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