is Jessica and your car is blocking my car."


"Yes, your car is blocking my car."



I stared at my phone. He hung up on me. Maybe he didn't speak English. I tried to think of how to say, "move your car," in spanish. But I realized that he probably did speak English and I called again.

"Hello, do you have a green cadillac? It's a very nice car," I said. I couldn't help but think that he would be impressed that I knew it was a cadillac, but I didn't know why I was rambling about how nice the car was.

"Yeah, you took my spot," he said.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I just moved here and I didn't know it was your spot. I won't do it again." Why was I rambling?

"It's okay," he said, amused at my apologetic plea.

"When can you move it?" I asked.

"I'm not there."

"Well, about how long?"



Tears had welled up in my eyes. I walked up to the apartment, slammed the door and nearly burst into tears. I tried to stay calm.

Twenty minutes later my phone started to ring.


"Yeah, you want me to move my car?"

"Yeah, I'll be right down."


I walked out of the apartment and locked the door behind me. Three enormous latinos walked out of apartment three down the stairs.

I could tell they were talking about me, and they weren't saying anything friendly. I decided in my mind, "Play dumb, smile and run for it."

"Hello." I said with a smile. The three gave me an odd look like they expected someone else, not a young gringa.

I walked out to the cars and the bigger of the three men walked over to the cadillac.

"You want me to move it?" he said in a threatening voice.

"Yeah." I said and started laughing.

He started laughing. We all started laughing. I was so scared, but I kept laughing.

I hopped into my mustang and pulled out. I waved and waved, like an idiot, until I couldn't see them anymore.

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