I have a fair amount of travel experience. I studied in Oxford one summer and lived in London for six months. I spent a summer as a service corps worker in Tondo, a slum in Manila, Philippines. I have travelled to Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and France. Our family took vacations all over the United States. I remember visiting the Grand Canyon, Disney Land and Disney World. We travelled to Salt Lake City, Utah and heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing (my parents still have 16 mm films of a musical we saw performed there). We visited the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Wall Drug in South Dakota. We made numerous orange juice stops and had one big sand hill experience in Florida. And we loved the feel our tummies would get when my dad would cruise over the back hills roads in Kentucky (I also remember a phenomenal meal we enjoyed on a Shaker Plantation in Kentucky).
Perhaps because of this travel experience, I rarely think about danger when I am travelling. I have had some fearful moments, but usually the fear comes after I am already in a dangerous situation. But, perhaps I am just naive!
I know that I was terribly naive the summer I lived in New Jersey and worked in New York City. One Saturday morning, I decided to get in some sight-seeing. I headed off by myself to visit Grant's Tomb and a famous church across the street (Riverside Church?? - I'll have to review my journals), located in the upper west side of Manhattan. My next destination was the Edgar Allen Poe cottage, located in the Bronx on the upper east side of Manhattan. I was a poor college student and didn't want to pay the fare to take a subway from the west-side over to the east side, so I decided to walk. I walked across Harlem that Saturday morning by myself.
A few years later, I fully realized my naivete. If you have ever visited the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, you would know that my visit wasn't worth the dangerous walk (it is a tiny relic and all I remember is watching a slide-show in a cramped room in the attic!) I am grateful to God for protecting me that morning. However, I learned that I am not the only person to behave in a witless manner while travelling. When my German pen-pal, Katja, came to visit me, I decided maybe travelling makes a person naive.
I believe it was a Sunday and Katja wanted to head into Chicago, but I had developed a case of bronchitis. Instead of going in with her, I drove her to the nearest train station in Geneva. She intended to visit the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. We went over the times of the returning trains and she intended to call me just prior to boarding the train so that I could head back to Geneva to pick her up.
Hour after hour slipped by without a phone call. I began to panic. I didn't know how to reach her (I don't remember if she had a cell phone or not). I didn't know why she wasn't calling. I didn't know where she was. I was beside myself with worry. Finally, very late in the evening, she called and asked me to pick her up in front of the Sears Tower. It had just closed. The weather was extremely chilly and I asked if any restaurants nearby were open so she could wait inside. I reminded her that it would take me an hour or so to get all the way into the city from DeKalb.
When I finally pulled up in front of the Sears Tower she was nowhere to be seen. I didn't own a cell phone at the time and I remember wondering what in the world I should do. I couldn't leave her downtown, but I had no idea where she was. I sat there in my car thinking through every possible scenario that could have kept her.
After 10 long agonizing minutes, a taxi cab pulled up behind me and Katja got out, said a few words to the driver and then hopped into the front seat of the car. She said that she was eager to share with me her many adventures, but first she had a severe need for a toilet. By then it was 9 or 10 in the evening and I didn't see a single place where I could let her out to find a bathroom. I headed to the expressway and got on.
You can't just get off the expressway and find a bathroom in Chicago. I tried the first exit where I could visibly see a gas station from the highway. We pulled into the gas station and Katja raced to the doors to find them barred and locked. The security guard would not let her in. We tried two other stations only to receive the same news. By now, Katja was in so much physical discomfort that she was speaking rapidly in German (I have no idea what she was saying, even though I know some German). She was gesticulating wildly to individuals and I was worried what might happen. We were in a very bad part of town.
I was almost to the point of suggesting that I just pull behind a building, when I saw a McDonalds. The sign on the door expressly forbid the use of the restroom facility without making a purchase. Katja ran in and came out moments later. I got back on the highway as quickly as I could.
Then, she began to tell me the story of her day. She had visited the Aquarium and Field museum but still had some time, so she boarded a bus to do some more sightseeing. She assumed the bus would wander around the downtown area and she would just get off at a place that looked interesting. Before she knew it they were in neighborhoods and were headed who knows where? Evanston, maybe? She didn't know how to communicate that she was lost. The driver told her to get off and take another bus back.
When she finally got back into the city, she hired a taxi to take her to the Sears tower. She tried several times to call me but the number wasn't going through. Finally, the Sears tower closed and she didn't know what to do. Upon exiting the building, she was approached by the same taxi driver who had driven her to the Sears Tower. He asked her if he could help her. She said that she was having trouble contacting her American friend on the phone. He walked with her to a phone and helped her dial my number again.
If she had told me on the phone that he was assisting her, that he was the same driver she had used before, I would have been even more panicked. She didn't tell me and after she hung up, this man told her that everything would be closed down and she would get very cold if she waited there for an hour. He offered to take her in his cab. He drove her all over the city of Chicago for an hour and pointed out various famous buildings and sights. When he dropped her off at the Sears Tower an hour later, he wouldn't accept a dime from her.
I tried to explain to her all the peril she had been in. I tried to tell her that his intentions could have been dishonorable. I tried to tell her how worried I had grown as the hours had passed. Instead, this man was her guardian angel that night. This man not only helped her reach me by phone, he kept her warm in his cab and gave her a first-rate tour of the city. I was so grateful for his act of kindness towards Katja. I will never doubt again that God can send guardian angels to protect those who are too naive for their own good! I didn't let her go into the city alone again, either!