So I’m thinking to myself, “Is this guy a serial killer?” as we travel along the Pacific Coast Highway presumably to a remote (in my mind) hiking destination, me and this man who I just met. Did I mention I’m in the passenger seat of an older van with no windows, no back seats, padded ceiling with rips and brown stains and Texas plates? Blink blink—is that sea bass I smell?—blink.
Okay, so before I scare the crap out of you (too late?), I should probably note that I met “High Risk” (his pseudonym) at a coffee shop—of course—and he was with a few (normal seeming) friends—though not all serial killers are reclusive or anti-social. Then a few days later, we went for lunch with Mermaid and a few other friends, so it wasn’t like I met the dude in an alley. Come on, how dumb do you think I am? Sideways glance.
He says he is a high risk venture capitalist, so I assume hacking hikers to bits is merely his hobby. And he has been talking non-stop about the origin of said van, his mother’s, in Texas, and “Why just let it sit there not being used?” and all that. And a few more stories of his childhood that so match the criteria of the profile of a serial killer I’ve learned from all those true crime books I read way back—their contents are indelibly inked in my memory. The profile goes something like this: male, Caucasian, 25-45 van with no windows or back seats that smells like last victim. Meanwhile, I’m not really listening because I’m trying to stealthily take photos of him with my iPhone in my lap and then turning on roaming and the track-my-body whereabouts functions.
“Let’s grab a coffee for the way,” I say, “on me.” As I have been known to have bouts of paranoia from time to time (this meshes well with my fairly consistent OCD), I decide that stopping for coffee is a good way for people to see us together in the hopes that if I do turn up fertilizing the California hills perhaps someone will remember us.
“Good idea,” he says and pulls into an off-street parking lot. “I’ll wait here.”
Swallowing hard and trying to talk myself off the wire, I come out of what is now in my mind an alley and go across the street to the coffee shop where I see a man I’ve met at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market—we’ll call him Health Nut. He smiles, and I greet him with a quick ramble of my circumstances. He leans back in consternation and concern.
“Trust your gut, listen to your intuition,” he tells me.
“My gut is sometimes overactive,” I say and refrain from telling him how I think there are hidden cameras everywhere I go that could give pervs an opportunity to post inappropriate—or worse—unflattering photos of me on some twisted website. (Public bathrooms, for example, are one of these possible places and, if I’m looking good, I might wave at the walls as though to say, “Ha! I know you’re there!” But if I look like crap, I just try to wipe in a way that no camera could ever capture.)
Health Nut is looking at me like I’m nuts—and I’m not sure he’s wrong—but just to be sure I tell him, “If you don’t see me at the market, I’m with [High Risk]. Remember that name.”
I grab the hemp milk lattes and leave while Health Nut says pointedly, “See you soon.”
I reply, “Yes. Oh, right, yes!”
On my way back to the alley, I rationalize that my fear is paranoia based while, at the same time, I try to remember all those moves I learned in self-defence class. I can’t remember any! Maybe because I’ve never taken a self-defence class. Shit. I usually rely on fluttering my eyelashes and smiling coyly to disarm a guy. When I get back to the parking lot—having said a very friendly “Hello!” to everyone I see on the way—High Risk is waiting in the van, which is now backed into the stall against a fence so that the Texas plates can’t be seen. Oy.
I approach the driver’s window with his beverage hoping that someone will walk by and see him more clearly through the open window. No such luck.
With heart palpitations on high, I get in the passenger side and say, “I don’t feel well,” which is absolutely true by this point. I feel faint and, because he hasn’t had time to poison my overpriced beverage, I figure it’s nerves not malice.
He says, “The fresh air will make you feel better.”
I swallow hard, “I have to go to the bathroom. Do you? We should go before we get there.”
He’s quick, “Yeah, probably. Okay, you go first, I’ll wait here.”
Twitch. My mouth parches. I take a sip of my coffee.
I go in to a nearer coffee shop. There’s only one unisex bathroom. This makes me feel better as I’m hoping he knew this and isn’t simply avoiding being with me.
While in the bathroom, I say a little prayer to God, “Lord, please let this guy be safe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I refrain from adding, “Or at least let it happen quick and for someone to find my body, preferably not nude since I’m a modest girl, so my family won’t suffer additionally not knowing what happened.” I also do a little self-muscle testing asking, “Is he safe?” The answer comes back yes. Just to be certain, I ask again: “Just to be clear, I will arrive home intact and alive?” Again, yes. Well, that settles it. See how responsible I am?
I go back to the van and get in. He starts the engine, and I say, “Aren’t you going to go?” and he says he’ll wait—there’s probably a bathroom there. Probably? Didn’t he say he’s been on this hike??
So we’re on the PCH, and I roll down my window, not only for fresh air so I don’t barf in this dead-body-or-sea-bass-transport-vehicle but also so I can smile at other motorists in a way that makes them pay attention and remember me so they’ll at least catch the bastard after he maims me.
Since I’m not writing this from some dank cellar, it turns out perhaps he isn’t a murderer after all. Either that or he suspected I was taking those photos of him and emailing them to my housemate, Mermaid, with the message: “Van, no windows. Or back seats! Texas plates!! Am I being naive here? I don’t want to make the morning papers. Call me in half an hour if you get this in time …”
Then I try to relax and engage in conversation, thinking maybe he’ll feel a real connection and take a rain check on the hacking today. He’s an interesting guy. Then again anyone who plays poker, like he does, should be interesting to me. After a while, I begin to breathe normally and settle in with the idea that I have def definitely gotten out of my comfort zone, and I may get some exercise in these last moments of my life. (Silver lining?) I imagine how some people never really find joy at all in their lives and here I am living joyfully free in Cali—technically, I’m a visitor, if Immigration reads this. (Does being buried at Temescal Canyon automatically get me a Green Card?)
Half an hour later, Mermaid calls while we are on the hike, “How are you? Are you alive?” she’s got a smile in her voice because she’s already met the man and clearly thinks I’m insane. I figure by this time I am safe as it’s a popular trail with plenty of people, and he is walking in front of me since he conscientiously knows no girl wants to let the potential perpetrator walk behind her (or maybe he likes to lead, hmm). So I reply in code, “Hi! I’m on a hike with [High Risk], I’ll be back in a couple hours.” She laughs and asks if I’m okay. I’m all nonchalant, “Oh, yeah!” and he doesn’t have to be a genius serial killer to know what’s up, but I figure if he is criminal, then he’s not going to take his chances today. (Thank you, Mermaid!)
On the hike we talk about the ‘Venice Beach Vibe’ and how everyone and anyone will hook up without hesitation, and I’m all like, “I don’t hook up.” Then I explain my history of constant companionship and that I’m taking time off from romance. “I’m not interested in dating or flings or friends with benefits or casual sex—or not casual sex for that matter. But I make a great wing-woman.”
He doesn’t miss a beat and basically says do whatever feels right, then he gives a list of qualities he likes in a woman—I’ll spare his privacy by not sharing those things here, but I’ll keep an eye out for a woman who likes the smell of sea bass and a great camping van. And then we talk about relationships and philosophy and religion and never once does he put on a fake cast and ask me to help him move a small sofa into said van. Hmph. Let that be a lesson to me.
Um, it’s probably best we don’t mention this to MLM (my little mom). Even though she’s high on Jesus points, I’m probably not (even though I did go to church last Sunday), and she’d worry that she alone wouldn’t have enough God clout to keep me safe on this one.
A couple days later, my real estate assistant, who is back in Canada, decides to hand in his resignation. Although I’ve got our team systems mostly automated and running smoothly, there are a few tasks that I either don’t want to do or can’t do from afar, so it is a loss. But—Hello! I just survived imminent death, people! So, I take this turn of events in stride, saddened to lose a team member but convinced every challenge is an opportunity for something better.
Yesterday at Friday Farmer’s Market, I meet up with a now mutual friend of High Risk and mine and tell him about my hair-brained imaginings. He looks intrigued until I mention the van, then he looks confused, and I’m wondering if a highly successful high risk venture capitalist would actually be driving such a vehicle. Blink blink.
Note to men: I hope you learned something of the mindset of a woman. Some of us are unjustly paranoid (sideways glance) but most of us must consider our risks, be cognisant of that. Thank you in advance.
What have I (re)learned?
1. Do not invite a man I have just met to go on a solo hike! Even if he is safe, the whole hike I’ll be on the look-out for fleeing strategies instead of trees and shrubs. In fact, to be on the safe side, no more solo hikes with a man period. Until I’m married. Which, since I’m on romance celibacy, could be awhile. Stick with yoga.
2. Live each day like it’s my last, except don’t spend all my money, eat a pound of bacon and six hamburgers with a side of mac & cheese topped with cheesecake, and tell my boss “I hate that tie, and I love your wife” (←wha?), because it might not be my last.
3. No matter what’s going on outside me, when I look for the positive, I find it.
1. Self-defence class ay-sap. (Maybe I’ll find some ladies there to hike with!)
2. Buy bacon. (It’s been a fucking year since I’ve had it, and I just heard it helps with PTS. Thank you.)
3. Warn High Risk about this blog post prior to meeting up for happy hour later. (Hope for sense of humor.) If he doesn’t flee country rename him Adventure Capitalist.