On a Friday afternoon at around 3:00 I was leaving my job near school, excited to drive home for my friend's birthday and get to spend some time with my family. I got in my 2005 SUV that I expected was going to get me to my house in the two and a half hours that it usually takes. However, about an hour into the drive, I was on the highway when my car started making abrupt noises, the dials began moving sporadically, and my seatbelt signal started dinging, despite the fact that I was buckled.
Instantly my heart dropped, as I knew my car was about to break down. I was alone and had no idea how to asses the issues. I quickly evaluated my options. One, was attempting to still make it as far as I could and ignore the concerning noises. I quickly realized this was not an option, and although I wish I could have powered through, I knew I had to pull off into the first exit I saw.
Not knowing how long I would be stranded on my own, I scanned the sign overhead for the safest establishment that I could park at. I finally decided on a Mcdonalds, rather than a gas station or less popular fast food joint, because of how long they stay open and how they are usually consistently populated. Meaning that there would be plenty of bystanders in the case of a strangers advance. As I recall the pepper spray keychain I left in my dorm room, I pull into the parking lot and shut my car off in hopes that restarting it might solve my problems. But when the engine sputtered, it was obvious that this would not be a quick pitt stop.
I called my mom, the only person who could contact our roadside assistance company. No answer. I called my dad, but he could not do anything from where he was. Finally, I got a hold of my grandma who was able to call someone to help me. But they wouldn't arrive for a while. So, in a risky attempt to save myself time, I looked around at the cars and people going about their day, straining my neck to find someone who looked reliable to ask for jumper cables. Normally I don't judge a book by its cover, but in the vulnerable situation I was in, I was not going to take chances on just any random truck. Many women will understand this feeling.
When an off duty firefighter pulled up next to me, I decided he was probably safe to approach. While he went inside for food, I gathered the courage to ask him about the cables. And when I finally did, it was a useless effort. No cables, and no interest in helping. So I waited some more. Double and triple checking that my car doors were all locked. Keeping aware of my surroundings, and the coming and going of men who stare at me through my windows.
Finally the tow truck arrived and a large man walked over without saying a word. Still keeping my guard up, I pop the hood, and he ends up telling me that he will have to tow me to the nearest car repair shop. Obviously, this is still inconvenient, and I still feel stranded due to my not understanding of what the car will need done or if they will try to over charge me as a result of my lack of knowledge.
His truck has some issues getting my car on the back, and he becomes visibly angry. At this point I am furious with the situation and quite uncomfortable with his mannerisms. He then talks aggressively on the phone to his friend about how he is supposed to be off of work already and how he couldn't just leave "this girl" at the Mcdonalds putting me more on edge. During the drive to the shop, I am going through all of the stories in my head about women who have been in dangerous situations with angry men as I remain aware and off of my phone.
When we arrive to the shop, I describe what I know about the cars issues to a mechanic as all of the other men in the shop stare and listen. One makes a joke at me as I am obviously upset and on the verge of tears from my frustration and all of the other happenings. I shoot down his joke in the effort to prove that I am not in the mood for any demeaning or even slightly flirtatious small talk. He then proceeds to explain that it was a joke and becomes defensive at my seriousness.
Skipping ahead to after my car is finally fixed, I hop in and drive away, eager to leave the male dominated waiting room of the car shop where I have been stared at (whether it was due to my quiet teariness or not) for far too long. Once I am on the highway again, I realize that because the car was restarted, I have to type in a code on my stereo for my music to be able to play. It is already dark, and I know it is a risky decision for me to pull off again to fix it, but I decide it is worth the luxury of not being fatigued and bored the rest of my long journey home. So I take the exit at the first well lit rest stop that I can find. I put my car in park, and turn on my overhead light so that I can look through the cars manuals.
As I find the code, I look up to type it in and because I feel eyes on me. I see a man standing a few feet from my car smoking a cigarette and staring into the cabin where i'm sitting. Suddenly I feel like an exposed fish in a well lit fishbowl, and realize the danger I have put myself in by stopping. I quickly type in the code and hit the light off as I see him begin to move closer, not taking his eyes off of me. As I pulled away, I realize how much the decision to go to the rest stop this late, alone, could have cost me.
When I was finally safe at home, I really had a moment to reflect on all of the things that a girl has to think about on a daily basis. Doing ordinary activities, a woman must keep all of the possibilities what someone could do in her head. She must imagine the worst possible scenarios, and bear them in mind as she goes about her life. All in hopes that she does not end up as one of the women with their face plastered across all news and media platforms with the words MISSING, or RAPED, or MURDERED in the title. Because if find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, asking the wrong guy for help, or making the wrong decision, there is no telling what could happen to you.