Wednesday, November 28, 2007


When did we become such a nation of paranoid, distrustful scaredy-cats? Or have I just gotten older and lost the innocence of youth?

I'm ashamed to admit that the first thing that went through my head when a guy in a pickup truck pulled over to my car on the side of road was not of "he's here to offer help" but one of "he's here to do something bad." Like kill me and Nathalie.

Protective husband instinct? Possibly. Paranoia? Probably. The world gone to shit? Also likely. Just a consequence of time and location? Maybe. We were on a deserted section of a local highway in the middle of the night.

A few months ago, Nathalie and I went out in the middle of nowhere to look for some shooting stars. During the few hours that we spent out there parked by the side of the road staring up into the sky, just a handful of cars passed by. We really made an effort to get out to nowhere. It's not easy getting away from light pollution.

At one point in the night, a pickup truck slowed down and stopped next to our car. Being that we were so far out in the middle of nowhere, there wasn't much ambient light, so it really was hard to make out anything. I definitely couldn't see into the truck to see the driver.

Instinctively, my right hand went for the large police style steel flashlight I keep under my seat and I felt my body tense up. Being that we were in the convertible with the top down, I felt terribly exposed and at a disadvantage. And there was something terribly menacing about that large truck rumbling beside us. I truly wished I had something more substantial than a flashlight to protect us.

But then a voice came from the truck, "You guy's need any help? Is your car OK?"

How have I become so paranoid and distrusting that I now perceive everything as a threat? Was I just that naive when I was younger? Or has the world really become an evil place to live? The emergence of TV shows about child predators, increased violence, and our increased isolation from each other make me doubt it was naivete and that I am just now beginning to open my eyes to the terrors of the world. Instead, the underlying evil that has always been there has just become slowly worse over the years. Look around. The number of malevolent people have proliferated uncontrollably.

I know that 20 years ago, if someone pulled up next to me on the highway the last thing on my mind would've been wishing I had something other than a flashlight, realizing I had brought a knife to a gun fight.

We waved him off and he drove away, leaving us back in the dark and with our thoughts. And after first feeling relieved that he wasn't a threat and then talking about how rare it is nowadays to get help from strangers, we settled back into our seats and resumed star gazing.

I had forgotten that some places still have decent people who stop to offer help to strangers. He will never know how close he came to getting his head bashed in by a flashlight yielding paranoid freak. And instead of this one incident doing something to make me believe in the goodness of the world again, I am preoccupied thinking of the potential scenarios had he been a badguy.

This experience made me realize how exposed, vulnerable, and foolish we were driving out to the middle of nowhere. And I now carry a better weapon in the car than a flashlight.

I know it sounds bad. Blame the decline of our society.

I'm the product of it.