On Thursday at 4 a.m., a stranger stopped his car in front of my house, and I got in the car.
Just before he’d pulled up, I’d considered trying to figure out how to turn the GPS tracker on my phone, or immediately texting the license plate number to a friend, just in case. Maybe I could quickly call someone and just leave the phone on, asking them to just monitor the situation for a bit and call the cops if I started screaming. But when he arrived, I put my phone away and got in.
“Logan?” he said.
“Dwayne,” I said.
The car was old but clean, a small four-door Sedan, maybe a Corolla. His CD player was playing instrumental music, loudly.
“Are you Irish?” he asked.
“No … is this Irish music?”
“No. It’s Asian Christian music. I used to do missionary work there,” he said. I thought to myself that this was good. A religious man! A god-fearing man! And then I envisioned how easily he could reach over and strangle me, and I decided it didn’t matter.
I’d first spoken to Dwayne the night before. I was supposed to be in Minneapolis for a wedding on Saturday, and my 4 p.m. flight out of Newark hadn’t been cancelled. I’d considered scrapping the whole thing. What if I spent $100 to get to the airport and then my flight was cancelled? Also it felt ridiculous to spend time and energy worrying about transportation to get to a wedding in the midst of destruction.
I had called two shuttle services. One didn’t answer. The other said they didn’t come to Brooklyn. I called a car service and was quoted $175. I got on Craigslist and looked at the rideshare board. Getting in cars with strangers was not my preferred method of travel, but desperate times, etc. This is what people did. I found an ad—”flat rate to newark airport or back from newark airport. call (347) XXX-XXX”—and called the number.
As the phone rang, I started to think about what indicators would make me feel like this was safe or not safe. I couldn’t think of any. My gut, I suppose. Dwayne picked up. His voice echoed; he sounded like he was in a school gym. At first this put me off—do murderers hang out in school gyms?—but other than that, my gut told me, “Okay.” His voice told me he was black, and I decided this was a good thing. Based on nothing more than life-long devotion to Law & Order and several viewings of Silence of the Lambs, I decided that, if a person was going to put an ad on Craigslist offering rides to the airport but in reality offering murder, he would be white.
I told Dwayne I needed to be at Newark the next day by 2 p.m. He told me that he was already going to the airport early in the morning with some other people—”a very nice couple, well they sound like a nice couple, they have a 9:30 flight.” He offered to bring me, too. It was early, but I’d already decided he probably wasn’t a murderer, and I didn’t know how lucky I’d be with more calls.
“Okay,” I said. “How much is it?”
“$30, flat rate.”
“Okay,” I said. “See you at 5:30.”
As soon as I hung up the phone I considered calling back and canceling. Was going to a wedding worth getting in a stranger’s car at 5:30 in the morning, even if my gut or my spleen or my liver was fairly sure he didn’t “sound like a murderer?” I Googled his phone number and found several other ads from the months before and saw no warnings of a murderer. But what if the reason there aren’t warnings are because he killed them, I thought. I scrolled through more Google results and shut off my phone. I’d wake up at 5 a.m. and decide then, after some sleep.
My phone rang at 3:36 a.m., and then again at 3:38. It woke me up, but I just held the phone and stared at it. Dwayne. He’s calling to cancel, I thought. I was relieved.
I called him back. There was bad news and good news, he said. The bad news was, he had just gotten off work and had tried to get gas but none of the gas stations have gas. He wouldn’t be able to make the drive to Newark. “That’s fine,” I said, relieved. Divine intervention! I was stuck safe and snug in Brooklyn.
“But,” he continued, “I feel bad, so I called a car service for the really nice couple that were going to go with us and I can pick you up and take you there.”
I paused to consider his offer. “Maybe I’ll just walk there,” I said.
“No, it’s too far. I’ll come pick you up.”
This would mean being in the car alone, not ideal. But for a shorter time and only in the city. Lower speeds and stoplights would make it easier to jump out of the car, if necessary. “Okay, sure,” I said. He said he’d see me soon and hung up. I immediately texted him. “What time are you coming here? 5:30?” He wrote back: “Shortly. Will u be ready?” I had another chance to cancel. I replied back, “Yep.”
Once I was in the car, everything he said or did was a point for or against him being a murder. Camo pants, murderer. Worked as a security guard, murderer. Really nice smile … not a murderer? Or murderer. Chose to use the British voice on GPS, not a murderer. Or a murderer! Did murderer’s use GPS? I asked him questions about his life in order to humanize myself to him and also to suss out further whether or not he was a murderer. I learned that I liked him, but that didn’t matter. Being likable is the best characteristic a murderer can have! Eventually I resigned myself to my fate. If I died, I’d deserve it. Only really, truly stupid people get in cars with strangers in the middle of the night. Obviously this is what I was.
We turned onto Myrtle Avenue. I recognized my friend Matt’s block, and we kept going. He stopped in front of a new building, condos. “Here we are!” He said. “I’ll call them and say you’re here, you can stay in the car until they come out.”
“No, no, no, that’s fine I’ll just stand out here,” pointing to the sidewalk.
“Girl, those are the projects across the street. I grew up there. You do not want to be standing out here alone at 4 a.m.,” he said. Eventually a dude came down–young guy, twenties, Southern accent. Then a girl with great hair, short bangs, cool boots. They were young and and cool and going back to Atlanta. I got out of the car, thanked Dwayne profusely, for his help and also for my life, and handed him a twenty. “You don’t have to pay me,” he said, “this was the least I could do. I offered you a service and couldn’t deliver!” I insisted, and put the twenty in his cup holder. He smiled, thanked me, and drove away.
The ride for the three of us in the the Town Car that eventually picked us up was $100. At my terminal, I handed over two twenties and got out. It wasn’t until I was sitting at the gate that I realized I was an idiot. I could have called more car services. I could have booked a car and then found people to ride with me. I could have done a cost/benefit analysis and decided that paying $100 to get to the airport was worth not getting into a strange person’s car. Dwayne was great. But that feels lucky.
I got to the airport on time, and I’m in Minneapolis now. I fly back Monday. I don’t know how I’m getting home from the airport. I don’t want to think about it.