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Visitor Stories

Old Enough to Know Better:  Kidnapped in Sausalito! -by Beth Ann Schneider

The car door slammed shut and suddenly I was overwhelmed with nervous anticipation.  There I sat, in the back seat of a two-door car with a pair of roller skates on my feet.  “Probably not one of my smarter moves,” I muttered to myself as my driver started the car.

 

An Adventure Begins

            It was my first trip to San Francisco and already I was impressed with the beauty and adventurousness of this historic place.  And I do mean adventurous!  I stopped at a pay phone to call my bank.  The proprietor of my hotel had stolen my credit card and I felt lucky to get out of there alive -- but that is a story for another time. 

Determined not to let the incident ruin my last day of vacation, I quickly made the call and headed down Powell Street toward the Sausalito ferry.  Having seen all the recommended sites the previous day – the crooked street, Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the like, I wanted to see the ocean-side community I had heard so much about.  A friend had urged me to make the visit and to rent a pair of roller skates, of all things, to make my trip complete.  Always seeking another adventure, I was up for the challenge.  She told me about a bike path following the shoreline of the city and that it was quite skate-able in an hour or so.  My plan was to do the skating tour and catch the last ferry back to San Francisco with just enough time to spare to make my flight home. 

            It was a spectacular ferry ride.  I sat outside so I could feel the salt-water air on my face.  The view of San Francisco from the water was magnificent.  We docked and I hurried toward the skate shop, which was among a row of shops less than a block from the station.  Before long I was on my way to my Sausalito adventure.

It was a relatively easy trail and an exciting way to see the sites.  There were fabulous ocean scenes the entire route and it wasn’t crowded at all.  I stopped only a couple of times to catch my breath and take in the scenery – there were pretty little parks with benches and flowers along the route. 

On one rest stop I pulled out the map I had picked up at the skate shop to see how far I had come.  It was one of those animated maps not to scale with pictures and site-seeing information.  “Uh-oh” I whispered as I found my place on the map.  I checked my watch.  “What?  I have to be farther along than this,” I said looking around hoping I wasn’t where the map indicated I was.  “I’ll never make it at this rate,” I complained to a perfectly innocent seagull that was only looking for a handout. 

            I jumped up and sped off as if I might have a chance of making it if I skated faster, only I hadn’t anticipated the steady uphill climb ahead.  I stopped again after a few minutes or so and checked the map.  It seemed hopeless, but I skated off again, this time formulating “Plan B” in the event that I would miss the ferry – which seemed certain at this point.  Just then I looked up and saw a little old lady and man picking flowers at one of the little parks.  “That’s it!” I thought allowing myself to smile again.  They look innocent enough.  Maybe they will give me a ride back to the ferry station.

 

More Than I Bargained For

            I approached the elderly couple carefully so as not to frighten them.  They looked as if they were in their late sixties – my parents’ age.  I cleared my throat, caught my breath, and tying not to sound too desperate, I said, “Hello.” 

The lady slowly turned around.  “Well, hello there,” she said with a big grin on her face.  She seemed really pleased to see me standing there.  It was an odd feeling -- like she was greeting an old friend or a family member she hadn’t seen in a while.  Just then the man turned around.  He just stared at me with a big smile on his face.  In my desperate state I quickly dismissed the oddity of the greeting and began to tell my story.

“…And so, well, is there any possible way you could drive me back to the ferry station?”  I had finally worked up the nerve to ask.

            “Why of course we can,” the lady replied and we headed for their car.  The man had still not spoken, but he was smiling the whole time.  “Can you get in with those things on your feet?” the lady asked. 

“Oh sure, no problem,” I answered politely struggling to get in behind the passenger seat of their two-door car.  It was a tight fit, but I was in no position to complain.  Neither one of them spoke a word as the lady settled in the seat in front of me and the man in the driver seat.  “This is a nice car you have here,” I said nervously wanting to break the silence. 

“Thank you.  I’m glad you like it,” the man finally spoke.  I looked down at my skates.  I had wanted an adventure story to share when I got home, but this was definitely more than I had bargained for.

           

An Unexpected Journey

“Probably not one of my smarter moves,” I muttered as the man started the car.  I was happy that I was on my way to the ferry, but definitely uneasy about the way in which I was accomplishing it.  I was nervous because of our odd greeting, but I had no reason to believe that the couple wouldn’t drive me to the ferry station.  I wasn’t scared, but something about the situation just didn’t seem right.

            “Those are pretty flowers you picked at the park,” I said trying to make things seem normal. 

            “Thank you,” the lady replied.  “They are for my daughter.”

            “Oh, does you daughter live here, too?”  I asked looking around to judge our progress to the station.  The lady didn’t reply.  “There it is.  There’s the ferry right over there,” I said anxiously wondering why I was so relieved to see it. 

            “Yes, we know where it is,” the lady said and the man drove right past the entrance. 

            “Wait!  You missed the turn.  It’s right back there.”  I said trying not to sound panicky. 

            “Dear, you have plenty of time to catch the ferry.  We’ll just have a nice little visit and then we’ll take you back to the ferry when it’s time.  Won’t we, dear?”  The lady said addressing me first, then the man.

            “Of course we will,” the man answered as if all of this had been rehearsed a million times.

            I thought carefully before I spoke.  “OK … sure, that will be great,” I responded in a matter of fact tone.  I checked my watch.  There was time for a visit, but not much.  My heart was pounding.  I wanted desperately to know where they were taking me, but I didn’t dare ask.  I was apprehensive to say the least, but I was not scared.  The man was a little strange, but they certainly seemed harmless.  I didn’t really think I was in any danger, but I was clearly not in control.  More than anything else, I felt sorry for them, but the logical side of me said nothing about this state of affairs was normal.  “They are just lonely,” I rationalized silently to myself.  “That‘s all there is to it.  I’ll visit a little bit with them and then we’ll get right back to the ferry.”  Then, hoping to get a little information as to where we were going, I asked, “Do you live around here?”  In the confusion I had lost track of our route since the skate shop.  “That was dumb,” I thought realizing I would have a hard time finding it if I had to, but then, why would I need to find it on my own?  “They are going to take me back to the ferry,” I thought trying hard to believe it was true.  We hadn’t gone far, maybe five minutes or so.  We were driving through a nice neighborhood with little cookie-cutter houses with well-kept yards.

            “Oh yes, just around the corner.  You’ll see.  We’ll have a nice visit and then we’ll go back to the ferry,” the lady replied.  She seemed completely content to have me with them and I was oddly content to oblige.  I never once thought to look for a street sign or landmark that would tell me where we were.  Just then the man pulled into a driveway.  “Here we are.  We’ll have a nice little visit and then we’ll take you to the ferry.  Won’t we, dear?” the lady reiterated for the third time.  I wondered whom she was trying to convince. 

 

A Daughter Returns

            I struggled out of the car just as I had to get into it.  I had been so preoccupied with where we were going I hadn’t even taken off my skates.  I waddled across the grass toward the front door.  It never once occurred to me to run away, partly because I thought it might be difficult to explain to someone else how I had gotten myself into this predicament in the first place.  And I had managed to convince myself that I was in no danger -- that we would have a short visit and then get right back to the ferry station. 

            The lady held the front door open for me.  I thought it was strange that she had left the flowers in the car, but I didn’t mention it.  I passed through a short hallway into a modest sized living room adjacent to a small kitchen.  Not knowing what to expect, I was relieved to see it was just like any other home.  It was a 70’s sort of style and decor.  I sat down in an overstuffed chair in the living room – closest to the door.  I was careful to sit on the edge of the chair rather than collapsing comfortably into it in a relaxed way, hoping to signal that I didn’t plan on being there long.  I checked my watch again. 

            “Oh go ahead and get comfy, dear.  We have plenty of time,” the lady said as if she had read my mind.  The man came in the door and stood around in the living room like he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to say. 

            “Nice house,” I said sympathetically trying to put him at ease and get a conversation going. 

            “Yeah,” he said looking around the room. 

            The lady had gone back to one of the bedrooms and was returning with a pair of pink slippers.  “Here you are, dear,” she said.  “Get out of those silly things and put these on before your feet get cold,” she said pointing to the skates.  It seemed like a sensible thing to do, so I did, but I thought she was calling me “dear” a little too much.  The lady was chattering away about this and that while the man stood there looking out of place.  Struggling to get the skates off and keep an eye on the man at the same time, I wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying.  I slid into the slippers and took a good look at the room for the first time.  I wondered how I had missed seeing all the photographs before – an unusual number of family photos I thought. 

            “Is this your daughter?” I asked pointing to a young lady about my age in one of the pictures on the table next to my chair.  The lady turned pale and the man walked out of the room.

            “Why dear, that’s you!  Don’t you remember when we took that picture?” the lady replied with a confused look about her. 

 

Reality Sets In

            I felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on my head.  Just then the man walked back into the room with a beer in his hand.  For the first time, I felt fear watching him guzzle the drink.  Suddenly it all made sense.  “Oh my God.  They think I am their daughter, but where is the daughter?”  My mind was racing.  I looked at the picture again – it was a striking resemblance.  The lady was babbling on about how we had done this and gone here and there – all as if I – the daughter -- was alive and well sitting before her.   I didn’t dare ask.  Was she dead?  Had she run away?  Had she been kidnapped?  The man guzzled another beer. 

            “I’ll be going down to the pool hall now,” he suddenly announced.  “We have a little pool hall just down the street,” he explained.  “You two have a nice visit,” he added on his way to the front door.  He said nothing about returning to take me to the ferry. 

            “Will you be gone long?” I asked hurriedly.  No answer.  I didn’t hear the car start, so I figured he had decided to walk.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  “Ok.  Think.  Calm down and think,” I whispered under my breath.  The lady never heard me.  She was in a world of her own.  By now she had gone back to the bedroom and returned with a “daughter-dress.” 

“Why don’t you get out of those clothes, dear, and put on this nice dress?” she asked looking pleased with herself.  The reality of the situation was settling in and I wondered how I could have missed (or denied?) the obvious for so long.  I had no intention of becoming their daughter, yet, I felt oddly compelled to play the role.  I knew I was in trouble, but it never once occurred to me to “escape” – to run out the door to a neighbor’s house.  In my head I realized I had been kidnapped, but it my heart I didn’t believe that it was so.  More than anything else, I felt an overwhelming desire not to disappoint her.  

            I struggled to compose myself and to come up with a solution of some kind – logical or not.  With the man out of the picture I thought I had a good chance of regaining control of the situation.  Minutes seemed like hours as the lady babbled and I ran through four or five scenarios in my mind of how I could end this charade and get back to the ferry – without hurting her feelings. 

            “You know, mom …” I gently interrupted the babbling.  Our eyes locked.  “Remember that nice little tea place we used to go to all the time when I was little?”  The lady looked confused.  “You know, the one by the ferry station.  Let’s go down there and have a nice cup of tea.  It will be like old times.”  I don’t know where the words came from, but I was doing a good acting job.  And there really was a tea place – right next door to the skate shop.

            “Oh what a lovely idea, dear.  Let’s do that,” the lady said as she picked up her purse and the car keys.

           

The “Escape”

            I grabbed my skates and followed her out the door.  She thought nothing of me going to have tea with pink slippers on my feet.  I checked my watch.  Time was running out.  It was like we were in slow motion.  She babbled the whole way driving no more than 25 miles an hour.  I paid attention to our route this time.  It seemed like she was backtracking the same way we had come.  I looked around for the pool hall, but I didn’t see it – or him.

            “Turn here mom.  There’s the tea place right over there.”  This time the car turned where it was supposed to turn.  She crept along driving straight toward the tea place cutting across the empty parking lot like you would at your local grocery store.  We were about half way there when in one motion I slid my feet out of the slippers, threw open the door and jumped out.  The car came to a screeching halt.  I ran in my stocking feet as fast as I could toward the skate shop.  I never looked back, I just ran.  I bolted through the door and up to the counter.  Throwing ten dollars toward a startled clerk I shouted, “Quick, my shoes, I’m about to miss the ferry.”  I glanced over my shoulder a dozen times sure she was about to walk up behind me.  I wasn’t afraid as much as I was confused about what I would say to her.  The clerk handed me my shoes.  “Keep the change.” I said as I ran out the door to the ferry still in my stocking feet.  I glanced over to where I had jumped out of the car.  I was shocked to see it still sitting there, motor running and the door wide open.  I didn’t stop running until I got onto the ferry. 

I cried as I stood at the railing looking at her just sitting in the car.  I watched for a long time as we made our way across the bay, but the car never moved.  I cried, not because I was happy to be free, but because I was sure I had broken her heart. 

 

The Long Road Home

            “Excuse me.  Would you like anything to drink?  Madam!  Would you like something to drink?” the flight attending asked trying to startle me out of a cold stare.  I hadn’t even realized we had taken off. 

            “No thank you,” I replied, tightly closing my eyes.  It was a long flight back to South Carolina -- plenty of time to relive my incredible experience.  I played the events of the day over and over again in my mind, always with the same ending.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  How long did she sit in that car?  Maybe she had a heart attack when I jumped out of the car and died there.  What did her husband say when she got home?  Was he angry because she had let me get away?  I cringed at the thought.  I kept trying to come up with a different ending to the story, even though I knew it was pointless.  What else could I have done?  I felt guilty.  Wasn’t there some other way I could have gotten out of there without disappointing them?  I was the one who had been kidnapped, yet I did not feel as if I was the victim.  I debated whether or not I should call the police.  What good would that do now?  I couldn’t give them a license tag, or a street name, or directions to their house.  I didn’t even know their names!

I was so confused.  I didn’t want to believe I had been kidnapped.  At times it seemed like I was in a play – like what was happening wasn’t real.  And throughout the entire ordeal I felt sorry for them.  I have heard that kidnapped victims often come to pity their captors.  Is that what happened to me?  But they weren’t really kidnappers – not like the ones you hear about on the news.  They were just two lonely people in the world.  I thought that I had gained new insight into what some children must feel when they accept rides from strangers, even though their parents have told them never to do that.  Mine definitely had, and at age 32 I was certainly old enough to know better!

           

Reflections and New Understandings

For months I struggled with the incident.  I told no one, not even my friend who had sent me to Sausalito in the first place.  After a while I talked to a counselor friend of mine who assured me that I had done the right thing.  She said they probably wouldn’t even remember meeting me, but I think she just said that to make me feel better.  I finally did go to my local police department, but just as I thought, they said with as little information as I had, finding them would be slim to none.  I was glad.  I didn’t really want them to be found.  But then, I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I had gone through – or worse.  I wouldn’t let myself think about that. 

It’s been seventeen years my Sausalito adventure and from time to time I still wonder whatever happened to the lady and man with whom I shared such a strange bond.  I’ve been to San Francisco many times since that day and a couple of times to Sausalito.  I look for them, but I wonder what I would say if I happened to see them again.  I have never visited the little park where we first met. 

One day when I was volunteering at an Alzheimer’s Care Center a little old lady started talking to me like I was her daughter.  I held her hand in mine and looked deeply into her eyes.  “Let’s have a nice cup of tea, mom,” I said with a sincere smile.  We did, and for hours we relived a hundred happy memories as mother and daughter.  It felt good – like somehow I had made up for disappointing the Sausalito lady and man.  Somewhere there is a volunteer playing the daughter role for them.  I pray that it is so.

And about my stolen credit card…  It was so insignificant in the scope of things, but I did get a call from my bank shortly after I returned home.  They found my card.  The proprietor had stolen it just as I had suspected.  They found it along with 15 others when they brought him – DOA – into the San Francisco hospital – but that is a story for another time.

Author: Beth Ann Schneider
Email: soarn912@cs.com



 

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