Thursday, 27 April 2017

When Men Get Creepy, A.K.A. Why the Hell Do I Need to Explain This?

One of the new habits I've developed now the kids are older is taking the time to go for a solitary walk on the beach. We live two and a half blocks from the sea, and it's three miles from my door to the end of the beach, so it's a good way to get some exercise, fresh air and generally chill out. I don't do it every day, but I try and do it whenever the weather's good.

Of course, this is the first time in at least seven years that I've regularly gone out walking without children or my husband, and so I have rediscovered the fascinating culture of catcalling. I thought I'd aged out of this phenomenon, but I had underestimated the area in which we live. Ocean View is... special. It's usually not on the beach that I get the attention--there people are exercising themselves and their dogs, or they're fishing. However, walking along the road as a woman alone is a totally different experience.

Is there some level on which I'm flattered by the attention? I don't know. Maybe? I mean, I'm in my late thirties... sexual prime, right? I genuinely don't mind if a guy tells me that I look beautiful, but a lot of guys don't express it as a compliment; they want to show their interest. That might sound harmless, but it gets creepy really fast.

This morning, I left the house at what I thought was an innocuous time of 9:10am. When I reach the main road, I walk along it, watching for a break in the traffic so I can cross. On the far side of the road, a white pickup truck goes past with the driver blatantly staring out of his window at me. That's creepy. Annoying rather than concerning, but already creepy.

Ahead of me, the truck reaches the intersection and does a U-turn, stopping just inside the turn off--i.e. it's now on my side of the road and I'll have to go around the vehicle when I reach the intersection. Still creepy; now unsettling.

Thankfully, I had my break in the traffic and as the driver finishes his U-turn, I am already crossing the road. My route to the beach will take me down the other side of the intersection, directly opposite from where he is now waiting. This is a quiet dead-end road with no traffic, and I consider staying on the main road where there are plenty of people (witnesses) around. However, it's also a short road (this is the half-block), he can't curb-crawl me once I'm on the steps that lead over the dunes, and there will also be people on the beach itself.

Besides, he wouldn't be so blatant as to cross the intersection a second time to keep following me... right?

As I make the turn, a car honks. Might not have been the truck, but there aren't any other stationary drivers around. Halfway down the road, I hear a vehicle behind me. I do not turn around at this point, mostly because I fear that if I make eye contact, my innate Britishness will take over and I will feel compelled to have an unwanted conversation. But it's entirely possible that it's some other vehicle with a large engine that happens to turn into the road for the first time in my personal experience and come all the way down to the dead end.

I don't turn around, but I watch the steps over the dunes, reassuring myself that I will reach them in time. (I have a moment of genuine panic when I think they have been blocked off, but it's just a trick of the light.) The sound of the engine is far too close behind me, but what I'm really listening for is the engine being switched off and the sound of somebody getting out. Thankfully, that doesn't happen. I reach the steps, walk up them and away.

I didn't look around until I was on the beach. By this point, I fully expected him to follow me on foot, but apparently he'd reached his limit. I was still concerned that he might hang around waiting to see if I would come back. Usually, I leave my sandals on the beach side of the steps, and put them back on when I return. This time, I carried them with me and, although I doubted he'd wait the hour that it usually takes my walk, I took a different route off the beach.

Statistically speaking, I assume this guy was a particularly brazen opportunist who was hoping to get my number or maybe some fully consensual truck sex. But I don't know that he wasn't planning on hauling me into his truck and making me his personal sex slave in a basement somewhere. Call it Schrödinger's Rapist... and forgive me if I'm not going to hang around to open the box.

And that's the difference between being paid a compliment and being freaked the F out. That guy probably shrugged this morning off as a swing and a miss. Personally, I wanted to go for a relaxing walk without having to improvise escape plans as I went. Too much to ask?

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