, Corbin, KY

June 6, 2013

‘Never talk to strangers’ goes beyond childhood

The Times-Tribune


I was out and about in the downtown area of Corbin when I spied a man with his thumb held out.

I don’t know who he was, and I couldn’t tell you where he was going, but I can guarantee the chances of getting a ride from a stranger in this day and age borders on impossible.

I’ve heard my father telling stories about when he attended college and he would hitchhike from Wyoming, Pa. to the school, located in Ohio.

He was often successful in getting a ride in either direction — but again, that type of neighborly help has grown closer and closer to extinction each passing day.

When I lived out west, I came home one night from work rather late. Or early, depending on your perception. Either way, it was between 2:30 and 3 in the morning.

There were surprisingly few cars out that night, and making the trip home started off pretty easily.

I was driving down a six-lane one-way street when suddenly, out from a side street, this young girl darted right in front of the car.

Keep in mind before reading further, the next few details happened in the space of seconds.

Nearly standing on the brake, I screeched the 35-year-old car to a halt.

I started driving again, but drove slowly so I could look in the mirror to find her.

I didn’t see her — what I did see was a car shooting out from the same alley, tires screeching and the works.

When they turned their car the wrong way on the street, their headlights found the woman.

She started screaming for help, flailing her arms and running for her life.

All I wanted to do was stop and get her in the car and help her, but I heard the all-too-familiar sound of gunfire, and was afraid to help for my own safety.

As cell phones were still in the toddler stages, I was not able to call the police until I returned to my apartment.

I never knew what, if anything, happened to that poor woman. But the image of her running and the sound of her screaming etched a permanent place in my heart.

I always hope she got away and was OK.

But I have stopped and picked people up before, although when I did they weren’t hitchhiking.

I was heading for work, and already a few minutes late.

On a narrow but popular road in Bristol, Va., I passed an older woman carrying armloads of groceries. She had a 3- or 4-year-old in tow, and he, too, was saddled with a couple bags.

It was a dangerous road, and they were walking with their backs to traffic.

After I passed them, I started thinking about that kind of walk, which led to me feeling pretty guilty.

I turned around, and stopped near them, asking if they’d like a ride.

The woman looked nervous, and understandably so. I promised her I wasn’t a crazy, and that I just felt bad they were walking.

She hesitantly got into the back seat with her son.

It was very quiet in the car during that ride — I figured she was terrified of what could happen.

But once we arrived at her home, which was a couple more miles away from where I picked her up, I could tell she was both relieved and thankful.

But when I shared that story with my mother, she went off the charts, explaining what all could have happened.

And while I was a little annoyed that she got mad, I realized she was absolutely right. It could have been a total setup.

So in that sense, I became more wary of what could happen.

What it ultimately proves is this — the old adage of “never talk to strangers,” goes beyond the childhood years.

On a separate note, I am going to complain, if only a little.

Lately on a couple local radio stations I listen to, I’ve been subjected to public service announcements telling me, and other drivers, that we need to watch out for motorcycle riders.

I agree — somewhat.

Motorcycles are difficult to see, and can easily be missed if a driver is in a hurry. Yes, occasionally maybe a radio reminder can help save a life.

But why request drivers to watch out for cycle riders when Kentucky doesn’t even have a helmet law?

Every day I see countless cycle riders cruising up and down city streets, interstates and back country roads — all without helmets.

In fact, during the last three weeks, I have counted only one — ONE — motorcycle rider wearing a helmet while driving. Every day I see one motorcyclist in particular keep his helmet with him — safely tucked on the back of the seat, and not on his head.

Look, I’m all for safety. My uncle, a former Pennsylvania state trooper, was involved in a very serious motorcycle accident during a chase. Had it not been for the helmet, I would never have known my uncle.

But let’s do one of two things — either tone down the number of times I have to get told to be cautious around cycle riders, or create a public service announcement telling motorcycle riders what could happen to their heads in a crash if they don’t wear a helmet.

If seat belts save lives, I’d say helmets do too. I know my uncle believes in it.

John Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at