That Time I Thought I Was Being Abducted
Mistakes happen and we as a species spend a great deal of our lives making them and dealing with their consequences. The importance and impact of each mistake we make is a fundamental building block of who we become. These experiences generally have to do with our safety and awareness. They shape our character and become the maternal voices of our inner dialogue. THIS is actually the story about the time I got into a cab that turned out not be an actual cab and got a dose of fear that has stuck with me since then.
Like many people, my first semester at college was an adjustment period. It was a low level “trial by fire” in basic safety and awareness and at being responsible for myself while becoming semi-capable adult (with mixed results). During this particular situation, I made a simple decision that really could have been a disaster. Luckily for me, I live in the good old USA and although terrible things do happen to good people, it is a statistical rarity. This situation was the first “wake up call” of my own personal interest in safety training and it all started with the events that transpired on September 11, 2001.
It had been an extremely strenuous time for many americans (and our international supporters) and being from New York I had been anxious to get home for a visit with some family, friends and to see the folks. I had officially been away from home (for the first time in my life) for about a week when the attack happened. About a month or so after 9/11, I thought it was calming down enough to make the trip back. It was the second or third weekend in October when I jumped on the Amtrak to head home. It ended up being an emotional weekend involving lots of long hugs and “call me if you need to talk” goodbyes.
The LIRR ride to Penn Station, followed by the shuttle to Port Authority ran like clockwork. The hustle to get on the Amtrak and back up to Hartford Ct was uneventful but still a little stressful for a “noob” traveler like myself. After an hour and a half, the train was finally pulling up to the dark elevated depot in the middle of a desolate downtown train station. Hartford and its surrounding towns had been on a downward swing for much of the 90’s. Gang problems had slowly eroded its shiny exterior as the Insurance Capital of the World and its inner city were still a bit of a war zone.
The city itself emptied out at 6 o’clock every night as if some biblical city manager pulled a giant switch to turn the power off for the whole city, it was always a ghost town. Despite the numerous initiatives to improve the stature and nightlife, not many people seemed interested in taking the chance of spending too much time downtown after nightfall. Crime and blight had infiltrated almost every zone of the city due to its being centrally located between New York and Boston.
As a fresh faced college student in the area, I had already heard enough horror stories from Orientation Leaders (Red Caps) and upper class-men about not driving down Albany Ave straight into the city. It is clearly the fastest route between the school and the city center; however at that time the crime rate was all anyone needed to know about which route is best. Even now, according to crime statistics in the city…. it looks like there’s still room for improvement.
It was around 10 pm when the train pulled in. I had been in and out of consciousness the whole ride up and a little out of it. My large rolling duffle bag had chipped a wheel getting onto the LIRR early in the day and it clicked as I dragged it along the elevated platform. The escalator had conveniently transformed into a more classic medium of vertical travel and I struggled a bit carrying/dragging the awkward, oversized duffle down the stairs.
As the other travelers in front of me made their way through the indoor ticketing area, I could see each of their heads snap backwards as if some invisible entity had smacked every one of them in the face. A moment later I was introduced to some pungent smell coming from what seemed like …everywhere. I tucked my chin and decided to just hold my breath till I made it through the ticketing area.
As I exited the station I saw a cab and a sedan sitting in the cab line of the parking lot. The women walking next to me sped ahead and effortlessly glided into the back seat of the cab and it took off immediately. Looking back, her action makes me think she had way more awareness then I did because she got into an actual cab. My new metronome/duffle bag loudly clicked as I walked up to the dark sedan.
The trunk popped open as I approached and I hoisted the heavy bag into the trunk, partially crushing an opened box of industrial garbage bags and landing next to two bottles of bleach and some thick rubber gloves. At the time, I didn’t consciously notice them. My subconscious however, noticed the hell out of them. After closing the trunk my eyes panned up and I caught the driver’s stare in his rearview mirror. I walked around to the rear passenger side door and got in.
Buckle Up Cupcake
“University of Hartford please” I said as I closed the door and the car took off. The cigarette he was smoking was the first thing I consciously noticed as we headed out of the parking lot and under the train tracks. My inner dialogue chimed in and I questioned it but just as quickly dismissed it as a “whatever, Im tired and really don’t feel like getting into an argument with some cab driver.” As the car rolled completely through the first and second stop sign, I noticed that the music playing was a little louder than appropriate. No big deal, cab drivers listen to music but the volume, language and significant base coming from the trunk was a bit out of place.
Hearing the music caused my eyes to go from gazing outside at the dark, boarded up empty shops along the road to slowly looking back at the center console at his radio. The hypnotic display and neon colored buttons were…. out of place in a cab. What the hell kind of town car/cab is this? I started to focus more on the details of the dashboard when my eyes got pulled away by something. I noticed we were driving past the main road that’s generally used to get to the school. It was THE way everyone drove back and forth through the city. It was how my folks drove through to drop me off, it was how the cab driver brought me to the train station when I went home and it was the ONLY thing I could focus on for the moment.
Being Aware of Your Own Mistake
“Weren’t we supposed to make that last left?” I asked as I sat up a little. “No” he coldly responded. His phone chirped and I could hear the old Nextel crackle followed by a harsh voice “Where you at……?” The phone crackled again as the voice repeated “Hey man, where you at?” I repeatedly thought to myself “where the FUCK is this guy going?” My eyes started focusing on each and every street sign and boarded up shop, looking for something to help me figure out where the hell I was. Not that it would have helped much anyway; I had only driven through Hartford a handful of times.
The driver responded into his phone “chill man, I’m on my way.” My eyes frantically darted back to the dashboard looking for the driver’s I.D. or badge or anything official…. and I saw nothing. “Where the fuck is the meter!?” was my next brilliant realization. The I.D, his badge and the meter were missing (just like I figured I’d be listed as in the official police report) The car was not a cab and by all accounts the guy driving it was not in fact a cab driver.
My subconscious decided it was time to chime in to officially mess with my head and remind me of the contents of the trunk. My heart dropped as all the intricate details crashed down on me like some cold avalanche that kept me frozen in the back seat of this car. We were way off course and I was pretty sure I was about to get robbed or worse.
“Do I tell him to let me out here? Where the hell is here? This is a BAD area dummy, don’t get out here….. Shit, my stuff is in the trunk, what if he just takes off with it? FUCK FUCK FUCK” I said to myself. (There were several more “fucks” but I don’t want to drag this out too much) I decided that I had to call someone and let them know what’s going on. I would have texted but due to some technical issues, my phone wouldn’t send them.
What was I even going to say? “Hey bud, I’m being abducted so if you can just tell the professor that I’m probably going to miss class till the end of time, that would be great. Thaaaaanks” I picked my phone up and called my roommate, Aaron. A little info about Aaron, he’s from San Jose California and is not the most excitable person ever. He’s about as “West Coast” and relaxed as someone can be.
As I pushed “Call” and put the phone to my ear, the antenna of my Audiovox scrapped along the ceiling felt that was coming unglued. The phone rang once…. twice…. three times “C’mon, pick it up asshole” I thought…..then four times, then …….. voicemail. My emotional devastation deepened as his short voicemail message started. I canceled the call and redialed. The driver continued his conversation about how long its going to be till he “gets there.” (whatever the hell that meant)
Who is your safety contact?
The phone rang and Aaron picks up. “Hey man what’s up?” Total silence from my side of the call as I sat there unable to talk. Having not even thought of what I was going to say to him, I finally started to speak without even really thinking. “Hey man, I’m in the cab and uh…… will be there in 10 minutes…. 10 minutes man. I will see you in TEN minutes….ok? You hear me?” His response was exactly as expected. “Ok……… later” he responded. He had no idea of the cryptic bullshit SOS call I was sending out. Apparently, I don’t have any sort of Jedi mind control powers and should not quit my day job.
The driver continued to make seemingly erratic turns through the city. Driving down a side street one moment only to then hang a quick left at the corner of some park. He even briefly slowed down at one point to talk with some impressively shady person standing in an alley between two burned out buildings. At this point I was ready to jump out of the car (if we had actually came to a complete stop) but the opportunity never presented itself. The track changed and he turned up the volume. Passing a prostitute ‘here’ and a group of guys standing on a corner ‘there’ only seemed to increased my heart rate.
He rolled through another stop sign and slowed down to a complete stop on the right side of the street near an empty lot. He lowered the passenger side window and a guy walked up. I couldn’t help thinking “Welp…. this is where they’re going to find my body.” The driver turned down the volume and quickly told the guy that he would be back there “in a bit” and needs some help with something. The volume went back up and we started to drive.
We continued to zig-zag from street to street until suddenly he hooked a sharp right back onto the main drag heading towards the school. He made a last right turn onto Bloomfield Ave and with it, put my crazy fears to rest. When he pulled up to my building, he threw the car into park and casually said “16 bucks man.”
I handed him the cash and he popped the trunk. I reached in and grabbed my bag, giving one last disgusted look at the bleach and rubber gloves. He drove off and I was left standing there extremely embarrassed of my assumption of a worst case scenario. That guy probably WAS a cab driver to begin with and just trying to make a couple extra bucks. His “alternative route” through a crime ridden area was one hell of a sobering experience for someone who didn’t have a handle on the situation.
Modern Norms vs Past Norms
If you are reading this thinking “what’s the big deal, it was just a cab ride….” Well it was 2001 NOT 2017 when the norm is to press a button on a phone and magically a picture of your driver pops up with the exact model of the car they’re driving. Today there is a chain of evidence for you getting into a car AND the company that managed that transaction has all your information as well. Sure if you tried hard enough, I bet you could skirt your way around the requirements but the significance here is that I got into a car with a complete stranger and told them where I lived without being aware of what I had just done. I was not taking responsibility for myself and just “got in line.” In the history of our civilization, there have probably been millions of people who experienced tragedy by just “getting in line.”
Someone offering you help doesn’t mean
they are the person you should take it from.
The freedom I had to think for myself was out maneuvered by the easy solution and assuming that everything is just fine. Just because a car is sitting where the taxi’s usually sit doesn’t mean its a god damn taxi. The simple truth can be re-applied to hundreds of other situations. Someone offering you help doesn’t mean they are the person you should take it from. When you come out of the store at the gas station and see your tire is a little flat or you walk out of a grocery store and someone is suddenly there offering help doesn’t mean you take it. Your capacity to say “no” when offered help is just as important as knowing how to get help on your own terms.
It’s comical to think back on it now since nothing happened and I was just a scared shitless little freshman with ZERO world experience. My over-reaction and assumption of impending doom could be brushed off as not having any life experiences. But since my earliest days, when my parents would say “never get in a strangers car……don’t go anywhere with someone you done know….. don’t eat yellow snow,” etc etc, you would figure that a lesson had been learned.
I also heard “be aware of your surroundings” and “watch out for shady people” but I didn’t. I was an adult, traveling like millions of others do every single day and I ignored some of the most basic safety rules that get thrown around all the time. I got into some shady guy’s car, in a dangerous area and just assumed he was who he pretended to be.
I don’t remember where I originally heard this quote but I think it applies… “a historical event + time = Comedy.” During the moment, I wasn’t laughing. I was crushed at my misfortune and not sure how to get myself out of that mess. But now I can look back on it and laugh at how lucky I was. The driver wasn’t the issue, I was. Making a mistake like that is one of those things that stick with you and like a some mistakes from our past, if you give it enough time it might become a laughing matter.
Stay safe out there.