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Creeps at Gas Stations and Other Great Places

at-my-wedding

“What are you doing?” I ask. I look from L. to the two guys she’s talking to.

“They’re Sigma Nus,” L. answers. “They go to school near here.”

“Hi,” they say.

“Get in the car, L.,” I say and put my wallet back in my purse. I’ve just paid for our gas.

“What?” she asks. “They’re nice. I was telling them we were driving from Florida back to Indiana.”

“You told them where we’re going?” I say.

“Hey,” says one of the guys. “What’s your problem?”

“L., get in the car,” I say again.

“They’re having a party tonight,” she says.

“I don’t care. Get in the car.”

“You don’t have to be like that. We’re not serial killers.”

“I,” I say and start walking away, “don’t talk to strange men at gas stations near the Interstate several hundred miles away from home.”

The three of them walk after me. L. complains that I’m being rude. The guys complain that I’m paranoid and try to explain how nice they are.

I reach my car. “L., get in the car,” I say and yank open the car door. “Now.”

She sighs and rolls her eyes. “Sorry guys,” she says to them. They smile at her and glare at me.

“I wasn’t going to suggest we actually go to the party,” L. says, fastening her seatbelt.

I put the car into gear. “You don’t tell strange men where you’re going! What were you thinking?”

“It’s not like they’re going to follow us to Indiana,” she says.

“That’s not the point. You didn’t know them.”

“They’re Signma Nus.”

“I don’t care.” I’d driven alone from Indiana to Florida and back many times. Maybe it’s growing up in the state that ended up with Ted Bundy, but I don’t talk to strangers in parking lots. L. and I agree not to talk about it anymore, and I wonder if I’m too paranoid and if my imagination is too active.

In my memories, my hometown was a creepy place, even though nothing truly horrific ever happened to me. The threat was always there, lurking among the cattails and the orange groves, with serial killers on the local news and plenty of missing children. Maybe it was the year-round humidity, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, and the alligators I could see from our driveway.

How does where you grew up affect your imagination? How does your sense of place appear in your writing?

6 thoughts on “Creeps at Gas Stations and Other Great Places

  1. i’ve moved so many times that my memories of places growing up are pretty wide and shallow, except for a few- my grandmother’s house, for instance. I could tell you where every knick-knack was placed, and the story behind it. I still miss it terribly and it was sold eighteen years ago. I felt so safe there.

    I’ve always been alert as to whether a place feels safe or not. Put me in any environment and I can tell you how sketch or stable a place is, where the exits are, who is feeling what emotion, and often, why. It’s pretty exhausting at times. The places I’ve felt totally relaxed are precious. In my writing I tend to create safe and stable environments because I crave them. I’m working on letting that not be the case.

  2. I never write about San Jose, California as a setting. I didn’t like it. But I write about other places I’ve lived and loved, such as San Francisco. And here in Maine or in Vermont. I use setting to evoke the mood or create a framework for a story, and my various homes haven’t been the cause of a story. It’s the experiences you have in these places and not the places themselves that you bring to the writing. Which may be what you were getting at and I missed it.

  3. That whole creepy feeling really comes out in your writing.

    I was protected from knowing about rapes and murders when I was a kid, so I probably felt much safer than was merited.

    There was an area called ‘Wild Park’ that was left wild near the golf course at the top of our road and I used to go there despite possible ‘nasty strangers’. I had no idea of the risks from paedophiles and didn’t know that there had been incidents there.

  4. Honey, I grew up in NYC, the Bronx and Morningside Heights in the 70s, and let me tell you… you were right. Always trust your instincts in regard to what is safe and what is not. (Of course, something I”m learning is that when we have our dreams on the line, nothing feels safe, because you are taking the risk of losing it)

    As for growing up in NYC, I find that I am interested in the shadows, too, alleyways and the dark under the elevated train tracks, or the long tunnels of the subway, or the layers of living in the old tenements. Like the spreading live oaks and spanish moss, I like the cracks in the perfect image of NYC. It’s not all glamor and lights and high finance, just like Florida isn’t all Sunshine and white beaches and citrus fruits. And both Florida and NYC have alligators. Fine, FL’s are bonafide and in every body of water, but NYC’s are mysterious and fabled, giant, albino, and living in the sewers.

    Yeah, I like shadows, and what’s underneath, but I don’t necessarily think the subterranean is creepy. Sometimes it feels more authentic.

  5. Suffocation. It suffuses some of my writing with a sense of suffocation. Also, search for yourself in a disguised cameo appearance in my latest blog story “Tongue in Cheek?” You”ll know it’s you.

  6. sarah, I do the same thing about knowing the exits and the places to hide. You just never know.

    writtenwrydd, I have a hard time separating a place from what happened there–when it comes to Florida anyway. Maybe it has to do with the seemingly endless creepy events there. Well, maybe some places have more mood than others. And I don’t write about places where I was reasonably happy or had no feeling toward whatsoever.

    fairyhedgehog, I think I’m happy that the creepiness comes out in my writing. Well, maybe. That sounds weird to say. I happened to be surrounded by grown ups who told me plenty of creepy stories. Some did so to wise me up and keep me safe. Others did it to scare me half to death. The result was that by the time I was 12, rape and murder sounded just as possible as anything else.

    rowena, I love that someone here lives in FLorida–someone who knows it isn’t all Disney. Subterranean isn’t always creepy. Creepiness is something else. But as far as dreams go–we have to risk.

    Squirrel, Anytime someone says to me, “I’ve got a question. The answer is super easy. You’ll get it.” My mind freezes up and I’m sure I won’t get it at all and I’ll be exposed for the idiot I am. I admit to feeling something similar here when you write, “You’ll know it’s you.” I enjoyed your blog entry. I hope I got it right.

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