Usually on Friday mornings I go walking at the mall with my friend D, but she’s out of town, so I went to the nearby park by myself instead. I got a full night’s sleep for once, probably because I shut the cats out of my room, so when the alarm went off at 7:15 , I rolled out of bed and pulled on my exercise clothes. It seemed kind of dark for 7:15, but when I checked my weather app, it said “mist” and reassured me it would be clearing. I added a hoodie to my attire and went off to the park.
“Mist”, as it turned out, was a euphemism for “solid curtain of white three car lengths ahead”. The park is only five minutes from my house, but the traffic on the road they have been ripping up forever was bumper to bumper, and I had to watch carefully to make sure I didn’t miss the entrance to the park among the orange traffic cones. As it turned out, both the car ahead of me and a Ryder rental truck ahead of it were also heading to the park, so I followed them into the entrance.
My plan was to park by the dog park and circle the 0.6 mile “extended loop” that goes around the dog park and the fish pond before looping back around to the pond and crossing over to the half mile wooded path. As it turned out, I had taken the second entrance into the park, and with visibility so poor, I could not see where I was. There is a small traffic circle at the entrance, and circling it 3/4 of the way should have taken me to the dog park, but took me to a playground instead. It took me three tries around the circle to get to another road to the circle from the missed entrance and the dog park.
Meantime, I kept seeing two people in jogging suits walking around the park, apparently out for exercise like me. I wonder what they make of seeing the same green Mustang apparently tracking them around the park. Do they know it’s just a lost and very non-lethal old lady?
I wanted to park by the dog park because I figured at that hour of the morning, it was the most likely place for early risers. Only one person was there, though, a park worker putting liners in the trash cans. The dog park is the donation of Raising Canes, a local fast food chain named after the owner’s dog. There are three of their dog parks I know of around town.
Once I’m out of my car, the mist still closing in around me and very few people around, I wonder if this is a good idea. The park is small, not like Central Park or even City Park in New Orleans, but in the mist it seems eerie, not the safe gathering spot it usually is. I circle the dog park and then the fishing pond, seeing only one person besides park personnel, a man with a few fishing poles. The fishing pond is really not much bigger than an Olympic size pool; I’m sure the only way they can keep fish in it is to stock it monthly. “Catch anything?” I ask. “A few small ones I threw back.”
I think about how a smile and a fishing pole make the man seem non-threatening. He could be a serial killer for all I know. It wasn’t that long ago that serial killer Derrick Todd Lee managed to lure several woman from their homes nearby, torture and kill them before dumping their bodies. Back in those days I was scared to be in the house alone, even though I was not in his preferred area or demographic. I made sure to take my morning shower before my husband left for work.
The “serial killer”, unaware of all this angst, takes his pole and heads for his car.
Meantime, a woman with two dogs has arrived at the dog park, and a jogger has joined the two walkers I saw earlier. I decide to take the wooded trail. The wooded area is small, obviously since it’s only half a mile around, and dotted with benches and picnic shelters, as well as bluebird houses placed at intervals by optimistic park staff or volunteers. The trail is wide enough to accommodate maintenance vehicles. I’m not heading out into the wilderness, but I feel reckless as I leave the paved path for the isolation of the woods.
I never know whether I am too fearful or not fearful enough. I shouldn’t be fearful of taking a short stroll in a neighborhood park off a busy road, and normally I’m not. I don’t usually worry about whether strangers trying to catch fish are really looking for easy human victims instead, because something like 99.999999999% of the time, they’re not. I don’t usually mistake a small patch of woods about the size of three or four square blocks of my neighborhood for a hiding place for evildoers. I’m pretty sure it was just the fog making me scared.
I don’t know how to read the crime news and assess my own risk and act accordingly. What I do know is if I ever become a victim, someone, somewhere, is going to say “What was she doing out in the park at that hour of the morning” as if taking a walk is the equivalent of crossing a six lane street in the middle of the block with four trucks coming up the hill.
So should I be scared? This morning, I was.