Since I’m writing about this, I clearly did not die, but in that moment, I was sure I was a goner.
Now, Shanghai is still new to me and I’m still getting my bearings on this massive city. It’s nearly a hundred times harder because: (1) not only is it a new city, but a new country, (2) the ever obvious language barrier, (3) I can’t drive—not that I can’t actually drive, I just can’t drive here—which led me to my near death experience.
There are some things I just don’t think about, or realize too late. Being raised in the rough streets Lutz, Florida, I worry about a stand off between my car and a Sandhill crane, not myself and a car. But it’s not the nearly being hit 10 times a day on the way to work where I was certain I was going to die. No. It was being offered ride.
And we all know the, “don’t talk to strangers.” It applies to adults too. But we talk to strangers on a daily basis: taking Uber, ordering food, and handling merchandise. Taking a ride, would be like taking an Uber—if I had requested an Uber, or spoke the same language as the driver.
My parents were still with me in Shanghai, helping me settle, when, one day, we were pushing the time on the Shanghai metro. The line we were on closed at 24:03 and we hopped on around 23:30. It would take about 50 minutes to get back to the hotel in Pudong from the Jing ‘An area and we had to change trains.
So, this was already a bad set up. We should have just hailed a taxi (even though the taxi drivers wouldn’t have understood us anyway). I was literally sitting on the metro knowing by the time I got to the next station, we would have to get off, and figure out how to get back to the hotel in the middle of the night.
The next station comes. We inevitably have to get off, along with others who poorly managed the time and wrongfully hoped the metro would stay running a little longer for us. But, then there’s a little glimmer. There’s a plethora of taxi’s outside the station we were stranded at. This must happen often because they were sitting there waiting. We start to head towards the street, like people normally should to hail a taxi… but….
This random guys comes up, and I think he was saying “ride”. I’m not really sure. My dad showed him the address. He didn’t have a clue. We were trying to work it out with a translation app to no avail. Another guy comes up explaining the address to him and now there’s like an epiphany of recognition. “Oooh, hao le hao le. Ok. Ok. We can go there.” We’re thinking, “Yes, we’ve got a ride. We won’t be completely stranded." We turn towards the street. The other two guys turn to the back alley.
I don’t even know why my feet moved along behind them like this was alright. My dad walked a little ways ahead. My mom and I just kind of looked at each other. I thought she would say absolutely not. “Are we really doing this?”
We followed them behind the station into the dark alley way, like it was the thing to do. I’m wondering how far away is this car, why is the car in an alley, and why there are two guys when only one needs to drive. The alley was on a curve, and there was nothing insight except a dirty road, with walls trailing the side. Anyone could jump out from around the bend, knock us over the head and mug us. Why are we still following? What sort of sketchy situation did we just walk into. Almost at the same time, my mom and I started slowing our pace. My dad was up ahead walking like he’s got this. I’ve got you from back here, was all I could think. And, how you can’t carry weapons in China, if you’re not a cop. All I’ve got is this little umbrella… mommy has a bad knee…. If things go south, I didn’t have a whole lot of optimism.
And then, the street light went out.
My heart dropped. That was the “it” moment. We’re going to die! We’re going to die! This is how it always happen. Black people always die first in the scary movies, or just don’t make it. When the light went out, the movie, “Lights Out,” literally flashed across my mind. Find the light! My hands clutched my bag as my eyes peered around trying to look through the dark. My mind said, turn around and run, but my body was paralyzed. The darkness separated my mom and I from the other two men and my dad.
At this point, I’m highly considering that walking may have been better. You’re going to try and cross this darkness and a shadowy hand is going to pull you in. Ugh! Don’t keep walking! The light was your sign. It was just foolish to keep going, but we did…. All the way to the car, inside and off.
We were driving in complete silence for awhile. The two men in front were talking loudly and anything sounds terrifying when you don’t understand. Was one giving directions to the hotel or where to dump our bodies—who knew. Even worse because of sorry cell service and a frustrating VPN my phone was not working. How do we know they’re taking us to the hotel? We wouldn’t even know the right way. They could be driving us the shipping docks. “Jesus be a fence, all round me in this car….”
The men started talking and my mom tried to inconspicuously angle her phone towards them to pick up anything—but once again, the translation app was no help. “Turn the map GPS on,” I whispered. Mom got the fingers a moving and we mapped out directions to hotel from our location. We depended on the little blue dot. Prayed that our direction was same.
A sigh of relief quietly escaped as the map showed we were going in the direction of the hotel, but we weren't out of the water until we stepped foot on hotel grounds.
And then it finally came into view, our hotel. My heart sank a second time though because the driver stopped down the street from the hotel. This isn’t it, but if I have to get out and run there, I’m cool with that too. But, no need. The second man who helped with the address got out. He apparently was along for the ride too. The driver took us the rest of the way.
We made it and got out quickly. After the guy drove off we laughed, but it was the release of anxiety. “Next time we should….” Oh no, there is no next time. We should have turned around when the guy started walking to an alley. For the record, the only reason we got into the situation was because there was three against two. If I was by myself, I would not have gone into a dark alley.
So, moral of the story. Take rides on the street. Don’t follow two strangers in to a dark alley. Sing a protection song. When lights go out, look for the light on the other side.