Category Archives: Crime

Everyday maps for the mildly paranoid

If you read my post on Alamere Falls, you’ll know that I spent most of the trip worrying about Poison Oak.

So I have to admit, I suffer from mild paranoia and hypochondria at times (not that I let it stop me from traveling), so I thought I’d share some everyday maps for people of a similar affliction.

1.  UV Radiation Map

The EPA posts updates on how strong UV rays are each day. I check this before deciding whether or not to use dreaded sunscreen or just put on my hat. All those news articles about the indisputable efficacy of sunscreen have made me faintly paranoid, since I rarely use or have used the stuff.

2. National Allergy Forecast

Everyone seems to suffer at least mildly from allergies. Mine have gotten worse of the years in the Bay Area. After learning that it was causing me yearly sinus infections, I became more paranoid about allergies, so much that I check this map nearly daily to see whether or not I have to take a Zyrtec. (Unlike most hypos, I hate taking stuff when I don’t have to.)

3. Crime Mapping

There isn’t much you can do about this one, except shutter up and make sure take a Maglite or Pit Bull on your evening stroll. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to know how much and what kind of crime occurs in your area. After learning my neighborhood was relatively safe, I stopped carrying my Maglite with me. As for the Pit Bull, there’s no way in hell I’d ever get one of those “pets.”

And, last, but not least . . .

4. Registered Sex Offenders in Your Neighborhood (CA folks only)

Nothing stokes your paranoia like knowing where your neighborhood pedophiles are. You might want to think twice before checking this one out. I’m not sure if there are non-CA equivalents, but if you’re in California it’s your right to know. As to whether you want to, that’s a different question.

Generally, that’s enough for me. But here’s some other ideas I’ve yet to venture into: earthquake and flood risk maps, traffic accidents per capita, and suspected haunted houses.

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Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Crime, Health, Maps, Weird


The Cary House

This is a draft for a photojournalistic story I’m working on with a friend of mine. It’s set in Placerville, near my temporary home back in the States. I’m hoping to do more articles in this vein. Check back soon for photographs to be added to the story.

The Cary House

Downtown Placerville, California sits The Cary House, a long, rustic, red-brick, four-story block building that serves as the town’s most popular hotel. All locals know of this vine-enwrapped building; it’s landmark. More than that, it’s surrounded in arcane mystery and possesses a suspicion of haunts, strange encounters and paranormal experience.

The two most haunted rooms are purportedly on the second story, rooms 212 and 214, at the far end of the hall. There are various stories for what may have happened, though most conclude that a murder or suicide took place. The question is only whether it was by fire, bullet or strangulation. Some also suspect that another murder took place in the back of the lowest level near the fire escape. And most recently, on Thursday, July 28th, a guest, a Mrs. Kurtenbach, saw in her hallway—which happened to be on the second floor—a pretty young girl in a white- and cream-blue dress with dandelion-colored hair half covered in a bonnet. She walked from one end of the hallway toward another, away from Mrs. Kurtenbach. “She looked back at me when she got to the far end of the hall. I tried to smile, or wave, but I was so struck by the strangeness of the situation, I . . . It was like she was from another era. And yet so real. Then, after she turned around, she just vanished. Just like that. And all I saw was the Exit sign above where her head had been. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Such experiences, apparently, are not rare. In fact, they are commonplace to visitors of the Cary House, although the Hotel has yet to gain notoriety for its supernatural aura. Local historian, Mr. Crocker, however, discounts any ghost stories as fiction. Crocker said that, contrary to local belief, “The Cary House is not old, not by historical standards. It was made to look old in the 1940’s. Really, what you’re looking at is the Raffle House, a re-creation of the Cary House which was in Placerville, or shall I say, Hangtown, during the good old gold mining days. So there’s no way you’d see some ghost from the 1800’s.” Crocker, moreover, claims that most of Placerville’s old town is just a Disney-like reinterpretation of the olden times and that most history stories of Placerville require deeper digging than looking at faux-historical architecture.

Nevertheless, the Cary House contains the oldest elevator on the west side of the Mississippi. And despite Crocker’s claims, there is a guestbook which goes back to the late 1800’s. One eerie entry for 1888 contains the words “3 moar.” This supposedly appeared all of a sudden after the second murder took place.

And the Cary House continues to exert an imposing force over its occupants. My first time there was just two days after the latest paranormal report. As I approached under its overbearing shadow in the heat of a summer’s day, I felt ill-at-ease, mesmerized. Inside, in the air-conditioned halls, I was captivated by the marble-green carpet, the lush upholstery, the stained-glass windows and the old western artifacts beneath the front clerk’s counter. Standing near the fire exit in the back, where the second murder reportedly took place, I felt the tension of trapped air accompanied by a dim electric hum and, as I began to walk away, I felt the sensation of featherweight fingers tapping my shoulders.

The Cary House, doubtless, induces a feeling of the bizarre and weird upon the psyche. Upstairs, the hallways appeared slightly off-center; walking down them you feel gravity in a warped and uneven way, as if the building had modified, for a moment, the universal laws of physics. The stairwell creaks; light comes through the skylight in dispersed, but sharp, piercing rays. Imagine staying the night there; after midnight when you lie down to sleep, it might not be difficult to mishear the sound of the ancient piano warily playing an outmoded dance tune, or the murmur of a child, in an unfamiliar colonial accent, speak brashly to its sibling. And later on, breaking your dreams, you hear a horse trot up in front of the building, waiting for its halter and water in a mangy trough, while footsteps plunk over the porch below.

For better or worse, be it a real historical edifice or a farcical refurbishing, the Cary House allows residents of Placerville, and of all the West, to come into contact with the unique history of their surroundings and the nebulous folktales and rumors that spawn around the presence of the past, a thing often lacking in the hives of condominiums and sprawling McMansions which cover so much of the state. The 10,389 residents of Placerville should count themselves lucky to live in one of the more historical cities in California.

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Crime, Culture, Hauntings, Tourism, Travel


The Brave Traveler Phenomenon

I was recently watching a documentary on favelas in Brazil where an underground travel agency was now giving guided tours of the slums, and travelers, mostly Europeans, were gladly being taken into the worst parts of Brazil to observe the local culture, eat food and buy things. This helps demonstrated that which I call the “brave traveler phenomenon,” which is mostly a good thing, though it can be dangerous for the occasional traveler.

This phenomenon is characterized by a feeling of invincibility one feels by being in a foreign country, the sense that nothing is quite that real and that, even if you do have something to worry about, it’s not like at home. This can lead people, who otherwise would avoid slums and scary backwoods areas, to get outside of their nominal terrain when they are outside of the country. However, since those places they go, which the locals avoid, are actually dangerous, it means they do put themselves in harm’s way (though often, admittedly, the statistical danger is exaggerated). Putting yourself in odd situations may not always be pleasant, but it sharpens your senses and can make you more alert to danger, and can open your mind a bit when you get back to your home.

One personal example of this are the buses in Peru. When I was in Peru I rode some of the worst buses imaginable all around the country. I felt fine. Peru doesn’t feel all that unsafe a lot of the time, but surely I was taking some risks, not just in getting my stuff stolen, or getting a knife in my back, but in flying over the side of the cliff as the bus swerved to miss an oncoming fuel truck. I took them all around the country, the cheapest, ugliest buses I could find. When I got back to the US, I talked to middle-class Peruvian emigrants, who looked shocked, telling me that they would never even consider taking one of those buses. And they were Peruvian. Of course, most middle-class Brazilians would give you the same response to going into the favelas, just like a lot of Americans would tell you not to visit Harlem or take the Greyhound across the country, like I still probably wouldn’t, but for some reason Europeans do those things, usually without trouble (though occasionally there’s a tragedy), and seem to think that we Americans are crazy for worrying so much . . . but I’m sure those same Europeans avoid the outer suburbs of Paris like the plague.

So why do we feel so strong abroad, and so ill-at-ease at home? Well, part of it is the desire not to see the less desirable parts of your own country. I don’t like the existence of slums in America and I don’t want to be reminded of them. I have to live there (sort of). Also, I’m aware of many a happening in those areas and I’m not dumb enough to allow myself to become another victim. Also, if you take a guerra de clases point of view, I, a native, non-poor person, have more to worry about than a non-native, who is merely traveling around and doesn’t bear the feeling of mutual responsibility for the problem. He can look on more detachedly; it’s not his country, just a crazy place he’s passing through. Why are the natives so scared, anyway? It ain’t that bad. Which is exactly how I felt in Lima and some parts of Buenos Aires . . . until I was there for a while and started to get annoyed and agitated with having to live in or near slums and the so-called transitional districts. Having to live there makes it a great weight on the brain. It’s no longer an adventure to go visit; it becomes a hassle to avoid and to survive. And part of the problem is the local prejudice against such regions or areas, which even though they improve and change, linger in the consciousness as “bad areas” in the locals’ minds, stultifying investment and keeping the places from reaching their potential for a long time.

Fortunately, we have brave travelers to reminds us of the interesting, if not necessarily pleasant areas of our countries, that need to be brought to light, so that they are not simply forced away from consciousness, and are viewed as areas for opportunity, not places to be pushed away and forgotten.

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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Crime, Culture, Tourism, Travel


No logical reason to bring cash abroad

This post is mostly targeted toward future auxiliares de conversacion trying to figure out how to get their money to Europe safely and effectively. But it also has some general rules for dealing with money and living abroad.

When you decide to travel or move abroad, you have to deal with annoying currency exchanges a lot. Also, you have to worry about transporting your cash, credit cards or traveler checks and finding ways to get money without racking up large fees.

So what’s the best way to go about this?

Simple. Use your debit card and Capital One credit card. If you don’t have a Capital One card, get one before you go abroad. To my knowledge, apart from fancy cards which require excellent credit and involve yearly fees, the Capital One card is the only one which does not charge you each time you use it outside of the country. A good credit card is a must for emergencies, especially when you move abroad.

As for day to day cash, if you are moving abroad, I see little logic in bringing more than 300 dollars cash with you in hand. Currency changes are notoriously bad, almost everywhere you go. People nowadays like to deal in digital money. There is no labor in making computer transactions, as opposed to cash shuffling. So, generally speaking, apart from a small ATM fee, you get the best exchange rates through withdrawing money directly in the foreign currency of your choice. With your debit card you can take out enough money to open a bank account and start depositing it. It’s also easier for you to keep on eye on the exchange rates because they usually follow a day behind what’s going on on the market. The day your currency is up, the following day go and take out a lot of money and bring it to your new bank account, or to spend.

Cash is bad. I made the mistake of moving to Europe with most my money in hand. First of all, forget the scam of cash exchange rates. It’s just dangerous. People can rip you off at your hotel or on the street. In Spain, where I moved, pickpocketing is common, as are hotel maids who will steal your money without so much as a flinch.

Banks are pretty bad in Europe, not because of charges or anything, which aren’t very bad, but because of their lack of working hours. This will be a continuous problem, so make sure that when you get an account you get an ATM card with it or else you’ll often be out of luck.


Friendly Pickpocketers

I’ve heard stories pickpocketers (and purse stealers) in small town America being so kind as to only take your cash and mail back your drivers license, wallet and credit cards. It’s happened to some of my family members and friends, in fact. And I’ve even heard of people getting their wallets returned to their home doorsteps in the middle of the night. Apparently the thief knew he wasn’t going to take any chances with identity theft and decided, instead of tossing out someone’s personal items and causing the person a great deal of trouble, to return his items and relieve his conscience a bit. That’s rather moving, even if he did commit a crime initially.

Well, guess what. This happens in Spain, too. In big city Madrid no less. It’s happened to two of my friends so far and I imagine it happens often throughout Europe in general. Let’s call it “noble thievery”. If I were poor, unemployed and hungry, and had to turn to stealing somebody’s cash, I would do the same. So I imagine that a lot of pickpocketers are not stealing from the evil of their heart, but because they have to.

Then again, I met a girl who got robbed $900 in the subway and I’m sure she wouldn’t care so much if she got her driver’s license back at that point. What was she thinking going around with $900 in her pocket on the Madrid subway? Well, she wasn’t thinking at all.


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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Crime, Madrid, Spain