When my house was broken into a couple of weeks ago, the investigating officer left his card and said I should call if I noticed anything that could help the investigation. I had little hope that the investigation would yield anything, but I did call when I noticed that a flashlight I kept near the front door had been stolen. It was a PeliLght Submersible light that I had used for kayaking. I had exchanged parts between this orange light and a black one of the same type, giving the light a distinctive appearance.
Three days later, I got a call back. Cooperating law enforcement agencies in several communities on either side of the Maine-New Hampshire border have been working on the burglary epidemic for months. They had just managed to catch and arrest a couple leaving the scene of another burglary in the next town to the north, which led investigators to a stash of loot in a town about 30 miles to the south. Among the identifiable items they recovered was my funky flashlight.
I may never see any of my stuff again. Some may have been sold or bartered. Some may have been tossed as worthless in the thief and drug addict economy. Recovered items will have to serve as evidence for an undetermined length of time. But it's nice to know that someone has officially connected names and faces to the crime.
Effingham's police chief told me that opioid users in this area may be living in the woods. Items stolen are often bartered directly for drugs, or used for survival. Thus the Gerber knife, the flashlight, and the binoculars taken from my house might go directly to support an encampment, wherever it might be.
Guess I'll have to go armed when I go bushwhacking now. What a drag. Fortunately, I do most of that in the winter, when snow will reveal the tracks of any forest dwellers. I already dress in muted colors. This may give me a better chance of seeing them before they see me.
What a thing to have to worry about. I think about it on the night commute, too. I'm riding along, brightly lit, a movable feast of useful and salable items on a deserted forest path. The illuminated person is the one at risk in the darkness. I've toyed with contingency plans for years. Now they seem more realistic. How do I escape? How quickly can I shuck reflective items, to blend with the darkness and escape or counterattack? I load my bike and personal pack with this in mind. I want my phone, a weapon, and one light in my possession, ready to run when I abandon the lighted bike and use it as bait. How I respond after that depends on how many assailants gather, and how badass they look. Certainly an open line to 911 is first. Then use the darkness myself to observe the enemy.
Probably nothing will ever happen. But you can't predict what a jonesing addict might think is a good idea. And the average lifespan of an opioid addict after the onset of addiction is 15 to 20 years. They don't instantly turn into frail twigs hovering at the edge of death. They may be sturdy, muscular people who have turned all their energy toward acquiring more of their chemical best friend by any means necessary. Whether they are truly bad or good is immaterial, if they are opportunistic, and driven by a craving.`
The path was my refuge for the night commute. If I leave it to ride the road, I'm exposed to narrow, rural highways in the darkness. That not only adds the possibility of a collision with an inattentive driver, it may increase the chance of being picked off by a "shopper" who would not have seen me if I was not right there on the public right of way.
All this is no more true than it was before I was aware of it. The opioid crisis has been building for several years. But any kind of personal contact with the effects of the crisis makes it more real. Is danger a reason not to do something worthwhile? Of course not. But new dangers add new elements to be managed.
In case you think something is too trivial to attract a miscreant's attention, consider the shaving kits: I had marveled that the thieves had taken mine when it contained nothing I thought they would want. I reckoned they had snatched it just because it might contain prescription drugs, and that they would toss it as soon as they had time to look in it. Nope. The investigating officer called to ask me to describe my shaving kit, because the people they arrested had a bunch of them. In light of that, and because you do hear about riders on urban paths getting mugged for their bikes, I figure it's only a matter of time before the light bulb comes on over some dirtbag's head around here, and they try to pick off a lone rider in a secluded setting.
Ideas like this reinforce people's idea that they are safer in their swift-moving armored vehicles than they are on a slow, wobbly bicycle. The fact that they would be safest of all on foot, efficiently but lightly armed, does not fit most people's work schedule and world view. I'm certainly not going to start hiking to work with a side arm and a medium-length blade. Not yet, anyhow. Ask me again in a couple of years, when the social order has collapsed because of disastrous economic policies and fully unleashed xenophobia. But at that point I will probably be self-employed and working from home. Or I will already have been killed while defending one or another of my less mainstream friends from the aforementioned xenophobia.
We have so much to look forward to in the exciting future created by at least 30 years of ignoring what were once soluble problems. Or maybe -- unprecedented though it may be in all of human existence -- our species will finally have that long, deep talk that we've fought countless wars and squandered millions of lives to avoid.