That One Time I Got in a Stranger’s Van…
One thing you should know about me is that I don’t necessarily think before I act. A month or two ago, we ran out of vacuum bags, and instead of buying a new one, I put an old Walmart plastic bag in the bag compartment. I continued this tactic for at least a month before I went to my partner and complained about how poorly our vacuum had been performing. I insisted we buy a new vacuum. After conversation, my partner found out about my plastic bag “brilliance” and laughed at me for a good ten minutes. Proceeding much debate, I gave in to buying a new vacuum bag. To my surprise, our vacuum worked perfectly with the proper equipment, who would have thought!
With this quaint anecdote as pre-text, you now know that the main plot is not out of character.
It was a disgustingly cold day in Toronto, I would say it was about -13 degrees plus windchill. Snow was falling with the wrath of quarter-sized bricks and you couldn’t see a metre past your person. My partner and I lived near Sherbourne and Gerrard at the time, one of Toronto’s homelessness hubs, and I was very late leaving for work.
I worked as a server/hostess at Milestones Yonge and Dundas. The restaurant was a 15-minute walk from our place and you could either get there by walking across Gerrard (encountering students, homeless people, and angry city goers) or you could walk across Dundas (and enjoy interactions with strippers, homeless people, and aggressive shop owners). Either way, it was an interesting commute.
Because I was in a pinch for time, I ran to work, and I ran to work in my uniform… which consisted of a tight black skirt and low-cut, royal blue, skin-tight top. I figured that if I wasn’t wearing my uniform already, I would be late for my shift because I would have to spend time changing. Could I have worn easy slip-on clothing over top of my uniform to keep my ass warm? Yes. Did I? Nope (except for my winter jacket… I am not a COMPLETE idiot).
So there I went, running across my chosen route of Dundas Street, bare legs and all. As I ran, the cold weather swiftly turned my legs cherry red and my speed went from that of a galloping deer to a struggling turtle. About five minutes in, I realized I had made a huge mistake, but I had to keep going, I didn’t have time to wait for an Uber, or turn back.
As I waddled past the strip club at George Street and Dundas, a 2005 light-blue minivan slowed down beside me and started to keep pace. I noticed the new company but didn’t let it hinder my determination to complete my trek. Shortly after approaching me, the passenger side window of the van rolled down and the driver called out to me, “do you want a drive, you look freezing”. This is where I started to worry. I am a petite white female, wearing a full face of makeup, a tight black skirt, and low-cut top… shit. I replied to the driver, “I am okay, thanks”. Then he replied, “are you sure, it’s so cold out here”. After his minimal efforts to persuade me, my numb red legs, tearing squinted eyes, and crinkled fingers throbbing in pain, overpowered my worries. I responded with, “are you going to hurt me?”, he said, “no, I promise”.
This ladies and gentleman is where I got in the 2005 light-blue minivan, with a strange 50 something-year-old, middle eastern man driving. As I shut the passenger side door, I had my phone in my right hand, ready go if necessary, and I held my work bag in my left with all of my might (like this made me any safer). I sat straight up, held my breath, and I realized what a risky decision I had just made.
The gentleman began to speak, he asked me where I was going and I said, Yonge and Dundas. He explained he was an Uber driver and pulled up his map on his phone (then only 95% thought he was a serial killer). He asked me some small-talk questions, to which I answered fully in lies. He talked about his family and how he tried to provide any way that he could and Uber was very helpful platform.
We got closer and closer to my work building, and each second I more deeply accepted the fact that he could 100% kill me or kidnap me if he wanted to. Yet, he didn’t do anything peculiar what-so-ever. He was a pleasant man, genuinely trying to help a young woman who looked in-need, and that was all.
We arrived at my workplace, I hopped out of the van and gave him a gracious thanks. I said, “you really didn’t have to do that, thank you so much”. He replied, “not a problem at all mam, have a lovely rest of your day”. He didn’t ask for money, he simply drove away, and that was that. I had just been picked up off the street by a stranger, wearing skimpy clothes, and got a ride to work safely.
Am I stupid? Yes. Am I extremely lucky? Yes. However, to me, this experience shows that there is, in-fact, a population of nice and selfless people in this world. As a woman who constantly gets sexualized, cat-called, and debates her safety on every walk through town, this experience was surprising and refreshing. Would I ever do it again? Absolutely not! Would I recommend anyone say yes to getting in a stranger’s car with no context? Hell no! But hey, this happened, I am alive and well, and from that day onwards I continued to wear completely unsuitable clothes for the weather.