Recently I was in a town for a presentation and I was staying at a hotel. It was a little past 10:30 p.m. and I got hungry so I decided to go to a gas station to get some snacks. As I left the lobby of the hotel I noticed just how junky the weather was; there was a fine mist in the air with a dense, soupy fog in the air. I almost walked back inside because, after all, if I were making a horror film this would be the weather I would have in it.
As I neared my car I saw two people walking down the sidewalk. I calculated in my mind that I and them would get to where my car was parked at nearly the same time. I am usually extra cautious to avoid people because and even more so in this weather because of my horror film concept, but on this night I didn't turn back around and go to my car.
When I got to my car I heard someone say, "Sir, excuse me..." and I instantly froze. Panic ensued and I was sure I was about to be robbed or worse. The lady continued, "my mother and I need to get to Wal-Mart before they close and we've been walking for two hours. Could you drive us there? We'll pay for your gas."
If I were panicking before I was now at Defcon 1. I stood there, staring off into space, processing; I was trying to think of a way I could say no and not seem like a jerk. I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I am too afraid." or maybe "I would if it is daylight" but I didn't know how to put that into words. I then thought of all the stories I've heard of people on the spectrum being taken advantage of simply because we can have a hard time simply saying "no."
In my presentations to police I mention a story of a 16 year old with Asperger's lost in a park. The police were called and when they got to him they asked him his name and he said nothing. They asked him who his parents were and still nothing. He resisted any and all comments and essentially became a statue. Eventually the parents were brought to him and his mom, right away, asked, "Son, why didn't you help the officers?" The son replied, "But mom, why are you mad? You always told me not to talk to strangers." That story was going through my mind at this point in time as I continued to stand there trying to come up with some way out of this corner and I wish I had that 16 yearold's resolve.
I started to shake a little bit and I decided that, if these two were robbers I was going to be robbed whether or not I got into my car with them so, with a highly remorseful voice, as if I were signing my own death sentence, I said, "Okay, get into the car."
I've done some dangerous stuff in my life; I've covered a couple hurricanes, been to Africa three times, and I raced for a decade but this I thought as I headed towards Wal-Mart that this very well could've been the most reckless thing I've ever done.
The fog seemed thicker and as I pulled out of the hotel parking lot I noticed my two passengers had not put on their seat belts. I just about spoke up, but I wanted to say as little as possible. The younger one, in the back, asked lots of questions and to each one I said just enough not to give anything about myself away.
Of course, as we got to the first light, it was red. I reflected on my life and thought about how I got into this situation. It happened so fast and since I have a hard time saying no as well as having a hard time processing on the fly I truly was cornered into this.
So many times I've heard parents tell me that their son or daughter got caught up with the bad crowd on a whim and they couldn't understand how they got swept up in the ordeal. I would respond with an answer of some sort, and it was the right one, but now I know just how easy it is to fall into a trap and be in a corner.
The following lights were green and when we got to Wal-Mart the daughter offered to stay and when the mother got a refund they would pay me gas money. I declined saying, "it was less than a mile, don't worry about it." and they both thanked me saying how wonderful I was and out they went and off I went.
Obviously I survived and obviously nothing went wrong, but it could have. I got lucky. If anything this is a major wake-up call because "no" needs to be in my vocabulary. I may be an autism advocate but I am a horrible advocate for myself. However, this just adds to the things I can speak on from first-hand experience. I've always heard people on the spectrum are very much more likely to be a victim than others. I now know why and I know now that "no" is very quickly going to be used more. Yes, it was probably a very nice thing I did for those two people, but I don't know if it was the safest. Yes, they needed a ride, but on a foggy night is it the safest thing to do? Even if it weren't foggy the answer is no and I hate to say that the world is dangerous, but if one doesn't know a person can they be trusted? Sadly, the world we live in has shown that the answer isn't 100% yes and all it takes is that one time. Thankfully, on that night, it wasn't that one time.