My suburb is like most suburbs lately. We have foreign speaking contractors coming in to tear down dozens and dozens of smaller, older homes so they can build monstrosities with turrets that Count Dracula would kill to live in. Today, just for giggles, I think I will count the number of new houses in my neighborhood that are fitted with those stupid pointy castle things.
My town also happens to have a lot of diversity too. Not racially so much. Even though we have every color and many ethnicities represented, the truth is this place is over ninety percent cottage cheese.
On the other hand, along with many churches and temples, we have a mosque, although I don't hear any calls to prayer during the day. There are both Catholic AND Jewish parochial schools, schools for autistic kids, gifted kids, learning disabled kids, deaf kids, you name the kid, we've got a school for him or her.
We have loads of public facilities -- swimming pools, water slides, bike tracks, indoor and outdoor skating rinks, golf courses, ball diamonds, sledding hills, tennis courts, a fishing pond, even a babbling brook with benches just to sit beside.
We also have acres and acres of forest preserve land. On any given morning you can go out and find groups of "birders" gathering under a stand of trees looking up at the sound of some singing bird, trying to find it. There are all kinds of birds, from red tail hawks to blue herons, Canada geese, Baltimore orioles, robins, cardinals, finiches, and seagulls. Since we got hit with The West Nile virus, I haven't seen a single blue jay, crow, grackle or starling. But the other birds seem to be flourishing.
On the weekends families with blue and red coolers loaded with food take over the shelters and picnic tables for hours of barbecues and games of frisbee
In a couple of places there are boat launches for kayaks and bass fishing boats. With plenty of people casting from the sidelines. A popular bike trail runs through it all and cycling traffic can get pretty heavy, especially at the intersection by the Good Humor truck.
Apparently in the midst of all this Smokey The Bear wholesomeness, there are the "lonely men." Over time I've noticed codger types who pull into a forest preserve parking place and just sit there. Like anyone else, I just assumed they were meditating.
The other day, I was driving down one of the main roads to the highway so I could go downtown. On the spur of the moment I decided why not skip the traffic and enjoy a beautiful day doing my work out of doors. So, instead of inhaling exhaust, I drove into one of my town's many forest preserve areas, intending to commune with nature while I worked on a video script.
I was thoroughly enjoying the beautiful weather, listening to all the birds, watching the squirrels and one scrounging raccoon, when some young buck in a Jeep on his cell phone drove past me at a pretty good clip, all the way to the end of the only road in the area, whereupon he turned around and came back.
I didn't think anything of it. Until he went back and forth at least seven different times, always on his phone. Then I noticed he was followed by a different car every time. Soon the traffic picked up and there were cars going up and back like they were on a major thoroughfare.
If anyone stopped it was for a minute or two at the most. The driver would back into a parking place and sit there until the Stud in the green Jeep pulled in next to them, driver side to driver side. They were too far away for me to see anything, but nobody got out of their cars. And I couldn't tell if there was a handoff or a job that required hands of any kind.
Finally I got back into my car and started writing down license plates. I was thinking maybe this was some kind of suburban drug business.
How brilliant of me to stay there if it was. But I kept thinking, this isn't an urban crime area. We're right around the corner from the place where I get my manis and pedis. Walking distance from the grocery store. My town is not a hotbed of anything worse than retail theft and drunk driving.
The Nancy Drew in me seemed compelled to write down license plate numbers. Too many episodes of Law and Order can leave a mark like that.
Keep in mind that in order to do this I had to look directly at the cars to see the numbers, and they could see me looking at them, so it wasn't like I was all that surreptitious.
Finally good sense prevailed. I retired from amateur detective duty and left. But my evidence kit had a page full of license plate numbers even though I had no idea what they were good for.
You might think I wouldn't go back there. But I did. On my way home a couple of days later, I stopped at this great new smoked rib place and got a pulled pork sandwich dripping with sauce. With a side of slaw and some great peach 'n beans. Instead of eating the drippy mess at home over the sink, I drove two blocks to the infamous forest preserve area, where I could drip on my latest copy of Sports Illustrated and eat my barbecue without having to clean up the kitchen floor afterward.
This time there was no one around. Then I saw why. There was a forest preserve police car. He ignored me until I finished my tasty repast and started getting back into the car. At that point he drove over for a chat.
Did I know that this particular area was known for solicitation of sex acts by men for men? I laughed and said, "Then I'm safe?" I told him I had noticed many "lonely men" parked there in the past. Then I remembered my list of license plates and all the cruising I had seen the other day. So I told him that I had seen some heavy traffic through there, but I assumed it was for drugs, since nobody seemed to be doing anything with anybody.
He said they check each other out and make "dates." That would explain the guy on his cell phone.
I asked him if he wanted the list of license plate numbers I had written down in my other life as a suburban vigilante. He gave me a funny look, like I was a little too old to be playing Nancy Drew, but he did take the list. After seeing how extensive it was, he shook his head, smiled enigmatically, and said, "Thank you."
As I drove away, I checked my rearview mirror. His car never moved. From what I could see, it looked like he was reading my list and punching license plate numbers into his computer.
Or maybe he was just punching up my license plate. Wait till he gets to the part about the dry cleaning.