Monday, July 11, 2011

Scanning the Darkness

"Moira, do you have your scanner on?"

So asked Mary after the crash, when sirens and flashing lights lit up the edge of our block.

"No, I don't have it on. I heard the crash though." I was on the sidewalk in front of her house, pushing a wheelbarrel back to Andrew and Madelin's, next to Mary's. In preparation for a major home renovation, Madelin and Andrew are digging up their perennials and sharing them with a few lucky neighbors. They had surprised me yesterday afternoon with four variegated weigelas, and then they basically let me shop from their yard for more goodies. "I'll take this, and this, and..."

I was filthy and sweaty, but loving the early evening gabfest that happens most nights on our block, while the kids blasted each other with Super Soakers and other water guns.

"What happened?" asked Nolan, when he heard me mention "the crash". He nervously eyed the flashing lights at the top of the block.

"There was a car crash, honey. Don't worry. We're all safe. And no ambulance has left with its siren on, so the people in the cars are probably okay, too." Then, because I'm such a mom, I added, "But just watch it while you guys are playing out here. Lots of cars are cutting down our block rather than deal with the traffic on the corner. So don't go into the street right now--for anything."

"Okay."

Minutes later, our local fire engine threw on its siren, left the scene of the accident and screamed its way toward Lighthouse Park, which is at the end of our little seaside city neighborhood. At least one ambulance followed. And then another. And several cop cars.

"Big crash, huh?" Ian asked me through the screen of the back door, as I hosed the newly-planted weigelas.

I shook my head slowly and kept the hose on "shower".

This time, I had my scanner on. "They just told Engine 16 to drive right up on the beach," I said. "Sounds like they have an adult swimmer in distress."

"Sheesh."

"Summer in the Cove!"

Ian's silhouette disappeared from the door. It was just me, the hose, some mosquitoes, and my iPhone crackling with codes by the light of the setting sun.

My oldest, dearest, nearest, bff Renee had sold me on the scanner app at least a year or more ago, after discovering that it would actually let us follow what was happening in the neighborhood when sirens went roaring by. While our neighborhood is comparatively quiet to other city neighboroods, it explodes with emergency vehicles in the summer. Most of the calls seem to head toward Lighthouse Park or other neighborhood parks, piers and, of course, miserable intersections.

So a year or more ago, I downloaded the app, and then deleted it less than a week later. It made me anxious. I didn't actually like hearing the play-by-plays from cops or firemen handling life-or-death 911 calls from my neighbors. I didn't like hearing cops and firemen in danger, either. But a few months ago, after one particularly raucous night in the neighborhood, I downloaded the app again. Curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know what the hell was going on.

The kids are fascinated by the app. Sean thinks it's amazing that anybody can listen in on emergency calls from all over the country. He also thinks it's creepy. "I feel like I'm spying on people," he said when he first used it. "I don't like it. Turn it off."

Nolan, on the other hand, couldn't get enough of it when he discovered it. "Put on the police scanner!" he pleaded, pressing the phone to his ear to better hear the cops discuss how their response time was going to be slow to a call on Hubinger Street, since it was hailing. [Insert cop joke >here<.] He was riveted. Meanwhile, Sean sat down at the piano bench and banged away on some keys, drowning out the sounds of distress from the other side of the bridge.

I took the phone back from Nolan. "Only mommy or Ian uses this, okay?" Nolan frowned. "Honey," I explained, "You could turn this on and hear something that might really scare you. You might hear about people who are really sick or who are really hurt, or you might hear about a store being robbed. It's real stuff and it's scary stuff, and just because we can listen to it doesn't mean we should. So always ask me first and then we'll listen together, just for a few minutes, okay?"

"Okayyyyyyyyyy...."

I'm so fun.

But I remember Jimmy Carroll's scanner. Jimmy and his wife lived across the street from my grandmother when I was growing up. Since I lived in Grandma's house for the first decade of my life, and since Grandma's neighborhood was as much of a little hamlet as my current 'hood, I was at the Carroll's all the time, playing with their grandkids and swimming in their pool. Jimmy, a retired fire chief from one of the shoreline towns, had the scanner on All The Time. And sometimes, while me and the other kids played, I'd see his eyebrows raise at whatever the hurried voices on the radio were telling him. And then he'd walk over and shut it off. "Nothing you kids need to hear," he would say. And that would be that.

I had moved on from hosing down the plants to hosing down the dog last night when Nolan walked into the backyard. An ambulance came blazing back from Lighthouse Park on its way to the hospital. I reached into my pocket to pull out my iPhone and shut off the scanner. As I did, I heard "Engine 16, 63". Then the response: "99. Engine 16, 63." They were done with the call. And so was I. I had already said my Hail Mary for the distressed swimmer. Listening in to his plight wasn't going to help anyone.

I won't delete the app. It's good to have, especially when six or seven cops go flying by with their sirens on. I don't mind having a window into what that's all about. But medical calls? They're too private. People get sick. People die. I don't feel like I have much right to listen in on that and hear it unfold, sometimes before their families even know what's happening.

Still, before writing this, today I threw on the police scanner just for fun, just to see what kind of calls New Haven's Finest were dealing with on a Monday morning. I immediately heard a cop radio for EMS assistance, since they found "a guy passed out clutching a Listerine bottle".

I turned it off and tossed my phone into my purse.

xo

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