This post is about a visit to a very bad rabbit hole which left me feeling like Alice. Perplexed, confused, mad, upset, and helplessly along for the ride. It’s also about me processing the toxic leftovers of being robbed at gunpoint in Jackson, Mississippi. I thought had forgiven the two thuglets who changed my worldview, but I think that will take more time and work. Right now, I would happily shoot them both if I had a gun, which fixes nothing and takes me to their playing field. I choose not to go there.
Jackson, Mississippi, it turns out is a crime-ridden festering wound of a city, facts which are not bruited about in the guidebooks touting the history of the place. Eudora Welty is probably sadly spinning in her grave in the Greenwood cemetery. It is a city of have everythings and have nothings.
I landed up in Jackson as a result of wanting to see something of the area before I got down to the ‘bidness’ of grantwriting instruction in West Monroe, Louisiana which is about 80 miles away. Vicksburg is about 30 miles from Jackson and the whole of Mississippi is full of sad southern history. The South has most definitely not risen again in this part of Mississippi. I started my Sunday hoping to find a few second hand stores and some curious vintage, but I discovered everything but restaurants is closed on Sunday in this part of the country. Buffets full of fat men and pick ups everywhere I looked.
The people I met on my visit were unfailingly kind and nice with the exception of the two well-dressed in gangster duds wannabees who collided with my world. It took two of the scumlets to have enough courage to rob a woman alone in a cemetery on a Sunday morning at gunpoint. That to me, is the definition of cowardice, I find them rather like hyenas who only hunt in vicious packs. Yes, I understand they are economically oppressed, terribly poor, living in substandard housing, etc. etc. etc. Hurting and terrifying others is not the answer.
Why is America sending billions and billions to other countries to help their people and here we do nothing. I get these two guys have no opportunities, no education and no future. They were between 18 and 22 and probably each one has fathered children, the ubitiquous baby daddy. Their single girlfriends will be raising the next generation of thugs and hyenas alone and crying when their boys get shot in the streets or go to prison. Wake up America, you can’t turn your backs and expect things to get better.
That being said, it is still really unpleasant to become the target of two black thugs in a very white historic cemetery on a Sunday morning when the entire state of Mississippi is in church. You could go bowling on the empty streets of Jackson on a Sunday. I had made my pilgrimage to Eudora Welty’s home in Belhaven, very nice upscale older residential area, and I knew she was buried in the historic Greenwood Cemetery.
The cemetery is right smack downtown, a stone’s throw from the state capital and the supreme court. I felt safe, I was on my guard. I even drove all the way around the cemetery before I went in to check it out. There were rolls of barbed wire on the top of the fence and only one way in. My assumption, wrong, it turns out, was that this was to discourage vandals because the cemetery is old, historic and pristine. More cemetery angels intact than I have ever seen in one place. Sunday morning, empty streets, historic cemetery, another couple on a motorcycle in the cemetery on a sunny morning. I decided to go in and look around. I parked, got out my camera and began happily snapping pictures.
I noticed the hyenas, one in an orange hoody and one in a red hoody, just kind of standing around and talking to each other. I wasn’t comfortable so I started slowly back to my car. I have to believe God was on my side because I reached in my pocket for the car key and it was gone. Just remembering that moment makes my heart pound all over again. I started retracing my steps and there is a little wooden house in the middle of the cemetery. The key was on the front porch in plain sight where it had fallen from my pocket. I truly think if I had not been able to give them the key and the car they were after, they would have gunned me down without a second thought.
I was shaking when I got to the car, I opened it with the remote button and I thought, “I’m safe, I made it.” I sat down in the car and had not even swung my legs in, when suddenly I heard footsteps running my way, the heavy set thug had run up and I could see his boots. Expensive, suede work boots, untied, white socks. I looked up and saw the gun. A matte black pistol, probably a 38. “Get out da cah”. He grabbed my camera and my car key and waved the gun at me, “Walk away”. I did, I started up a small hill, fully expecting to be shot in the back. The second thug, a thinner punk in a red hoodie, said, “What’s in yo pocket?” I said, “My phone.” “Give it here” , he held out his hand impatiently and grabbed the phone, again telling me to “Walk away, walk faster.” As soon as I heard the car start and get put in gear, I turned around to see them backing out of the cemetery at a high rate of speed to turn right and race away.
My purse with my i.d., credit cards and cash was in the trunk with my jewelry. I was a good tourist, I put everything out of sight, I kept it safe. My i.d. was gone, my phone was gone, my money and credit cards were gone and I was forty miles from my hotel room. My beloved camera was gone but my phone I missed the most. Iphones seem to gather up your life and carry it around for you. Photos, contacts, messages, internet. Amazing how dependent we become and how fast.
Jeff Rudis and David McCarty were in the cemetery the same time and day I was. David was driving a white car parked about a football field from me, and Jeff was walking his dog Chase on the other side of the cemetery. In your dreams you cannot call out for help, but in real life I had no problem at all hollering “Help” at the top of my lungs while walking towards where I had seen the two guys.
They both came running, blessings on them, and both had cell phones. We waited about 15 minutes, no cop, so David went to hunt for them, the officer had managed to miss the cemetery entrance. He finally arrived, a young black officer who was very to the point and probably used to this sort of thing in his sordid city-although hopefully not female tourists in cemeteries on Sunday mornings.
He was a bit clueless though. I told him the stolen car was a rental. A black Dodge Avenger with Ohio plates. He wanted to see the rental agreement and know the license number. Really Officer? Really? It’s a RENTAL. David helped me get hold of Alamo National car rental and get the plates and the VIN. The officer said, “We will get the car back, maybe not this week, but we will get it back.” He took a very short statement, gave me a case number and left me in the cemetery where I had been robbed. No offer of transport or help in Jackson. You get robbed at gunpoint here and you are on your own.
Jeff Rudis stepped up and offered to take me back to his apartment and let me use his computer and telephone to shut off my credit cards and let people know what had happened. We walked to his house with Chase, his big white dog. The thuglets had approached Jeff and asked him if Chase bit, when he told them sometimes, they backed off. Hint: carry a loaded dog in Jackson. It seemed so normal, people talking on the curb outside a place that is revitalizing the neighborhood, nice houses and apartments, all just a few blocks from the cemetery and behind it a burned out ghetto. Jeff had moved to Jackson from Hattiesburg to take a job promotion just a few weeks before so this was a nasty introduction to his new hometown. His girlfriend was moving to Jackson too, and I think all this probably helped them choose a safer neighborhood for her new apartment. I cannot thank Jeff enough, he handed me a beer because he thought I needed one, he offered hospitality and help, and he gave me a ride home when we figured out the rental company was not going to help me out. Actually, I have been told they will be coming after me for their lost car. The icing on the cake.
I got back to Vicksburg and Jeff insisted on coming in to make sure I was safe and hand me over to the hotel staff before he made the long drive back home. I hope he shows his girl friend this post and she understands he is a really great guy if she doesn’t already know that. The hotel staff were wonderful and comforting, they had spoken to my friend Corky who had flown me in for the consult in Louisiana, and they fronted me forty dollars for food until he got there the next day. Even the maid knocked on the door to check up on me. I had about twenty four hours alone to process all that had happened and in retrospect I am glad about that. I never cried or fell apart but I didn’t sleep well for days. Flashbacks to the sound of the boots the gun and what if?
Terry sent my passport so I got home at the end of the week after a rough travel day and I spent the next days getting my life back, Iphone, i.d., and credit cards. On Sunday my family came over because they had been without electricity for five days. They all had long hot showers, played on the computers, charged their phones and ate the ham and potato soup I made. Here’s the thing. When I was making that soup with my left over ham bone and chopping up potatoes in my warm kitchen I knew I was the lucky one. I was not in some roach infested rotting old tenement wondering where my next meal was coming from. I got everything back and I’m fine. They are not, they never will be. Their lives are already over. Its just a matter of time, they are walking dead men one way or another.
The tragedy is not the carjacking and robbery, that’s a scary irritation, the tragedy is in the human lives that are being wasted every day. Christians fight like crazy against abortion but do little to save the people that are already here in the worst parts of this country. Why don’t we care for each other more and better?
The final illumination and grace note to this whole thing was getting my Iphone back. The pictures I shot with my Iphone were stored in the I cloud. Bless you Steve Jobs, wherever you are. These beautiful angels are the ironic illustrations to this long story which ends with me safe and whole and home.