Last weekend, I was in Chicago for my soon-to-be brother-in-law’s bachelor party. There was alcohol, baseball, steak, deep dish pizza, and yet more alcohol. I am sure we are all familiar with the silly, and often stupid, things young men do on bachelor parties. And we did plenty of those things. But that’s not what this story is about.
You see, we were headed to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play. That involved taking the train and then a bus. We arrived at the bus stop 10 minutes after the game had started (due to two cab companies failing to show up). The bus stop is 3 miles from Wrigley Field, just to give you an idea. Oh, and did I mention it was cold and rainy day in Chicago? Because it was.
Anyway, while we’re waiting, a white, unmarked van pulled up. An older man in a suit rolls down the window and says he’ll take people to the game for $3. Considering that the bus was $2.25 and nowhere to be seen, the five of us jumped aboard (the older adults waiting at the bus stop declined). So I’ll stop right there for a moment because I’m sure all the parents among my readers are thinking, “What the hell is wrong with you guys?” I can only respond, “a lot.”
There was no real discussion among us, other than over price. I can only speak for myself, but I thought to myself, okay, it’s only a three-mile straight shot. If he turns off the road, I can try jumping out of the van. If he pulls a gun, I’ll duck, then try to jump out of the van. He can’t take us all, can he? Wait, check the locks to the door. I heard Gacy used to cut those off so his victims couldn’t get out. Okay, good, they’re still there.
Basically, my plans involved jumping from a moving vehicle. Because that’ll work out just fine. Maybe I’m paranoid, or maybe I’ve seen too many police procedurals, but all of those thoughts ran though my head within the first 30 seconds of stepping out of the bus stop. And that’s me, as an adult male in the company of four other adult males. But that’s not where the story ends.
You see, as we continued to Wrigley Field, the driver would solicit people while we waited at red lights. There were no other takers for the first few blocks. Then he asked a woman, walking by herself. She looked at him and said, “but you’re an unmarked van.” Then she looked back in the van and saw the five of us. Then, the woman got in, as she said, “and I don’t know you, but…” Once she had buckled in, a guy from our group said to her, “You are the bravest woman in Chicago.”
We all made it safely to the game, and the woman ended up sitting only a few rows ahead of us, but it got me thinking. Growing up, our parents tell us never to get in a car with strangers. But we did. Is it the hubris of adulthood? The idea that we think we can properly assess risk? That I can take an old man? That we outnumber him five to one? But what was her thought process? Why did having five guys in the back make it safer? I think many of us have seen enough tv, read enough books, and seen enough internet videos that we can all think of a dozen different ways things could turn out for her. I can barely justify our group choosing his van over the bus stop, but what was her justification?
And once we got to Wrigley Field, the guys in our group all laughed about it (whistling through the graveyard, perhaps?), and we tried to justify getting in an unmarked van, but the excuses were lame. He handed us business cards as we got in his van, but really, anyone with $20 can get 500 of them made at Stapes. And we also said that we would hate to hear that our future daughters did that, even as an adult. But why was it ok for us to do it?
So what did “The Bravest Woman in Chicago” teach me? That it must be easy for serial killers to pick up victims. And Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for being so stupid (still). And, yes, we can talk about this on Mothers’ Day. Everyone else–please feel free to comment or mock my stupidity below.
A couple things: I like your detailed back up plan, mostly because I do the exact same thing. I feel like as long as I’ve acknowledged the risks and formulated a plan to deal with those risks, I’m somehow better off than I was before because I am equipped to deal with it.
Second, I’ve totally done stuff like this. I barely even remember the details now, but I remember I somehow wound up stranded at a gas station in the middle of the night (maybe with Kelly from KV, I think?) and we accepted a ride with a strange guy. I knew it was dumb, but at the time I felt sure that getting in the car with this guy was better than staying where I was with the multiple strange guys. I didn’t fully understand this until I read Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker (highly recommended) but we’re constantly making assessments on a subconscious level about the safety of certain situations that are usually highly accurate. There might have been something I registered about the people at the gas station that made me know I had to get out of there, even if I didn’t realize what it was. You didn’t talk about whether to get in the van because you weren’t getting any signals that it wasn’t safe, same with the woman. Y’all are a non-threatening group. On the other hand, I’d be willing to bet many of Gacy’s victims were getting signals not to get in the car (such as subconsciously noticing the missing locks) but didn’t listen to those signals because “oh I’m so paranoid, ha ha…”
But that’s just it. Sociopaths are very skilled at minimizing or eliminating those signals. They are skilled at building trust and comfort.
Right I’m not saying it’s flawless, but I’m saying no matter how nice someone is there’s often something off. He tells one story for instance of a woman who was attacked in her apartment by a man who offered to help her carry her groceries inside. She knew something was wrong even though he seemed really nice, but she ignored it. When she really reviewed her memories later she realized that someone else had let him in and he didn’t even have keys in his hand. Her brain was telling her “he doesn’t live here – he shouldn’t be in this building.” I’m just saying that sometimes the things we do that seem “stupid” are really just because we’re analyzing the situation on a level we’re not even aware of and deciding that it’s safe.
Yes, this is your mother reading your blog and Jamie’s comments. I am still in shock! Adults are murdered everyday-not just little kids-NEVER FORGET-STRANGER-DANGER!!! I would like my children to outlive me! I can not believe that woman got in that van by herself. She got in with several strangers! Yes, I’m glad that I find out this information after the fact. You wonder why parents always worry about their children-no matter how old they are.
It’s okay, Mom. He wasn’t selling “perfume samples” on a rag.
You NEVER EVER know!
Listen to your mother, I’m in shock too! Wait I have to call my kids and have a talk.
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