Thursday, July 17, 2008

Things that go wrong in the night

If I’m feeling a little crabby these days, chalk it up to sleep deprivation and frustration dealing firsthand with an obvious decline in conditions in our once graceful neighborhood in our once graceful city. In an unsettling development, after night falls, no one can predict — or even believe — what morning reveals.

A couple weeks ago, it was the familiar sound of rushing water in the gutter when there was no rain. One of our ancient and outdated water mains had broken again at three o’clock in the morning. The Public Works crew responded with their jackhammers, skiploaders, bulldozers, and megawatt stands that inundated the wee hours with decibels and light as they worked to control the emergency. By eight in the morning, they finished their patchwork repairs of old worn-out water pipes that really need replacement; they returned days later to fix the persistent leak that remained long after the emergency operations.
A few days later, it was the enormous RV that pulled in overnight and ended up parked across the street for several days and nights — now perfectly legal on the residential streets throughout my neighborhood. These RV campers took up three parking spaces in an area where parking for residents is scarce — particularly on nights when there’s a performance at the nearby Santa Barbara Bowl. They were free to come and go, and operate its generator at all hours as they enjoyed their vacation in America’s Riviera without paying for their accommodations, close to town, within walking distance to the beach.
Many mornings this summer, it’s been the discovery of broken bottles at the curb and on the front steps, and yet another nighttime attack of graffiti painted on nearby fences, poles, curbs, steps, and even etched into historic sandstone walls. Another day hastily rescheduled to scrub, paint, sweep and clean the damage from the night before.
Last Friday, it was the deafening sound of a Monster truck starting up at 6 a.m. when my husband, John, turned the key in his 1988 Toyota pickup. He was furious when he looked underneath and realized immediately that the muffler had been disconnected, and the catalytic converter removed. The nuts and bolts remained, neatly arranged on the asphalt, after the thieves got their goods and stole away into the night.
The old, dependable workhorse of a truck comes in handy for its good gas mileage, and hauling stuff for ourselves and neighbors. But its unique history is worth mentioning, for it holds sentimental value not immediately apparent.
It formerly belonged to my husband’s elderly, housebound father who spent an hour a day for the past year or so, just sitting in it in the driveway, listening to the radio and dreaming of driving. When he finally entrusted it to my husband — and suggested it eventually be passed down to our too-young-to-drive son — he instructed him to take good care of it. That 4-cyclinder, homely little truck, with its 60,000 original miles, old-school cassette deck and roll-up windows, was once a great source of pride as well as his last hold on freedom and independence.
He would be heartbroken to know it’s been raided for parts, left disabled and in pieces on the ground.
After his noisy repair trip to the muffler shop, John returned frustrated and resigned. “This is the fifth one the guy has replaced this week,” he reported. “Apparently, it’s the platinum in the catalytic converter that thieves are after. We just have to start budgeting for petty theft.”
Uh, well, that’s nice Honey, but I don’t know where it’s going to come from. Anytime platinum is involved, I want to see it on my hand, around my wrist, or dangling from my ears, not hidden in the greasy undercarriage of a funky old truck. A few years ago, I actually wrote some promotional copy about platinum; its theme back then was “pure, rare, eternal.” I notice from the updated website, they’ve added “versatile,” which makes sense considering it’s an element used for wedding rings, medical treatments and smog reduction. They may also want to add “expensive,” since a troy ounce platinum now costs somewhere around $2,000, up from $600 about five years ago—and that’s what’s attracting the precious metal pilferers who sell the car parts to salvage yards.
In terms of replacement costs for our platinum-containing catalytic converter, we got lucky; it was only a couple of hundred dollars to get the truck back on the road with a new after-market part that does not contain that valuable special ingredient. But the catalytic converters for some other vehicles cost up to $1,000 or more. And now I know that this sort of theft is happening all across the country; in response, savvy entrepreneurs have developed thriving businesses in locks and welding systems for catalytic converters.
This summer, as our family tries to cope with the never-ending rise in the cost of food, gas, and everything else—and at the same time provide activities for our home-for-the-summer children—a couple of hundred dollars translates into a week’s worth of groceries, a few tanks of gas, or a week or two for a camp. That money might have gone for the repair of the dishwasher that we’ve been putting off, the delayed landscaping project, or even the long postponed spruce-up of that old Toyota truck.
Instead, our precious resources—among them sense of security and peace of mind—just keep disappearing in the dark, with no apparent consequences in the light of day.

Cheri Rae’s column appears Thursdays in the Daily Sound. E-mail her at


Anonymous said...

I've wasted enough time reading these "its all about me" columnists who think we want to waste our time hearing about their boring lives and trivial existence and pointless's like coming home and asking "how was your day dear?" We have real problems to deal with in this City and information to be gained. Keep the substantial columnists who do some research, provide real useful information, or at least provide an opinion on an important issue, whether you agree or not,or be entertaining and funny, like Malcolm Fleschner . Keep Randy Alcorn, Froma Harrop, Gina Perry, Loretta Redd, ditch Leslie Dinaberg, Cheri Rae, Miss Kitty, Alan Feld and bring back the "Conservative Turtle".

Anonymous said...

Nonsense, Cherie puts a human face on the conditions of life in Santa Barbara. Always articulate and interesting, she is priceless

Anonymous said...

Why does the Daily Sound continue to publish Cheri Rae's articles that are mere prattle? Has she ever heard of Thanksgiving? Imagine those hard workers who, all night long, took the time to fix the broken water pipe? Did Ms. Rae ever take the time to say "thank you?" How ridiculous! She's living in a home in Santa Barbara, one of the nicest places in the world, and all she has time for is complaints about what's wrong in her world. What about all the people in Santa Barbara who are living in their cars and are grateful to have a parking space for the night? What about all the families and their homes destroyed in Iraq? What types of things go wrong in the night for them? I'm sure it has nothing to do with Cheri Rae's thoughts. Quite frankly, I need to yawn when I start thinking about her next article.