How do you feel about rest areas? How about if you are alone and it is dark? Do you stop? I’ve been thinking about how much I have changed since driving across the country from Connecticut to New Mexico. These weren’t questions I asked myself or others when I was 28.
I stopped at all sorts of rest areas in the middle of the night. I never thought much about it when I started on my journey from Connecticut to New Mexico. While I was driving from state to state I was pretty carefree until my car broke down. I had to call AAA and this husband and wife team picked me up and brought me to get my car repaired. I had to spend the night in a local hotel and the husband and wife promised to pick me up the next day, to take me to my car, even though they weren’t obligated too. The wife of the rescuing duo was shocked that I was traveling alone. She was obviously concerned and worried about me.
She asked, “Do your parents know you are doing this?” When I nodded yes she went on to ask, “Aren’t you afraid to stop at rest areas at night?”
I wasn’t afraid. I’d been doing it without any problems for a day or so. I had no idea that I should be afraid. If my parents were worried they never expressed any of their concerns to me. After my car was repaired I got back on the road and drove to New Mexico without another hitch, but I was a little more cautious about the places I stopped and found myself looking around before exiting my car.
Fast forward almost a decade later and here I am at 8:30 pm with a four year old in the backseat crying that she has to pee so bad she can’t make it until we get home. I knew she was desperate so I pulled into the next rest area and parked. I was looking around. It was dark of course and there weren’t any other cars, but I was on high alert. It might have been because a couple of years ago there had been a shooting at this very rest area. It might have been because I now had another human being to look after, but for whatever reason, I was a little scared. I was on guard. I was making escape plans and exit strategies and getting my phone ready to dial 911.
I told my daughter, “Listen, you need to hurry up and get out of the car. No fooling around. I want to get in and out as soon as possible.”
She asked, “Why, mom?” as she dawdled and fooled around with whatever debris she could find on the backseat.
“I feel uncomfortable being here in the dark. I don’t know who is going to show up and I want to get out of here as soon as possible.” I answered.
“Who is coming? Bad guys?”
“Maybe. Let’s hurry, OK?”
“Don’t worry, Mom. I will karate chop the bad guys.”
“Please, let’s go. Get out of the car!” I replied in a slightly higher pitch than usual. I could hear the anxiety in my own voice.
She finally got out of the car and we went into the bathroom. I raced her back to the car and she climbed into her car seat. I was fumbling with the buckle when another car pulled up next to us in the parking lot. I could feel the panic creeping in. I wanted to get her buckled and drive out of there before the person exited their car.
As I finally latched the buckle on the car seat the door of the car next to us opened and a woman climbed out. Within moments her young daughter followed and I found myself sighing with relief and feeling a little silly about my heart pounding in my chest. I got into the car and drove home.
As I was driving I worried further. Was I teaching my daughter to be scared when she didn’t need to be? Was I setting a bad example? Or, should women approach a rest area, at night and in the dark, with some caution? Was that an appropriate fear to model? As I thought about it I realized I didn’t want her to be scared, but I also didn’t want her to be foolish. So I sat a while just feeling uncomfortable and wondering about rest areas and being places in the dark and how I wish it wasn’t something my daughter ever had to worry about.