The other night I went for a short run after work. It was dark already, but I stayed in my neighborhood and enjoyed all the Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. I was running along, enjoying the lights and my run when a car slowed next to me and I heard a lady's voice say, "ma'am?" It was dark so I could not see who was in the car, and I did not stop. You may be thinking, that's kind of mean, but hear me out on this one. Before I tell you my little story, let me say this. I don't think you should ever stop and talk to people in a car, especially at night. Now, I have made the exception when I'm on a busy road in the daylight, but that is rare. I sort of wonder at the idiocy of a driver thinking they can pull up next to a running female at night believing she will (or should) actually stop and talk to them. Even if it is a car full of women who got lost on their way to Bunco night, it just isn't a good idea and as a runner you can't depend on it to be a car full of such women.
How did I come to feel this way? Well, first of all I was raised to be aware of what's going on around me, to pay attention to other people and to watch for signs of something strange or dangerous. So I've never been one to walk mindlessly to my car at night or to run in dark, unpopulated areas alone. But I also had quite an experience with a driver once and it has cured me from ever feeling like I should stop and help, even in the most seemingly safe conditions.
One morning I was running one of my regular routes. It was daylight and the school buses were already making their rounds. I was running to my sister's house and when I got there I was going to decide whether to turn around and run back or take the longer, hillier way home. As I turned on her road I crossed a 4 way stop. There was a white truck sitting in the opposite lane and so I waved as I always do when a car lets me pass. In a few minutes the car passed me, turned around and came back toward me. When it got to me it slowed and the man inside said something. It sounded like Spanish to me so I moved closer. I thought he might be lost.
When I was close enough to see him, I realized his pants were unzipped and he was workin' it (for lack of better phrasing). I was horrified and immediately turned and ran off. At this point I was almost to my sister's but I waited until the truck had driven out of sight before running into her driveway. I was so unsure of what to do. I told myself I wasn't hurt and nothing had happened, but my heart was racing and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I wasn't sure if I should knock on Julie's door so early in the morning so I just stood there for a minute and all of a sudden her front curtains opened. She smiled to see me standing there in her yard and opened the door.
I told her what happened and got some water. She offered to drive me home and at first I said no, but then I realized I didn't have it in me to run back down that street. When I got home Jason encouraged me to call the police and I did. They came to the house and took a report. I described the truck and the man inside. I could tell they wanted more information and I wish I'd had all of my wits and had looked at the license plate, but I just wasn't prepared to see what I saw.
A few weeks later, the man's face was on the news. He was an illegal immigrant and he'd been showing himself to kids in other areas of town. I was relieved that they found him. After all, he'd been on my sister's road where her kids and countless others live! According to the news he was being deported, but who knows if that ever really came to be. It was a nice thought, though.
For a while I ran only with my morning crew. Eventually I started enjoying the occasional solo run once again and now I rarely give it a second thought when running down my sister's road. Still, I will not be approaching any cars, especially at night or in the dark early morning hours.
I wanted to write this cautionary post for the simple fact that I did feel kind of bad when I kept running the other night. But then part of me said that whoever was in that car had to understand. Even though I was in my neighborhood full of friendly Christmas lights, it is never safe to assume it is safe. Period. And if it really is a car full of ladies on their way to Bunco night, it is okay if they are a little late.