It wasn’t exactly the welcome we expected when we crossed the border.
We drove to Michigan last weekend, cutting across Ontario, Canada from western New York to save a couple of hours.
After crossing into the U.S., we pulled into a “welcome center” to stretch our legs. A few other vehicles came and went while we took a bathroom break, raided our cooler for sandwiches and walked the dog.
We had the entire parking area to ourselves, and started getting organized to get back on the road.
“Sir! Sir! Can you help me out?”
I turned around to see a large man who must have emerged from the welcome center.
“With what?” I called back. My “spidey sense” kicked in. There were no other vehicles in the lot, although there was another parking area for trucks out back.
“Directions!” he called out.
“I’m from upstate New York, so I don’t know how much I can help!” I replied. I kept a distance between us as I sized up the situation. I’ve been told I think like a cop, which can be good and bad, I suppose.
“Let me get a map,” I called out, trying to sound annoyed or at least aloof, and walked back to the car. At this point, Michelle was getting her phone out.
I strolled back to the man, who stayed where he was, about half the distance between the building and our car. Not another person or vehicle in sight.
I unfolded the map as I walked over to him. He outweighed me by about 100 pounds, but for whatever reason I wasn’t scared. Wary, certainly, but calm.
The man had a piece of paper with directions and addresses scrawled on it, and said he didn’t know how to get to Detroit. I showed him where we were, and that he needed to take I-94 westbound.
He seemed confused by the map, and I was waiting for the request for a ride, which would have been denied. The whole thing seemed “off,” not quite right.
That’s when he said, “I can’t go into Canada. I’ve got felonies.”
OK, so this was a little awkward. But I didn’t react, and just reiterated the route he needed to go, even pointing toward the highway ramp and adding that Canada was in the opposite direction.
I folded up the map and may have wished him good luck as I walked back to our car. End of story.
But we wondered if it could have ended differently. Badly.
As the man and I parted, Michelle was standing outside our car, phone in hand. If he noticed her, did he think she was looking up a Google map to help him? Or was she ready to call 911 if needed? (It was the latter, as things didn’t seem right to her, either).
Where was his vehicle? Maybe it was on the other side of the building, where several truckers had parked. Had he asked anyone over there for directions?
I had been close enough to him that I could tell that he had recently washed up, maybe even showered. If that were the case, how long had he been driving? Had he been driving at all?
And why, since we were already in Michigan and he needed to go to Detroit, did he mention he couldn’t go into Canada? And why volunteer that he’s a felon?
The most nagging questions: Was this an innocent encounter with a directionally challenged person, and we were overthinking it, overreacting? Or was he up to no good, and thought better of it when he saw Michelle with her phone at the ready?
We’ll never know, of course. But too many things just didn’t add up.
The only certainty is that we’re forced to balance our desire to help others with our personal safety. It’s not cynicism. It’s common sense with a little “spidey sense” added for good measure.