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Driving Me Crazy

By Tina Traster

July 17, 2008 -- The sound of a car crunching down my gravel driveway wakes me up. It is 3 a.m. on a Wednesday night and I stumble to the window, tripping over my husband’s slippers. “That’s weird,” I say. “Ricky, are you up? A black van just pulled into the driveway. Another car, it looked gold, was with him but the driver waited at the foot of the driveway while the black van stopped for a few minutes. Then they drove away together.”

“They were probably just turning around on the road,” he said, half-asleep, and rolled over. “Come back to bed.”

The next night the pair of cars appeared twice: first at 11 p.m.; again at 3 a.m.

“Did you catch a license plate or a description of the drivers?” the police officer asked when he came to the house after the 11 p.m. incident. We had no information then nor did we have any additional clues when we called the police the second time that night.

“Do you have any enemies?” he asked, scratching his head, his radio bleeping on his hip. We told him my husband had run an unpopular school board campaign but didn’t think anyone cared about that.

When he left, I was frightened, too uneasy to sleep. Was someone harassing us? Casing the joint? Making some kind of weird statement? It just didn’t add up.

Part of our plan to relocate to suburbia a few years ago from Manhattan’s Upper West Side was to find a safer haven for ourselves and our young daughter. During two decades of living in Manhattan, I had a wallet stolen once, and was nearly car-napped driving under the overpass at 96th Street and Riverside Drive, coming home alone from New Jersey.

I did always feel safe at night tucked into bed in my doorman building.

When we bought an old farmhouse on a deeply wooded, twisting mountain road I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d adjust. People leave their doors unlocked up here.  

We took basic steps to secure the house, including three bolts on the front door, a metal bolt that seals the main house from the basement, outside sensor lighting, which has only ever been triggered by raccoon and deer, and solar lights along the paths. We lock our windows at night.

I am occasionally spooked by the shrill yips of coyotes killing in our woods at night. I once thought we had an intruder but it turned out to be an opossum shoving an empty yogurt cup around our front porch.

“You didn’t install an alarm system?” my mother said, the first time she visited. She has always lived in the city.

No, but I’ve thought about getting a big dog, I told her. Or at least one of those signs that say “Beware of Dog.”

The next day, I’m reading the morning paper, more attuned to crime stories. There has been a spectacular drug bust in Nyack, our nearest village. Gang warfare between high schools students in Nyack and Spring Valley led to a violent altercation, and Nyack High School was locked down. Car break-ins are up.

“Oh my God,” my husband says, startling me, as he slammed down his tea cup. “I just figured out why the cars were pulling in and out of the driveway for the past few nights.”

I peer at him as though he is wearing a deerstalker and puffing a pipe.

He remembers a letter we received last week from Tilcon, a mining company situated about a mile west of our house. It said a consultant the company hired to record decibel levels from the mine’s overnight mining operations would be coming to our property at night to monitor noise.

“You must be right, I say, but why two cars? We called H2M, the company performing the noise tests, and they confirmed that one driver was from their company and the other was from the mining outfit. 

We had a good belly laugh, recalling how stumped the police officer looked as he stood on our porch the night before and scribbled the report. But how hard is it to find two slow-moving cars canvassing a neighborhood at 3 am?

Perhaps our genial police aren’t accustomed to a whole mess of crime in Clarkstown. Turns out this is a very safe town, according to the C Q Press, a Washington, D.C.-based publishing outfit that compiles FBI crime data.

The Town of Clarkstown has been rated the second safest community in the country and the first safest in the State of New York for jurisdictions with populations from 75,000 to 100,000. 

I called C.Q. press to learn more about this ranking. They told me ratings are based on the 2006 FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, the latest data available. Towns file reports and each is then rated against the national average.  I learn that most Hudson Valley towns do not have populations over 75,000, and therefore are not included in this survey. 

It was also interesting to learn Clarkstown is only second in safety on the national ranking to Viejo Mission, California.

If you’re wondering about your town’s safety or the safety of one you’d like to live in visit the local police department and scour blotters, go online and read several weeks of the local newspaper or log onto FBI Web site to see how a town ranks on such crime categories as murder, burglary, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, rape and motor vehicle theft.

Oh, and, pay attention to fliers in your mail.  They can save a lot of time in detective work.

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