The Rear End

Safety Concerns

some people actually worry about their personal safety around here

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier |

My life as an all-around super-tough badass began early. I think the spark that ignited my long-term badassery occurred in the sixth grade – at school and in the lunch line. Naturally.

One day, the school’s resident punk decided that he deserved to stand at the head of the lunch line. As he strolled past (haughtily), I politely informed him that what he was doing was at best rude, at worst insulting to his hungry classmates. He replied with something like, “Whatever, buttface, let’s fight!” And I had no time to explain that I don’t fight over such trivial matters. Before I knew it, the punk and five of his closest punk buddies (who I believe fell from the ceiling like spiders) were upon me – kicking, punching, biting, and screaming inappropriate obscenities. I had no choice but to defend myself and the lunch line. So I kicked their asses. From that point on, I was a tough guy.

Some of my classmates remember the incident a bit differently. In their version, I was actually the one cutting in line, and I got into a girly push-fight with a classmate that ended in a stern talking-to from a lunch lady. They are mistaken.
The point is that I’m an all-around super-tough badass and I fear nothing, not even pissed-off raging polar bears. Sadly, living here in Eau Claire, my badassitude is rarely put to use as we live in an extremely safe valley in Wisconsin. I feel safe and I always have. In fact, I feel stupid for having to point out that I feel safe. Of course I feel safe. Why wouldn’t I?
Because recently, someone got into an argument up on Clairemont Avenue and got stabbed. And that poor guy died.

There are plenty of people out there who see this as a sign of the times, a sign that Eau Claire is not what it used to be. They feel less safe, as if this kind of thing is bound to happen more often. To be sure, these events are a big deal around here.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve heard a number of local people criticize our news media, saying all the Clairemont stabbing coverage was over the top, sensational even. But it wasn’t. It’s gotten tons of coverage because it’s out of the ordinary. I don’t believe it’s something worth obsessing over, but for better or for worse, it seems natural to talk about the incident more than, say, the expected remodeling of Oakwood Mall.

We shouldn’t avoid thinking about this violence. We already live in a bit of a bubble as far as violence is concerned. In the rare instances where awful things happen, it’s a reminder of how good we have it.

Our most recent and most remarkable instances of local violence – the “gang-related” shooting over ten years ago, the policeman who was killed a few years back, the Clairemont Avenue stabbing – all of those things stand out not because they are signaling a trend, but because of their uncommonness. After each of these events, a certain kind of person started crowing about how things are going downhill around here. I seriously doubt those events point to a downward spiral in safety, as each of them, when placed in context, are isolated incidents or just plain weird. Extremely tragic and horrible events, but not trendy in the least.

If you’re old enough, you remember “The Chevy Commercial.” In the early nineties, Eau Claire was named the Safest City in America by, um, some big magazine or national organization or government agency. Whoever said it is not important for our purposes here. Let’s just say it was a very official statement based on 100 percent bulletproof data. At any rate, the “safest” label carried enough weight to convince Chevrolet they should shoot a car commercial here, complete with local buildings, people, and policemen holding babies.

The early nineties Chevy Cavalier was the stuff of 16-year-old girls’ dreams (especially the purple ones). It also had a crapload of “standard safety features.” So the commercial’s tagline was, “If you lived in Eau Claire and you drove a Cavalier, would that make you one of the safest people in America? Probably not. But it’s a good start.” The commercial ends with a Cavalier driver comically almost getting run down by a school bus.

Well, we no longer claim the top spot in American safety, but in general, things are vastly closer to that cheesy Chevy commercial than they are to daily occurrences of random violence. So, if you’re worried about it, try to calm down.

Besides, if things ever do get bad around here, there’s still badasses like me around to keep the peace.