It’s Friday the 13th, in October, which means things are getting spooky over here amongst the Jalopnik staff. (Actually, things aren’t much different than usual, just a little cold with autumn air rolling in.) But we got to talking about our scariest moments in a car, and figured we’d all have a big share session.
So, here’s how this works: We’ll share ours, you share yours in the comments. If you have one you’re not comfortable with sharing, don’t worry about it. This is meant to be fun and allow us all to share some stories, not to make you have bad flashbacks or put something you don’t want to on the internet.
I’ll go first. I’m sure I’ve had much scarier moments in cars than this one, but it’s what comes to mind and still weirds me out to this day.
I just graduated from the University of Texas in Austin. As a student there, I went grocery shopping about every two weeks. I always went at around 9 p.m. to avoid big-city traffic but never had much luck because the construction always started right after rush hour ended, but it helped me save an hour or two with each trip.
I went to the same HEB grocery store all three years I was at UT Austin, and never had a problem until my last semester (which started in January of this year). The first HEB trip I made in January, there was this silver sedan with its lights on in the parking lot. I couldn’t make out what it was, because it was in a dark corner of the lot.
That didn’t strike me as too weird, considering that waiting in the car while someone grabs a couple of things from the store is common. But when I came back out about 45 minutes later—I take a long time to inspect my fruit before I buy it—the car was still there. It was in a different parking spot, lights still on and person still waiting inside, looking the few shoppers coming out of the store at 10 p.m. or so.
After putting everything up, I left, feeling a little weird. I went back two weeks later on a different day of the week. The same car was there. Same headlights. Same dark area. Same person with large, dark-rimmed glasses inside. That’s when I knew my suspicions were right—this person wasn’t waiting for anyone to come out of the store.
I went in, feeling uncomfortable, hoping the car would be gone when I came back out. I walked out and didn’t see it, which was relieving, so I pushed my cart along an aisle in the parking lot toward my car. That’s when a silver car pulled around the decently lit walkway area and followed me.
The car hadn’t been gone when I came out of the store. It just blended in behind some others.
The person went around and parked, facing me as I unloaded my groceries. I threw them in the car, put the cart up quickly and took off.
This happened a few more times, but nothing became of it. I would arrive, sit in my car for a few minutes contemplating how to avoid any kind of contact or following by this person, then eventually go inside. I should’ve found a new HEB, but I always hoped that person wouldn’t be there when I came back.
Then, one time, after circling the lot again, and again, and again, as they usually did, the person came up behind me as I went to exit the lot. I thought they’d just continue on in their rounds, but they didn’t. They followed me out and down the street, turning when I did.
Those headlights behind me were the most terrifying thing, considering that your intentions can’t be great if you spend weeknights circling the HEB parking lots, stopping in a dark corner to park, then doing it all again a few times.
I didn’t know what to do. It was one of those moments when you become keenly aware of everything, feeling your blood pump and how sensitive your body can be to sounds and feelings as faint as the pumping of blood. I knew I had to ditch this car. I couldn’t have this person knowing where I lived, which had a creepy enough parking garage in the first place, and I knew I was being followed.
I maneuvered through a few intersections to trap that car at a red light, then floored it as hard as my little car would go to get away. The car didn’t catch up, but I spent the next four days on campus wondering if I was being followed.
Whether I was the only person who had that happen to them, I do not know. I know that I stopped going to that HEB, but I don’t know if that person did as well. I’ll never know, and I’m more than fine with that.
Here’s Stef Schrader, our Black Flag editor:
I was on my way to work one morning and had to honk at a small pickup going slowly on an on-ramp in front of me. No biggie—that’s pretty normal. Folks aren’t awake and sometimes seem to forget, “hey! I’m on a freeway now.”
This one was different. I tried to get out from behind him because he dropped his speed to retaliate, but he blocked my car from doing so. OK, so he’s annoyed. Then he slams on his brakes. I try to follow a bit farther behind to give room because he’s obviously trying to hurt me, but the guy slows down to make sure he’s right in front.
I try honking again to express my displeasure. Guy, you’re going to get people hurt with this nonsense. I debate calling the cops. That’s my car at risk, after all.
Finally, I found space to duck behind another car to get out from behind this nut, only to have to follow that poor car super close in order to keep the pickup from ducking in front of me. Sorry, other car, but I was afraid for my life at this point.
It was at that point I noticed the truck had a big Oak Meadow Baptist Church logo on the side—one of the bigger congregations off I-35 in south Austin. Like, really? You’re going to scare the crap out of a driver you don’t even know for a simple honk in your church truck, of all things? Man, someone needs to have a *legit* “come to Jesus” talk with you.
But it didn’t end there! The guy then tried to run me off the road anyway fro the other lane, and then proceeded to tailgate me even when I sped up. He followed me all the way to the on light on my exit for work, which at that time was in an office park on its own little turnaround next to a public park, and thank goodness he didn’t follow me there.
I still had to take a couple minutes to just sit and process what happened. A church truck tried to run me off the road, of all things? Really? Really.
It’s the one time I’ve ever truly been scared for my life in a car.
And here’s one from Jason Torchinsky, who was in college and driving back from a long trip at the time, before the cellphone era:
I stopped at a rest stop off the highway to void my bladder. As I was closing the car door, handle squeezed to lock it, I realized with that slo-mo terror I was locking my keys in the car. Which I did.
I was locked out of the car, about an hour or so from home, and, while a Beetle is easy to break into, you need something—anything, really—to do it with. I had nothing—no coat hanger, no wire, no string, no flat bit of metal, nothing.
I didn’t want to break a window or the vent window latch, and I really didn’t want to call my girlfriend at the time to get me, because she was cranky and things were dicey.
After an hour or so of looking for crap to open the door, attempting half-ass solutions and failing, I was about to break down and call my girlfriend, at about 1 a.m.
Just for the hell of it, I tried the door again, and it opened!
I have no idea how. I suspect it’s because my car decided to look out for me. But that’s not rational. I could try and come up with technical possibilities, but that door was locked and then it opened.
And Alex Hevesy, who you might have seen on weekends lately, has this story:
I was driving my 1985 LeBaron at around 11 p.m. on a narrow country road when a ‘90s lifted flat black Ram 3500 comes flying down the road and starts riding my bumper.
I speed up a little bit and he speeds up as well. He followed me so closely I could hear the turbocharger spooling up. Eventually, he starts swerving around behind me and flashing his high beams. This continued for like 5 miles.
We came to a stop light and he revs his engine the entire time. I eventually blast down a side road and lose him. About 10 minutes later I see him on a crossroad flying down the road at about 70 mph. I got a better look at the truck and sure enough, he had a giant Confederate flag decal on the side of the truck bed.
Ryan Felton, our technology boy at Jalopnik, made a bad decision as a teen:
My old Focus used to blow headlights all the time. I had an electrical problem that never seemed worth the cost to get it fixed.
Anyway, one night during a blizzard, I had a concert in Downriver, Michigan. I was down to one light, and on the way home the other went out.
I started by trying to drive with my brights on, because I was a moron 18 year old. So the person in front of me on an on-ramp over I-94 slammed on the brakes, pulled into the opposite lane, waited for me to pass, got behind me and drove on my tail—in a blizzard—flashing his brights for 5-10 minutes. I wanted to die.
Here’s a life story from kind animal saver David Tracy:
I nearly rolled my Jeep over at 70 mph trying to avoid a possum at 1 a.m. in rural Kansas. I drifted across both lanes, but my copious winter hoonage meant I was well aware of how to wrangle that all-wheel drive 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee back into a straight line.
I sincerely hope that opossum did something big with its life.
And our managing editor Erin Marquis once drove through a crime scene:
My boyfriend blew a tire in Midtown Detroit once. We were on our way back to where I live on the far west side and, because of the doughnut, we had to take to surface streets through some rough parts of town—the kind of places people still regularly roll through red lights.
Anyway, we’re heading down a five lane surface street called Grand River, when we see a ton of people standing on the sidewalk and in front of a liquor store. This isn’t a place with a lot of pedestrian traffic, so I was nervous. I decide to drive around the crowd using an adjunct street.
I turn right and pass a 90s Buick that looked like it had just landed on top of a bus stop. Glass was everywhere. Behind me, cops rushed up and stopped traffic from going down the side street.
That’s when I saw the blood. The windshield was covered in it. I quickly hit the gas, but I still saw and elderly man in my rearview mirror approaching the police, putting a gun on the road and kneeling. It turns out, he was the man who owned the liquor store. Two men had just robbed him at gun point.
He had chased the robbers out into the parking lot, and was shooting at them. He hit the driver in the head. The Buick lost control, banked on the high curbside these large roads in Detroit tend to have, and flattened half a bus stop. I believe the passenger in the get away car died in the crash.
I read the news story the next day, and someone was like “Eh, this happens a lot around here.”