Another memorable true story from my adventurous life:
It was almost ten years ago. Between 2am and 5am in the morning. I received a notification for an out of town taxi trip. I was a little disappointed when I scrolled through the trip details. On out of town trips, the dispatcher is supposed to provide you with the destination and the estimated fare that was quoted to the passenger. In this case, they did not provide me with any of that information. They only said that the passenger agreed to a minimum $50 trip charge. Less than I was hoping for but better than nothing. So I headed out to the pickup location.
The passenger was being picked up out in the middle of the country on the far south side of San Antonio. Much farther away than any of the regular business of the night.
I drove out to the location wondering who the passenger could be, where they could be going, and what their story might be. Why would they need a taxi at 3am in the morning? I was cautious because a trip like this was out of the norm, but I settled myself by deciding that maybe they could be an international traveler preparing to leave for the airport super early in the morning.
I left the main part of town and started driving in the country towards the passenger’s pickup location. I noticed a vehicle had pulled out of a gas station and seemed to be keeping pace with my speed. They were behind me and weren’t passing me. When you drive twelve hours a day, you notice little odd things like that. Usually in the country there are two types of drivers: people who know the area and ignore all the speed limits and just drive to get where they are going. Or there are people who know the area and drive really slow because they don’t have much else to do.
There was something about the person behind me that was different. I didn’t know where I was going so I was driving slower than normal so I could try to read the street signs in the dark. And this driver wasn’t passing me but they weren’t riding my bumper either. They seemed to stay the correct amount of distance away the whole time. But they were close enough that I noticed that their headlights were different than most vehicles on the road. I’m not knowledgeable about vehicles so I referred to their headlights as “Lexus lights” because those were the only vehicles that I knew of that had those lights. Again, not a huge deal but kind of out of place for a Lexus to be driving around at 3am on the country roads.
I was worried at this point. I was wondering if someone had placed a call for a taxi, was following me, and was going to trap and assault me at the destination location. My mind was devising all kinds of ways to escape. You never know who is going to be in your taxi. You don’t have the luxury of waiting for the police to arrive if someone is attacking you.
As I was thinking these thoughts, I was distracted by trying to find the street I needed in the dark. I found it and made the turn. I looked behind me and noticed that the Lexus hadn’t followed. I dismissed a little of my worry and proceeded to concentrate on the situation I would be encountering in a few short seconds.
When I located the passenger’s house, immediately I noticed that there were at least three vans in the driveway and a lot of people. That was odd to me. Sometimes people call for taxis because they don’t have a working vehicle. This was obviously not the case in this situation.
Other times people call for taxis because they don’t have anyone else who can give them a ride. This again was obviously not the case.
I thought to myself, why would someone call a taxi if they had a vehicle and someone else to drive them? My guard was up at this point. Something was wrong. My gut knew it.
As I watched the scene of people on the front porch, I noticed nobody was hugging. Usually when loved ones are separating, there is at least the appearance of affection as they hug each other goodbye. Again, my mind was telling me something was wrong.
Also, no one from the group of people immediately came to the taxi to acknowledge me. Usually there is someone in a group who will greet the driver and will ask the driver to wait while the others come to the vehicle. Nobody acted like I was even there.
Then a man brings a suitcase to the vehicle. He doesn’t say anything to me. I just get out and open the back door of the van and he puts the suitcase into the trunk. He walks back to the house. Only one suitcase. I was thinking maybe a whole group of people were going to the airport so maybe that is why they called for a taxi. But no, only one suitcase.
Then a lady comes out and asks me to wait. Since this was a $50 trip and I had driven so far already, I decided to wait. I notice people are talking and walking back and forth on the porch. Something is wrong but I can’t figure it out.
Then an older bigger man walks towards the taxi and angrily says to me, “Where are you taking her?!” I say, “I don’t know sir. She hasn’t told me.” “You don’t know where you are taking her?” “No sir, “ I say with enough force to match his. He realizes I’m not going to be bullied and he walks away back towards the house. Being somewhat of a champion for women, I was not going to let him push me around. This was my taxi. I thought of it as my house. I had to protect myself. I was proud of sticking up for myself but now I was concerned for the woman who had asked me to wait.
When she finally came back to the van, she was alone. This was odd. Usually when especially a female leaves in a taxi, the group of people will go with her to the taxi and check out the taxi driver to make sure she is safe. Nobody was coming to the van to see this woman off. I knew something was wrong.
Immediately after she closes the van door, she tells me, “Drive. Please. Quickly.” Now, I might be a champion for women, but I also know just because you are a woman, that doesn’t mean I can trust you. I was worried about being setup by a woman for an ambush. I was worried about her taking advantage of me and not paying. I was already on guard from the whole situation.
Also, in the taxi business, it’s a bad sign if people don’t tell you where they are going. Sometimes people just want you to drive so that they can assault you on the way. I knew I had to take control of the situation. I told her, “Hey, wait a minute. I need to receive the payment first and I need to know where you are going.”
“I’ll pay you. I promise. Just drive. I need to get away from here.”
I tell her, “Fine, I’ll drive a few blocks and pull over and then you can pay me first. And then tell me where you are going.” She agrees and I start confirming the price of the trip with her. I relax a little because she doesn’t seem concerned at all about how much the trip is going to cost and she is working on getting her cash out to give to me. Usually if someone is up to no good, they will try to bluff you into believing they didn’t know how much the trip was going to cost, or that the dispatcher quoted them a difference price, etc.
I drove a few blocks and then pulled over in the dark on the side of the road. She gave me the money and then asked me again to drive. I asked her again where she was going and she just said, “I’ll let you know. Just turn to the right.” We turned onto the main road and headed back towards the city so I was not as scared. I figured if she was leading me to an ambush, it would have been deeper into the country versus off a main road headed to the city.
I was starting to relax but I was not going to let her just drive me around aimlessly. She seemed sincere but I needed more information. I started asking her, “What is going on?”
She started telling me that she had been studying in medical school in Chicago. She was only a semester or two away from graduating when her mother called her from India and advised her that she was being married off to a man in Texas in an arranged marriage. She had never met the man before. She was expected to leave medical school in Chicago and move to Texas and get married. So that’s what she did.
After she was married and arrived in Texas, the new husband and his family put her to work in the gas station that they owned. This was no corporate gas station. This was one of those little gas station dumps out in the middle of the country. She said they violated all the labor laws and she was stuck at the gas station working all kinds of hours. Then when she came back to the family compound, the family treated her like a slave and she was expected to spend her time at home doing housework. Here she was about to graduate from medical school and now reduced to a slave working for strangers.
As she is telling me this story, all of a sudden, what do I see in the rear-view mirror? “Lexus lights!” I’m sure it was the same white car that had followed me so many miles on the way to her house. Before I even had time to think about what was happening, the Lexus races up next to the side of the van and starts honking and driving erratically. I felt like I was in an action movie!
I was scared but somehow incredibly calm. She wasn’t reacting at all. In a very surreal moment, I turned and asked her, “Do you know these people!?!?”
In my mind, I’m thinking her in-laws have tracked us down and are going to run me off the road and kill us both in some kind of twisted honor killing.
She calmly responds, “Yes, follow them.” I have no idea how to explain it, but I trusted her. The Lexus speeds up and I switch lanes and follow it. Almost immediately, the Lexus pulls off the main road and onto a dirt road.
I’m thinking, “Great, a dirt road. Of course it’s a dirt road. This is like a bad B movie. Is this how my life is going to end?”
I ask the passenger, “What’s going on?” She tells me that these people in the Lexus are friends she met at church and they are helping her escape. For some reason I believed her. I assume that she didn’t want this couple to drive to her former residence for fear that her in-laws would find out who was helping her.
The Lexus drives over a cattle guard and stops in the middle of the pitch black night in a literal field in the middle of the country. The only lights are the headlights of our vehicles.
A man and a woman step out of the Lexus. The man wastes no time in approaching the taxi and opening the van door and helping the woman out of the back seat. I somehow decide that I feel safe enough to exit the vehicle and open the trunk so they can retrieve her luggage. The woman from the Lexus comforts my passenger as the man takes her luggage back to his vehicle. He tells me thank you and they all get into the Lexus and drive away quickly.
I’m left by myself in the middle of some random cow pasture in the pitch black night. I catch my senses and drive away as quickly as possible to get back to the city.
I call my dispatcher and I tell him to please not give out my name or number to anyone who might call it for that trip. I was worried her in-laws were going to track me down once they realized that their free labor had escaped.
In the end, I felt honored. That I would be provided that opportunity to help a woman escape from bondage.
On this Valentine’s Day, remember that you are still loved, still important, and still matter even if you don’t have a romantic significant other.