I grew up in a small town in central North Dakota, population 488 in the 1970 census. No one locked our doors. Why would we? The only time anything got stolen was when a punk teenager my dad had disciplined in class got revenge by taking our 1969 Pontiac for a joyride. He drove nearly as far as the Montana border before running out of gas.
That car was easy pickins: It was unlocked. With the keys in the ignition. And left running.
After I moved to California as a teenager, I figured I’d never again live in a town where people were so casual about their locks. But when I moved to my current house Athens, I learned that pretty much everyone on my street left their back door open during the day, and often their front door too. I slid back into the unlocked habit as if it were an old pair of slippers. I thought I had the best of all worlds: a 1950s small-town atmosphere combined with hippie style and progressive politics. (Our county voted 2/3 for Obama, and in town I’m sure it was reminiscent of East German election results.)
But two nights ago, thieves struck. I’m fine, my family is fine. But a house just a couple of blocks away was broken into by cover of night. They woke up to find all their electronics missing, along with a collection of musical instruments. They have a boy who’s a classmate of my older son’s. Everyone was home, asleep. (It’s that last point that gives me the chills.)
Of course I feel for them. But beyond their personal losses, I think everyone in the neighborhood feels as though we’ve all been robbed of something rare and precious. Now everyone is reminding each other to lock their doors when they go out. Mine are locked right now.
We’ve been outrageously privileged to not worry about this. Our security was probably a cotton-candy illusion all along. I’ll miss it anyway.
I think I might just sleep with my computer under my pillow tonight.