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A Trench Coat in Buffalo

Twenty-odd years ago, I traveled with Sister #4, from near Toronto, to visit Sister #2 who lives in Ohio. She brought along her one-year-old son, and my seven-year-old daughter came with me. I drove.

I recall nothing about the visit until the return trip, when we were approaching  Buffalo, NY and the Peace Bridge to Canada.

“Why don’t you stop for some cheap gas before we cross the border?” #4 wanted to know.

That didn’t sound like a bad plan, but it was long before GPS or smart phones and I knew I’d get lost if I turned off the I-90.

“I’ve gone to a station not far from here,” she told me. “I’ll give you directions.”

I took the exit she pointed out, but each turn seemed to take us deeper into a section of Buffalo that I’d only seen on the Channel 4 news. Although Cheektowaga and Tonawanda seemed to have continual car accidents and perpetual fires, downtown Buffalo is where the crimes happened, and we were getting deep  into a shady-looking part of the city.

“There it is,” Sis said at last, pointing a helpful finger toward a gas station with a prominent sign indicating that we had to pay before we pumped, even in the middle of the day.

Although I felt anxious about the location, I pulled up to the pump, and ran inside to give my money to the attendant who was safe behind a glass partition; bullet-proof, no doubt. I hurried back to the car, thankful that I’d left my door open. It made me feel a little less alone and it offered me a quick escape if anything scary happened.

I was halfway through pumping my prepaid gas when I saw a young male dressed in a long, dark trench coat approaching on the sidewalk. Don’t look, don’t look I told myself, but out of the corner of my eye I could see him come onto the gas station property. Thoughts raced. Would I keep on pumping and ignore him? Drop the nozzle and jump in the car? Spray him with gas if he tried something? Why not? It was cheap!

Hoping against hope that he was simply taking a shortcut, it was soon apparent that I was his target. When he neared the back of our vehicle the driver’s side door slammed closed and I could hear the lock engage. Panic flooded over me and my hand froze on the gas pump as the young guy stopped a couple feet away, his hands on the lapels of his coat.

A flasher, I thought to myself. This guy is going to flash me. Please, please, please let that be the only thing that’s going to happen. Please let me be safe. Please let my sister open the door again so I can get away if I have to.

And then, in one simple motion, he opened his coat and there, right before my eyes, were the goods: dozens and dozens of gold watches and jewellry pinned inside his coat.

“Care to buy something cheap?” he asked, and a gold tooth flashed when he grinned.

“No thanks,” I said, trying to look confident and unafraid. Please don’t hurt me for saying no. Please don’t shoot me.

The guy just closed his coat and walked away, jiving to a tune only he could hear. I finished pumping my precious gas and jumped into the car, a literal shaking bag of nerves.

“Why did you close the door on me?” I demanded of Sis, hardly able to believe what she’d done.

“Well, I had to keep the kids safe,” she answered.

Feeling like the proverbial sacrificial lamb, I locked my door, and started the car. In all my trips to Ohio since then, I’ve never once been tempted to stop for cheap gas in Buffalo.


Phyllis writes words: words for stories, and words for books. Phyllis writes words for blogs too.

10 thoughts on “A Trench Coat in Buffalo

  1. I was in NYC visiting my in-laws. On our way to Long Island, my father in law, who’s driving skills are less than stellar, cut someone off on the expressway. The guy kept following us, and when we were trapped in the long tollbooth line, he flew out of his car. I thought “Yup, this is where I die in NYC.” He got to the front of the car, and my FIL rolled down the window. Turns out, it’s a childhood friend of my husband’s. He just wanted to say hi. 🙂

  2. The very same thing happened to me when I was in Munich, Germany later at night with Mom and Aunt Betty on board. There was a group of them, the leader was sporting a green Mohawk and various piercings in his nose, eyebrows and lips etc. He began harassing me in German. Of course, the 2 ladies did the same thing as Sis #4 and locked the doors on me. I said “Verstehe dich nicht” and went to the bullet proof window where the attendant was. She picked up the phone as if she was going to call the Polizei and they dispersed. I was somewhat worried about that too. I guess every country has them.

  3. Brings back memories of a shopping trip Treva and I had to Buffalo a few years ago. A destination I’ve been dozens of times however on our way back to the bridge we got off at an unfamiliar exit to get cheap gas, which we needed to make it home. Dinner hour not a soul on the streets near the gas station, prepay through a tiny metal tray. Thankful no one bothered me but then when attempting to get back on the highway the on ramp was closed so we had to venture through this neighbourhood. Our doors were locked and we averted our eyes so as not to make eye contact when stopping at lights or stop signs. How silly are we, however you just never know and I believe always better safe than sorry!

  4. Reminded me of a trip we once took to Myrtle Beach with my brother in law and a girl he was dating at that time.
    It was after midnight and we had missed our turn to where we were staying over night and we landed up in the black section of town where the bars were just letting out.
    The streets were full and quite menacing looking.
    Even though my brother in law was an OPP officer he said just to lock the doors and move slowly through the intersections that were blocked with people and not make any antagonizing moves or gestures.
    We eventually got back to where we should have been and we were very relieved when we pulled into our motel for the night safe and sound!
    We made sure we were not driving at night after that!

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