Contrary to popular belief, being downtown at night is just not as dangerous as being in the suburbs after dark.
Of course there are a number of murders and stabbings, muggings and drug deals downtown at any given time, but that is only because the amount of people per capita is high. If instead of a two-storey house with a small yard housing a family of five in the suburbs, you built an apartment building with 22 floors and ten people living on each floor, you’d find you had more people doing creepy things than your small family.
When you walk downtown at night, there are people everywhere. The later into the night it gets, the less likely these become people that I would generally befriend or even make eye-contact with, but none the less, I feel that if I were to scream bloody murder while bear masing a mugger, someone would come to my rescue. Or at least help the police later with a good description of the culprit.
This is not the case in the suburbs. Take the average suburban street – let’s call it Chestnut Street – or any other type of tree or noun relating to a tree. Walking down the street there is the odd street light, barely illuminated a three foot radius on the block. Lurking just beyond the reach of this circle of dim light are numerous areas for potential muggers and rapists to hide – trees, shrubs, old sheds, parks. And it doesn’t help that the wind is almost always blowing when you alone in the dark in the suburbs. Not only does this wind bring movement to creepy, rusty forgotten tricycles, but it also helps to mask the scratching and dragging sounds of the escaped convict as he limps toward you in the night.
But normally these things don’t concern me. Now that I’m a high class professional living downtown, it is not very frequent that I’m alone in the suburbs, especially not outside in the dark. But such luck can never last, and one Saturday night I did find myself alone in the suburbs.
It all began last Saturday night as I was visiting my parents in the suburbs about an hour drive away from my chic downtown apartment. Having been fed an unnecessary amount of food, my body gave me no choice but to succumb to a quick nap in an attempt to wake up from my food coma. A couple hours and a good pool of drool later, it’s already midnight and under no circumstances do I want to stay in the guest room out in the ‘burbs.
Yawning above the steering wheel, I pull out of the drive way and start heading east towards the highway in my recently purchased and fresh off the assembly line new car. Not used to all the gauges and buttons yet, it is awhile before I realize that the gas gauge is below the E line and the car is running on empty promises.
Now, when you buy a new car, there are some things that seem to slip the mind of the salesperson that they neglect to tell you. These things are quite important, especially if you are going to be filling up gas at midnight in a sketchy suburban gas station. But we’re not there just yet.
The first gas station I see is situated at the start of a dead end road. There is a forest behind the station and the trees move like ghosts. Locking my doors, I continue onwards, knowing that there are two more gas stations in a more well lit area a few miles up before the highway.
Pulling into gas station number two, the lights are off and the metal window covers are locked in place. But since I’m paying with a credit card and wouldn’t need to go inside anyway, I pull up to the pump and insert my card. After the fourth time trying to enter my pin and having it fail, I get creeped out, jump back in my car and drive to gas station number three, which is directly across the intersection.
The lights at gas station #3 are on, but again the metal window covers protect the attendant station. I cross my fingers and insert my card. It works! I lift the nozzle, hit regular, and insert the nozzle.
Now back to what the car salesman neglected to tell me. Click, plop. $0.03. Five seconds go by. Click, plop. $0.07. Another five seconds. Click, click, plop. Six seconds. Click, plop. $0.09. Had it been a nice sunny day, this hour long fill up would possibly have been okay. But it was not sunny, it was not nice, and it was not daytime. At no point did the sales person mention that not all gas station nozzles will easily fit into this car. Cursing that sales person, I continue with my three-cent per minute pump.
Somewhere to my left I hear a slow scratching sound. My palms start to sweat. I slowly move my eyes to take in the scenery while not moving my head. Trying to look inconspicuous. Nothing but the wind. I continue the agonizing process of willing gas into my tank.
I suddenly hear something to my right and whip my head around. Rustling tree leaves. Moving shadows within the trees. With only $0.20 on the receipt, I shudder, jump back into my car and lock the doors.
Damnit. I will not make it back downtown on only $0.20 and although good on gas, my brand new car will likely not make it to a further gas station either. I will have to go back to gas station number one.
I slowly inch up to the pump, taking in everything but not moving my head. Trying again to look inconspicuous. Not noticing any direct murderers or rapists, I get out of the car and insert my card. Success. Insert the nozzle and the gas is flowing. As I’m waiting for the car to fill up, whistling a tune, I notice a car parked in front of the other pump. How did I not notice that before? Squinting to see better, I notice there is no one in the car. Hmm. Odd..
I look into the gas station store but see no movement, no people. I look over to the gas station bathroom, but the lights are all turned off. Why is this guy parked beside the pump and not in one of the parking spots if he’s left his car here for the night? I scan the empty dark parking lot. Where is this guy? Could he be hiding somewhere? My gaze goes from left to right and then slowly behind me. My already clammy hands again begin to sweat.
An unnatural sounds infests my ears from the left. A crinkled candy wrapper scrapes across the ground, molested by the wind. Across the street, an open gate bangs against a fence.
I hear a crackling fuzz coming from behind me and my hairs on my neck prickle outward. Breathing heavily I take a slow look around and see nothing. Cautiously, I put the nozzle down then fumble for my keys. They’re not in my pocket. My eyes frantically search the seat of the car for the elusive keys.
Suddenly, a voice booms behind me. Without even looking I defensively grab open the door and slam my body inside my car, locking the door mid-stride.
Within the safety of my car, I slowly crack the window, looking and listening for my potential murderer, one hand on cell phone, 9-1-1 ready to go. Again I hear the low crackling pitch. Breathing heavy I put the car in gear and hover my foot over the gas, ready to burst forward at any given second.
“Ma’am” a faceless voice crackles “You’re using full serve”. My eyes zoom to the meter and it is about 20 seconds before my frightened brain can function again. $90 is slightly higher than usual… even with the current ridiculous gas situation.
Not caring, I roll up the window and speed away, en route downtown at 100kms per hour. I don’t care how safe people think the suburbs are.. My sanity can’t handle that kind of stress.