This past Sunday evening, my friends and I were strolling in Manhattan’s East Village. We were laughing on the way to dinner, and it was just getting dark. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure turning toward us at the end of the street. He was walking fast, clearly with a purpose. The closer he got to us, the more alarmed I felt. It was like being at Six Flags during the annual Fright Fest, or a haunted hayride, where men in masks and chain saws try to get uncomfortably close, just to send a shiver down the spine.
The man stalking toward us was painted completely white, wearing a butcher’s costume, and he had what appeared to be bright red blood dripping all over his face and apron. He also was wielding a very large cleaver. I screamed and ran to the other side of the street, and as he passed, I saw a big grin spread across his face. My two friends laughed hysterically at my dramatic reaction, as he turned out to be a character in costume, perhaps heading off to play his role in some off-Broadway show.
Maybe I was taking my college theater class too much to heart, but there was something about his evil stare and the fake dried blood on his face that was a little too unsettling. You would expect something like this at Fright Fest or a haunted house, but on a New York City street at dusk? Really? Why would you? This incident got me thinking, however, that in today’s world where crazy things can happen and often do, you don’t know what’s going to happen and you don’t know who surrounds you.
Getting home from college this year from the mid-Hudson valley is so much easier than the six-hour plane ride I took every few months when I went to high school in California. Now I take a taxi from school to the train station in Poughkeepsie, take a train to Manhattan, and then jump on the familiar New Jersey Transit line that takes me right to Princeton Junction, where my mother is waiting for me in her trusty van.
For me, traveling on public transportation has become uneventful, even routine. Ask anyone who commutes for work or school and I’m sure they would agree. Sometimes you sit next to a particularly chatty person; sometimes you don’t mind talking and sometimes you do. Whatever the case, you always have some interaction with those around you, so you have to be wary. The truth is that you never know if the person sitting next to you on a train or the person trying to scare you on a city street is pretending to be a killer, or if they could be the real thing.
I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and one of my favorite things is to sit down in front of the television with my mom and watch a crime show, particularly all the CSIs and the very chilling Criminal Minds. Even though I know these are scripted Hollywood dramas, I know I’m not completely off base when I say that you always need to be careful and keep your wits about you, so as not to become a victim yourself.
This is especially relevant to teens like me. Most of us are young, impressionable, and like to see the best in people. Sometimes we almost take it for granted that we can hop on a train to Baltimore, Boston, or New York, cross this country from coast to coast, and travel the world. But just because things are easier doesn’t mean they’re safer. We have to be prepared for the unexpected. This is especially true abroad.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were American hikers who were arrested after straying into Iranian territory during a weekend adventure. The Iranian government originally sentenced them to seven years in prison, but just recently they were released after two traumatic years. Their adventure devolved into a nightmare.
Another young American, Amanda Knox, also finally came home after serving prison time abroad. In her case, it was four years of incarceration in Italy. Her release still did not resolve the mystery of the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher.
The girls were supposed to be having the adventure of their lives as students abroad in Italy, but one ended up dead, the other accused of killing her. With study abroad programs in almost every part of the world, no one could imagine that these kinds of things could happen, but danger exists everywhere in all different forms. Recently, in Baltimore, near my sister’s apartment in an alley she and her friends used all the time as a shortcut, there was a sexual assault, proving that danger can lurk literally around the corner from home.
Halloween is only 10 days away, and the streets will be filled with kids and adults alike dressed up to spook. No, I will not scream and run to the other side of the street, but this year, I will be slightly more on edge. Part of it is my personality, which tends to fixate on things over which I have no control, and part of it is that now that I’m 18, I am much more aware of the larger world out there.
The chance of something happening is enough to keep me wired, and you can bet I had chills when I read about the mass shooting at a southern California hair salon recently. Tragedy can strike instantaneously and randomly. Easy transportation and travel make the world smaller, but definitely not safer.
I’ll remember this the next time I’m in the city and this weekend when I go to Fright Fest with my brother. I know he’ll be embarrassed when I shriek and avoid the scary workers in costume, but there really is no harm in being extra cautious because you never know who might be behind the mask.