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.