The wind was cold, strong, and stiff, so I pulled my coat tighter as I walked. It was dark, and I was tired after a long day of work. I stuffed my hands deep in my pockets and made my way toward a solitary car in the middle of the road.
I had been on my way home when I saw the car, stopped in the middle of the road on the opposite lane, with the hazard lights flashing. As I drove by, I could barely see the driver slumped over the wheel. Since it was late at night and very cold, I decided to stop and see if the driver was ok.
Up until this point, I hadn’t really put much stock into my surroundings. I was content to come and go, keeping to myself, mostly staring at the ground as I walked. I had never heard of situational awareness, and even if had, I would have dismissed it as some sort of paranoia.
I made a u-turn, pulled into a nearby parking lot, and walked toward the car. I would just ask the driver if he or she was alright, offer the use of my phone if needed, and then be back on the road.
I was about 10 feet away from the car when the driver's door opened. A young man got out and stared at me.
I asked, “Are you ok, do you need any help?”
He did not respond. He just kept staring.
At that point, I stopped getting closer. After a series of stupid decisions, it was the first smart decision. The other three car doors slowly opened and several young men started stepping out of the vehicle. It was almost like the overloaded clown car routine, except that I wasn’t amused. Suddenly, I was scared. I was now outnumbered about five or six to one and none of those guys looked friendly.
I quickly looked behind me to make sure no one was approaching from the rear. My hands came out of my pockets and I started backing away. Once I felt that I had enough space, I turned around and quickly made it to my car.
I learned several lessons that day:
- Being nice can sometimes get you in trouble. Being nice has to be a measured risk. This time, there was too much going against me. I couldn’t see inside the vehicle, it was dark, I was tired, etc… Now, I’m more cautious whenever I see someone needing help.
- Situational awareness suddenly became important to me.
- Rather than being ready to offer someone my phone to use, I should have just made the call myself. I could have been stranded, without a phone.
- Don’t take anything at face value. What looked like someone needing help could have been a set-up instead. What you see is usually not everything. Look around. Be aware.
- Always be prepared to defend yourself and even the odds. Here, I wasn't. But not for long. Shortly after that, I got my concealed weapon permit. In this situation, I put myself in trouble. Now, I try to stay out of trouble. If, however, trouble should find me anyway, I want to be ready.