It's Jackie's Neighborhood

Attention, drunks, drug runners, cactus thieves, and other enemies of Sunset Heights: Jackie Harris is looking for you. And she's got her machete.

And according to real estate agents working the area, both would have been priced in the mid-60K range as recently as last fall.

Of course there's no way to attribute a rise like that directly to Jackie. There are also the matters of a booming economy, historically low interest rates and a newly magnetized downtown adding value to near-town real estate to claim their shares of the credit. And if the neighborhood is solidly in transition, that doesn't mean it has changed hands entirely. There are still veterans of the dirt road days living in the same bungalows where they were born. Middle-income working-class families, white and brown, still tend their yards on weekends. And there are still some freaky artist types.

Like Jackie, they're caught between a rock and a soft place.
On one hand, she says, "This is my home, I live here and I'm not going to just sit by and watch while someone turns it into, like, gang land. It's gonna go up, it ain't gonna go down."

On the other hand, she says, "One thing I've noticed about the yuppies that have moved into the neighborhood, I mean, they're useless, basically. They spend all this money fixing up these houses, buying these expensive properties and everything, and they move their little asses in, and then they sit there on their apathetic asses and don't raise a finger to do anything. They're afraid to do anything about anything. The reason there's so much crime is basically their fault. They'll sit there and watch something happen, hear a noise or hear a gunshot or whatever, and they won't even look out a window to see what's happened."

Jackie, obviously, has little patience for such passivity.
"Ever since I've been here, I've been running this block with an iron fist. I'm not saying I'm mean to anybody, but if I see them littering, parking bad, being drunk, disorderly, speeding through the neighborhood, teasing my neighbor's dog, anything that I don't think they should be doing, I'm going to go out there and say something to them. And I don't care if they're 70- or eight-year-olds, they're gonna get a little lecture, or have appropriate action taken, the police called or whatever. Chased off, in other words."

"I was always that kind of person. In your face. I'm not going to take any shit."

-- Jackie Harris

"Here, let's go around the block, and I'll show you what I'm talking about. If they're there, just keep walking and act like nothing's happening."

This is Jackie giving a problem-spot tour of her block, and she doesn't want to tip off her latest antagonists that she's onto them. We pass the cantina, on which she's "hammered and hammered and hammered." Now here's another commercial establishment, one that apparently hasn't caused Jackie any grief. Then we come to the used-car lot, which, in the middle of the weekday, is as she guessed it would be -- unmanned.

They work only at night, says Jackie, and even then, only some nights. There seems to be an oddly rapid turnover, the entire lot at a time, of pricey luxury sedans and all-terrain vehicles and vintage muscle cars. That's what first raised her suspicions. Then there were the abandoned dogs, beautiful Dobermans chained to a tire and left for days without food or water. They cried in Jackie's alley until she organized a liberation team from the neighborhood and got the pups to the humane society. Turns out the dogs had parvo and were put down.

There's an abandoned car in the alley now, and it goes without saying that this chaps Jackie's ass as well.

She knows the lot's proprietors. She met them when they came looking for their Dobermans months later, and the experience left her with the conviction that they are borderline imbeciles with a negligent streak and are somehow involved with the drug trade. Again, don't get her wrong: America's official War on Drugs out-imbeciles anything she's ever waved a machete at up in Sunset Heights. But to the extent they've proven to be bad neighbors, they're going to have to go.

Thus the barrage of phone calls -- to the Houston Police Department, to the FBI, to the mayor's Citizens Assistance Program, to the IRS, to the inspector general, to Councilman Felix Fraga.

She's especially pissed at Fraga on this day. She's been hounding him to get something done about the car lot, and she's seen so little action she's starting to think that the police are somehow in on it, maybe running a sting operation. It's frustrating, and Fraga hasn't been helpful. He left her a message this morning, and Jackie wants her guest to hear it. It's still on the answering machine tape, which sits beside a small table that holds a letter addressed to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Jackie can't help but offer feedback. It's just the way she is. When the Food and Drug Administration approved Olestra, Jackie got the agency's director on the phone and bitched him out something fierce.

She finally cues the tape to the Fraga message, and there it is, a half-muttered, thoroughly noncommittal "hope" that everything "turns out okay."

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