Sunday, August 25, 2013


By Rhonda Lawrence, brown belt

We must be constantly aware of our surroundings

When I grew up in the 1970-80’s in a small town in Iowa, there was not much to fear. Occasionally there was a brawl between kids after school, some bullying;there was the threat of the “belt” hanging behind the door of the principal’s office for those rare unruly kids (back in the day when that kind of discipline was acceptable) and,  I suppose, I could potentially feel the wrath of my parents if I stepped outside the wide boundaries that a small town setting established for me.  In reality, I never was afraid for my life or safety, not by a long shot. Looking back now, this “Leave it Beaver”, “rose-colored glasses”background and unrealistic view of security helped foster a hefty amount of misguided confidence. A belief that I would be able to “handle” myself if ever I were put in a bad situation.  This perception was obviously foolish and unwarranted solely due to my lack of training or education to defend myself, but when you are oblivious to something,  I guess that should go without saying.

I remember the first time this erroneous notion was tested.

My parents brought me along to Las Vegas to meet an aunt and uncle who was attending a computer conference there. It was an involuntary vacation for me, for I wanted to stay and have fun with my friends during that summer break. I was the youngest in my family; and at age 16 both my sister and brother had already left the coup. Rather than leaving me home, my mom and dad opted for toting me to a place that in the 1980’s had very little to offer a teenager. While the Las Vegas ambiance had peaked some interest in me (I’d never been in a big city before), I didn’t know really anything about the city before I went. Clearly, its environment was much different than my hometown of 380 people; but my mindset, and that of my parents, regarding my safety wasn’t adjusted. I was able to walk from place to place on the strip to find something to do (whilemy age kept me out of any casino that my family was to patronize). After browsing through the mall at Caesar’s Palace at dusk on that very first full day in the city, I made my way to the Circus Circus Casino. It surely would have some entertainment that would be age appropriate!

As I made my way down the mile and half distance from Caesars to the Circus Circus, my first observation was that there was no one else on the sidewalk. The distance between each colossal casino was considerable but it wouldn’t have kept any Iowan from walking as it was my only way of transportation!  Notably, I hadn’t taken into account a number of things.  Number one was the heat.   It appeared sensible then that most people on the strip in Las Vegas where adults visiting the desert and theydrove or took a cab to stay cooler.  I remember thinking about that fact and dismissing the idea that this would create a problem (more than just sweat)for me.  Until... It seemed to me what happened next was like something out of a movie. A black van with dark tinted windows pulled up on the road beside me, as I walked on the sidewalk. He stopped temporarily while the driver slowly rolled down his passenger side window.  He then started pacing me as I kept walking. Traffic on the strip wasn’t moving along at a slow pace by any means, so it was very obvious that the van was there to engage me in some manner.

A voice sounded, “Do you need a ride?”

“No, thank you”, I said, briefly contemplating that I had put myself in one of those precarious situations I mentioned above.

I kept walking, not waiting for a response, but now at a brisker pace. With my head down and showing no interest at all, I anticipated that the gentleman in the van would go about his business and I would eventually write off the encounter as me being paranoid.

My heart sank and I became very cognizant when I saw the van pull into the first access in front of me and turn around, discernibly waiting for me.  I assessed my position. I was still about halfway in between two casinos with nowhere to go. The “pull in” in which the stranger was now parked went to nothing but sagebrush. Just undeveloped land.

‘Okay’, I said to myself, ’consider your options’. Should I turn around and run? Should I yell?  Would anyone in a speeding car at dim light notice anything happening on the side of the road? For the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to do. It was an uncertain predicament. My heart began to race and then I felt it...   Real fear.

As best I could, I decided to show no emotion and kept walking to the next casino. It looked to be the closest and best option to me. With the van only a few feet away, I arced my path to stay as far as I could from it. The driver’s window was now open, the man’s voice again soliciting if I wanted a ride.

“No, thank you”, I replied again, head down, continuing my pace, walking past front of the van, closer to my destination.

Just then I realized that I now had my back toward the van. With a quick panic, I think to myself,  ‘That was dumb.  Now what do I do?’ In anticipation my ears perked up trying to be aware of any sense of noise. My eyes rolled  to the side as far as I could see without turning my head. Suddenly, I see and hear him get out of the van. The sound of his stride was getting closer and closer to me. His request to “let me give you a ride” being repeated.

I wish I could say that I “did the right thing” to protect myself, but I can’t.  I was lucky. The man did eventually just get back into his van, stop one more time next to me on the sidewalk and ask if I wanted a ride.  He ultimately vanished, but he never disappeared from my revelation of a new awareness.

I went back home wiser than I left, but it wasn’t until I heard much later about the capture a serial killer in Las Vegas that left unsuspecting girls in the desert that I knew how truly fortunate I could have been.

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