Sketchy Dudes, Ratty Cars

I probably should have called the cops.

A sketchy looking dude was slumped in a ratty car parked directly across the street. I wish I could say this occurrence is an anomaly in my neck of the Manhattan woods. Sketchy looking dudes slumped in ratty vehicles have appeared off and on directly across the street for years, causing me no direct harm.

Live and let live.     

Our ‘hood is a baby boomer, most of the houses built in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. It was annexed into the city shortly before we moved in, nearly 20 years ago, allowing for city services. Before that it was septic tanks and water wells all up in here. It’s not a cul-de-sac, but it is one big loop, limiting the reasons for anyone who doesn’t live here, to be here.  

Easy to see why the developers picked this area. We’re built into a Flint Hill (actually, more of a Flint Gradual Incline). There are some massive cottonwoods interspersed that predate the houses. One of them is ours. We love it, even though the behemoth drops literally three dozen full-size lawn and leaf bags worth this time of year. Yeah, I counted.

It’s a quiet neighborhood. Smattering of professional couples, some young families with kids, a few Fort Riley families, handful of retirees. A hipster couple recently moved in down the street and painted their house mustard yellow, trimmed in burgundy. A bright, welcome change of pace from our white, beige, grey and forest green system norm. Couple of rentals, inhabited by college kids. You can tell by the out-of-county plates and occasional Sunday morning collection of red Solo cups in the driveway. (Every Cat a Wild Man).

lime bananas.jpg

On neighborhood garage sale days, we empty our closets and garages of the junk that until that weekend we thought we could not live without and proceed to live without it. Occasionally, a neighborhood potluck. The retirees bring casseroles and sliced bananas congealed in lime Jell-O, the professional couples bring three-bean salad from Dillon’s and the hipsters bring hummus. 

A few years ago, a then-college student niece called while house/dog sitting, worried about some sketchy looking dude slumped in a ratty car parked across the street. Don’t sweat it, I told her. They’re harmless. I never gave much thought to why they might be there. So long as they’re not interfering with my life, it’s none of my business, really.     

About a year ago, headed home one afternoon, I pull into the loop behind the Riley County Police Department’s crime scene truck. As I near my house, I see a couple of parked squad cars, blue and red lights flashing, three or four cops in Kevlar, and some people whom I don’t recognize, handcuffed.

Directly across the street.


The next day’s arrest report revealed my neighbors were snagged in a dragnet stemming from a months-long investigation spanning two counties. Distribution of methamphetamine.

Ever since the bust, I’ve kept my distance, not that we were ever best buds anyway. We would exchange the occasional wave while mowing our respective Flint Gradual Incline lawns. How would I engage in small talk now? “Say neighbor, how goes the crank business?”      

Just a couple of months ago, I came home to find more squad cars with lights flashing, this time at the loop entrance, officers on foot, obviously searching for someone. A few weeks later, more cops a couple doors down, called to quell what I took to be a domestic dispute. As far as I know, these incidents are unrelated.   

Has ours become a neighborhood in transition? Lately, I find myself thinking about property values. I’m no real estate expert, but I can’t imagine felony crime directly across the street as a selling point.     

Recently we’ve thought about getting a gun. Thoughts breed discussions which lead to decisions. Still in the thinking phase, but would the thought have entered my mind, absent the series of sketchy looking dudes slumped in ratty cars parked directly across the street and the subsequent arrests?

What if I had called the cops? Looking sketchy, bad posture and driving a ratty car may be gauche, but it’s not illegal.

Since the arrests, the sketchy looking dudes slumped in ratty cars have been fewer and further between, but they’ve not vanished completely. What are they doing there? Logic, common sense and recent history lead me to some educated guesses. Where’s the sweet spot between minding my own business and squealing on potential neighborhood tweakers?