Thirty years ago on this nearly-fall day, I arrived in Sedona with my personal belongings loaded in the back seat and trunk of my car. As I remember, it had been a long–and scary–drive from where I lived in Southern California.
I had left my empty apartment before dawn and after several hours, decided to make a pit stop at one of the rest areas along Interstate 40. There weren’t many people there at that early hour–a couple of big trucks where the drivers were sleeping, but no passenger cars, only a dirty, old black van. I didn’t like it, but I had no options since the closest exit was miles down the lonely highway.
Maybe it was my training as a newspaper reporter, or maybe because I had been raised by my family to watch my surroundings, but as I got out of my car, I noticed two men loitering around the men’s rest room. I made a fast track to the women’s bathroom and when I came out, one was still there, but the other had moved to the van.
Trying not to let them know that I had noticed them, with my keys in my hand, I headed quickly toward my car. As soon as I got inside, the one near the rest room ran toward the van. I knew then that my intuition had been correct. While I was in the bathroom, the one man probably had taken a look in my car, noting all the things jammed into the back. I looked like easy prey–a single woman, obviously moving somewhere with a car loaded with stuff. Well, they were right. I had clothes, jewelry, silverware, and other valuable items in the car. Everything else was in a Bekins Van Lines truck somewhere on the road a day ahead of me.
After quickly starting the engine, I jammed my car into reverse and then headed as fast as I could toward the exit, toward my new home and a new future. Sure enough, they pulled quickly out of their parking space and tried to catch up but I had really stepped on the gas and was quite a ways ahead, my heart now beating rapidly.
I jumped into the fast lane and pushed hard on the gas pedal. At that time–1991–the speed limit was 55 MPH (wow, can you believe that?) I took the car up to 65, hoping it could take a speed that few people drove in those days. I looked in my rear view mirror and the black van was also in the fast lane and moving quickly. There were no other cars or trucks on the road, and as the desert terrain zipped by, I kept my eye on the rear view mirror and my foot on the gas. Soon enough, the black van was gaining on me, and I pushed the car to 75.
Where was the Highway Patrol, I wondered. Oh, God, what I wouldn’t have done for a speeding ticket! This game of trying to stay ahead of the van played out for what seemed like a long time, maybe twenty or thirty minutes. All I knew was that I had to keep ahead of them or I would be in real trouble.
Then, as I came over a rise in the highway, I saw two eighteen wheelers several miles ahead of me in the slow lane. It was then that I knew I would be okay. I kicked my car into an even higher speed and soon enough caught up with the two semis and moved smoothly in between the rigs, slowing down. I’m sure the driver of the last truck wondered why I did that, but then he saw–just as I did–the black van pulled up beside me, and stayed there. I could see the men in the van from my peripheral vision, but I didn’t look at them; I didn’t want them to see the terror on my face.
They stayed next to me for a long time, but then realized I wasn’t going to leave the safety of the trucks and there was no way for them to force me to the side of the highway. They dropped back, but I stayed tucked into my cocoon, happily keeping my distance from the front truck. To this day, I believe the driver of the rear truck realized what was happening, and he stayed behind me.
Finally, the van dropped out of sight, probably taking one of the few exits. I stayed with the trucks for a while, and then, feeling safe, I pulled into the fast lane. The truck behind flashed his lights and the truck ahead tooted his horn as I passed, waving gratefully at both of them.
I arrived in Sedona at about 3 p.m., pulling into the parking lot of my Realtor’s office. Helen Black was waiting for me, and seeing how worn I looked, she took me into her office, let me stretch out on her sofa, and I was soon fast asleep.