This weekend the weather was absolutely glorious. California glorious. When I first moved here and people would say 'wow, the weather's perfect today' I would look at them with blank incomprehension and think - the weather's always perfect. We haven't had sideways sleet, black ice, drizzle, icy showers or gale force winds in years, if ever.
Now that I've lived here long enough, I can discern an exceptional day from a bog-standard brilliant day. Like a sommelier of the weather, I can detect those top notes of sapphire blue skies, a faint whisper of wind, an ever so slight chill in the shade, soft golden sunlight making the winter flowers glow, and finally everything rounded out by a crisp, cool evening.
I took the girls for a walk up to the Mission. We stopped to chat with a neighbour at her rose-covered garden gate - her daughter goes to Anna's Kindergarten and they started planning a playdate for the next day. We strolled through parks, fed the ducks, bumped into an old friend who we have lost to 22 units of college this Semester. On our return the lady at the corner store was toasting the birth of her niece's baby and was giving out candy to all the children.
Perfect. This is why people move to Southern California.
Except (and you sort of knew this was coming didn't you?) this same neighbourhood was rocked by an horrific gang-beating that left our other corner store owner dead 3 weeks ago as he walked home from work. A couple of days later someone was brutally stabbed at 3:30 in the afternoon.
50 yards from our front door.
The first I knew of it was LK and Anna coming back from the movies (Legend of the Guardians - don't do it to yourself, even Anna hated it), they'd had trouble getting to the house because the street was all cordoned off with police tape. There were police cars and ambulances everywhere. There had been reports of a fight, screeching tires, there was blood all over the sidewalk and no sign of the victims. Police were advising everyone to stay indoors.
So of course everyone gathered on the corner to stare.
The police said it was gang related. Why else would the stab victims flee? Gang members never press charges, they have their own courts. They also said we would never see it in the paper or hear it on the news. It happens all the time, they said, except this is a tourist town, so it doesn't really happen, you see.
They were right, nothing was ever reported, no charges were ever filed.
There are two main gangs in Santa Barbara, the Eastsiders and the Westsiders. Original, no? We live on the Eastside. Two of the houses on the street that abuts ours are gang houses. People are coming and going at all hours, cars double-parked and idling, occasional parties that go on all night and erupt in to street fighting. You know, the usual.
Am I scared of living so close to it all? Well yes, obviously. Except to them we don't exist, we are no threat to them, we mean nothing to them. They are Hispanic, but then so are a lot of our really friendly neighbours, the difference is they've chosen to align themselves with a gang. We have not, so we don't exist. In all honesty I think living close to a busy road would be more of a threat to my family. The police said the same is true of pretty much every neighbourhood in this town.
Would I prefer to live across the road from sheep fields like where I grew up? Of course. Except you have to wear wellies all the time. That's not an option right now though, so we carry on here. And honestly, the burglary rate and car theft rate in the gentrified town where I grew up is much higher than here. You pick your poison.
Sometimes I'm scared, but mostly I walk past with my girls in the stroller on the way to get an ice-cream and I pretend that we live in 'Santa Barbara' instead of South Central LA.