When I was 16 and going through NYS Driver’s Education in the summer of 2007, the first lesson I learned was to always be aware of my surroundings.
It was my first weekend living in Syracuse and I was still learning my way around town. For the first few days, I drove exactly one route: from my house to Manley Fieldhouse and back. My first two games in the Carrier Dome, a co-worker had given me a ride, partially because I was not yet comfortable driving in the snow, and partially because I was still in an air cast on my right foot.
On that specific night, I left the Carrier Dome around 4:45 p.m. It was just past sundown in the dead of winter. I had my GPS going on my iPhone as I navigated my way around the snow-covered streets of my new town. I live less than two miles from the Carrier Dome and it takes me maybe 10 minutes to get home once the traffic clears out. I was about halfway home when I realized the car behind me was driving close by with its lights off. When I got to the next stop sign I took a long pause before moving forward, I looked hard in the rear view mirror to see who was in the car, trying to calm myself from overreacting. It was two males, late 20s and bundled up for the sub-freezing night.
I turned my signal on and went left. My GPS recalculated and Siri yelled at me to turn around and go right. I continued to make turns in the opposite direction Siri told me. The car behind me followed as I now was making sporadic lefts and rights in a neighborhood pretty close to where my house is. I live alone, in a nearly 100-year-old three-bedroom house and I was starting to freak myself out about being followed by this mysterious car behind me with its lights off. I couldn’t go home; they would know where I live. They would see the big house with no lights on and know I was alone.
My mom taught me back in that summer of Driver’s Ed that if I ever felt I was being followed, drive calmly to a police station or firehouse. I got to the point that I knew this was not a coincidence that this car had its lights off and was following closely with my every turn but I had a dilemma; I’d lived in Syracuse less than a week and had no idea where my closest option of the two were. So I drove to my street, called my neighbor that I hardly knew and told her I felt like I was being followed, that I was on my way up the street to her house and asked if she and her husband could please meet me outside. I’d wait for them before I pulled up.
I pulled up to their house and into the driveway. They were waiting on the front steps for me. As I got out of the car, I walked to them and we watched the car as it drove past slowly. When it got to the end of the street, the car flipped its headlights on and continued. The funny thing is, when you get to the end of my block, about a quarter of a mile down, you hit one of the biggest hills in my neighborhood. No one drives on that road when there is snow because most cars cannot get up it. We watched as the mysterious car barely made it up as its back tires spun out. It was clear that car was not a regular in our neighborhood.
I turned to my neighbors and thanked them.
The reason I am sharing this story is that, as women, we often work late hours after games or events and have to walk alone to our cars when our days are finally done. It’s sad that we need to always have our guard up and be aware of our surroundings so we don’t fall victim to any foul play.
Here are some important lessons I like to share with other young women to keep themselves alert and safe:
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Like my mom taught me, whether you are walking to your car, are alone in the arena or already driving home, be aware. It is important to always be looking around and have an understanding of your surroundings. Do you work on a college campus? The first thing I do when leaving a building or walking to my car is look around to find the closest “Blue Light” security system. Yes, we have cell phones, but did you know if you call 9-1-1 the call could be dispatched to your area code first and not your phone’s closest cell tower? A “Blue Light” phone when picked up or pressed for emergency automatically sends first responders to that exact location. Also, you should be able to see at least one or two “Blue Light” call phones from the one you are currently standing at.
Honestly, I am so bad at this. Fortunately, I know how to throw a punch or a knee. For Christmas this year my sister sent me a Tanking Key for when I am running alone. It is a key that flips open to a small (but very sharp!) knife. I keep it on my keys and if ever I feel unsafe, I open the knife up and carry it in my hand. Other forms of protection can be pepper spray, a pocket knife or even a gun (but only if you have a concealed carry permit).
Know where to go.
Like my mom taught me, know where the closest first responder stations are to your house and close to work. If you feel like you are being followed in your car, drive there! No one will fault you for a false alarm. Trust me, if someone is following you with bad intentions, they are not going to follow you into a police station.
Keep your emergency contacts up to date.
If you work on a college campus, is your campus security dispatcher programmed in your phone on speed dial? It should be. The same goes for working at an arena or for a professional organization. We all have security booths or stadium security offices; keep them on speed dial. The time it could take to look it up could be, unfortunately, costly.
Have a plan with a friend or neighbor.
In my case, I was very fortunate to have a neighbor’s phone number that lived nearby and was home. Set up a plan with a neighbor or friend that lives nearby to have them on speed dial and call them if you feel unsafe and let them know you are coming to them. Make sure you share with your friends that you can also be a safehouse for them if they are ever in a similar situation.
Don’t be afraid to ask for an escort.
When I worked at ECU and would leave the press box well after midnight following a football game, my co-worker Malcolm would never let me walk alone to my car. It wasn’t far but I was always dressed in heels and a nice outfit and he said he would much rather drive me to my car and know I was safe than letting me walk through the dark desolate tailgating lots alone. I still cannot thank Malcolm enough for this; it meant so much knowing someone was always looking out for my safety. I often would wait an extra half hour for Malcolm to finish his work to have my safe ride and it never bothered me one bit.
Wear good shoes.
I always bring a pair of shoes for walking to my car after a game. Now since I have moved to Syracuse, I traded my sneakers for snow boots. But the point is, they are much easier to run in if I ever need to than some of the shoes I wear to games.
Bottom line: Protect yourself and always be aware of what’s around you. Our job can have us running around in unsavory locations at all hours of the day, so it’s best to have a good set of safety tools handy.