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--- T E R E S A L E O
After the initial shock of SEEING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING at that hour, I stopped my car and rolled down the window. He launched right into it: "I've done it again," he said nervously, "left my lights on and now no juice. Could you give me a jump? It's the white BMW down there at the end."
I'd just gotten off a plane at Philadelphia International and had taken the shuttle out to ECONO PARKING, a sprawling lot that abuts the tarmac in No-Man's Land, with bad lighting and creepy corners. It was after midnight and I'd retrieved my car from SECTION K and started toward the exit where the toll booths are. The WAY OUT is odd in itself as there's only one way to drive it and many possible rows that look like they head there but don't. Even though I've econo parked countless times over the last ten years, finding the exit, especially at night, always becomes a twisted board game where the parking lot turns into a giant Ouija Board and my car just drives itself from one lettered section to the next until it happens to spell out EXIT THIS WAY, at which point I am released.
This time in my meanderings, right near the tarmac side where the fence is, this particular man asking for a jump ran up to my car out of nowhere waving his arms like one of those guys who stand on the runway to guide planes in toward their gates.
Now, I have this thing where I believe I owe out an uncountable number of random acts of kindness as I've been rescued more than once from potentially life-threatening situations by complete strangers. But there was something strange about this guy--maybe the nervous twitch over his left eye or the fact that his was the only car stationed in what can only be described as a blind spot within a blind spot of the most secluded of rows--which, combined with my general travel delirium, led me to blurt out in response: "Well, you're not a serial killer are you?"
And there it was between us, that line. Though I've been known to utter the occasional off-the-hook response when nervous or startled, I frankly thought this particular blurtation was just over-the-top enough to get a good laugh and thereby relax us both. I mean, would you not yuck it up or laugh if off if the woman you just asked to jump your car asked you back if you were some sort of mass murderer?
He didn't. In fact, he didn't even acknowledge my asking it and proceeded to repeat the statement that he'd left his lights on and now his car wouldn't start. This was the seminal moment in the exchange: that he didn't say no meant in some odd universe he COULD BE a homicidal maniac, and a quietly honest one at that.
Even though I actively pondered the fact of his not saying no, I still pulled over, though with a perpendicularity that would allow me to peel out (without doing some sort of K-turn) if need be. He unzipped a bag and his HANDS ACTUALLY SHOOK as he presented me with the cables. At this point my adrenaline was pumping and I truly began to separate corporally and brace myself for some sort of blunt instrument as I leaned under my hood to attach the cables.
We proceeded to jump his car, a late model BMW with the kind of reverse-latch hood that made it impossible to see what he was doing behind it, and after his car turned over, I got out to detach the cables from my end and hand them back. I then had to unprop my hood, and during those brief few seconds the man actually stood next to me and touched the cables together, which, since his car was still running and attached to the other end, sparked and popped. It was then that I became certain I'd be cattle-prodded, brought to my knees, then gagged and bound and hoisted into the trunk and driven to god-knows-where (but south of Jersey), all because I took the last flight home from Kansas City and have a must-help rule that goes beyond all circumstance and good sense.
But he said thanks and got back into his car.
I drove off (and around the parking lot still trying to find the exit) thinking I acted like a bit of a lunatic with all this phantasmagorical pondering about butcherings, etc. But when I finally got to the toll booth, BMW Man was actually SITTING IN HIS CAR on the parking lot side of the booths, hovering with the engine on, and when I passed him to check out, he put his car in drive and TAILGATED me to the cashier. Now, I did get the shakes and almost told the cashier to call the cops, but it took so long to run my ticket through the machine and calculate the days/hours for the parking toll I knew BMW Man would be held up long enough for me to blaze up I-95 North if I drove 75MPH, which I did. I kept one eyeball in the rearview the whole time and planned to drive right to a police station if I saw that white car behind me, which I didn't.
So I'm left thinking that this man was, in fact, up to something, but that perhaps the simple act of NAMING the situation out loud, i.e., asking pointblank "Are you a serial killer?" might have actually disarmed/disabled the would-be murderer. I mean, what would have happened if the women who went off to help Ted Bundy (who wore a fake cast and so also had REASON to ask strangers for help) said, "Yeah, sure, I'll be glad to carry that grocery bag; are you sure you're not going to chop me up into little pieces and store various parts of my torso in your refrigerator next to the chutney and smoked ham?" Would that not be just the kind of weird-meets-weird response that would stump and stifle the mass murderer (if only briefly) in anyone?
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