About 7 years ago, in my early 20s, I spent six months working twelve hour overnight shifts at a gas station in my hometown. It wasn’t a hard job, but the hours were long and lonely, especially in the dead of winter in a northern Canadian town. I spent my time cleaning, listening to music, and chatting with the cab drivers – my most frequent customers.
Now, the cab drivers weren’t the most savory guys in the world. Some spent all their money on lottery tickets and scratch offs, some were known drug users and dealers, and one was even an ex-con with an ankle bracelet. But I was a young girl -friendly but not naive – and most of the drivers saw me as someone who needed protecting. They often remarked that my boss shouldn’t leave me on night shifts alone, due to my age and sex. Sexist maybe, but I took it as concern and let them know sometimes if I needed a hand with a drunk or belligerent customer and they’d do there best to handle things.
And then, there was Car 8. We will call the driver Ed.
Ed was in his 60s, overweight, a smoker, and proved himself to be a real creep. It started innocently enough. He would come in during the wee hours of the morning and fill his car, buy beer, snacks, and, without fail, flirt with me. As a woman working with the public, this is an expected, if unwelcome, part of the experience. My strategy was to be friendly, remind them I was engaged, and shoo them away. Most saw it as harmless banter. But Ed was more intense. He would hang out in the store for extended periods of time, chatting with me while I tried to get my work done. He began telling me that my fiance was a lucky man and that if he were younger, he would sweep me off my feet and steal me away from him. I began to become less friendly with him, as his constant attention was beginning to unsettle me. He began to come in every night, multiple times. Sometimes he wouldn’t even buy anything, just distract me from my work. Once when I had stepped out for a cigarette, he pulled into the parking lot and decided to join me. Whatever. It’s not a big deal.
It was just us in the empty parking lot. My hair was down at the time and falling in my face. Without warning, he reached out and tried to brush it out of my face. I recoiled and laughed awkwardly. He then said “you should wear your hair up more. I like it up.” I excused myself and went back into the gas station, shuddering at his advance.
I know it seems pretty harmless at this point – just a sad old man being a little inappropriate. But in mid February I was at work when the phone rang. It was Ed. He wanted to invite me to dinner at his house the next night. He would make us homemade dinner and we could “get to know each other.” I declined. He insisted. I said I had plans. He grumbled for a few minutes and finally said goodbye. After the call, feeling a little weirded out, I saw another cab pull in. The driver’s name was Tony, and he was a kind, funny man who sometimes gave me free lifts. Tony saw I was troubled and asked what was wrong. I explained that Ed had just tried to get me to come to his house for dinner, and that he’d been pretty creepy lately.
All the colour drained from Tony’s face. He was silent for a moment, then mumbled something like “I’ll be back in a bit” and left the store. I watched him peel out of the lot, screeching his tires on the icy cement.
A few hours later, Tony and another driver came into the store. They said simply that Ed wouldn’t bother me any more. Another driver told me later that Tony had gone to Ed’s house ant threatened him on my behalf, though I don’t know the details of the threats. He had also told the whole cab company the situation and had them keep an eye on me. I was glad for the help but puzzled by the intense reaction from Tony.
The next night, Car 8 pulled into the parking lot. Instead of stopping, he drove by slowly and left the lot when he saw I was working. He never came into the store again while I was there.
This is the part that makes my skin crawl. I found out from other people around town years later that Ed had multiple accusations against him of sexually assaulting young women. It had been a suspicion in the community for years. Some he would kidnap in his cab during their fare, some he would follow home and stalk. But the ones he really liked, he would lure to his house for dinner.
So thanks, Tony, for looking out for me.