As summer tourism season heats up, keep yourself safe
The summer tourism season definitely is underway, and if you don't believe me, take a look at the gas prices. What a crazy coincidence that there always seems to be some oil industry-crippling crisis during peak travel times.
That being said, Michiganders should make sure to take time to travel around this great state. It helps our economy and the smiles as well as memories of some Pure Michigan summer adventures will get you through the cold January days when you're just plain sick of shoveling the snow.
When you hit the open road in search of those memories, be careful to make sure the inevitable call of nature does not cause you an unfortunate misadventure at a rest area. Rest areas can be some pretty creepy places.
When you must stop — and I suggest a short break every hour for drivers — I suggest you do so at a well-lit and busy, public gas station or fast food restaurant. There is safety in numbers and a busy place with plenty of lighting and activity is your safest bet. Deserted, dimly-lit rest areas with woods and dark corners all around them are the worst places to stop, because it is just the sort of place criminal predators like to lurk.
If you must use a rest area, Semper Cop’s crime prevention mantra should be in the back of your mind as you prepare to make your pit stop.
Lock it up. When you get out of your vehicle make sure you lock it. Take your cellphone with you and know where you are in case you need to call for help. Make a note of the mile marker or the name of the rest area you are entering when you pull off the expressway. Additionally, make sure all of your valuables are hidden or locked away as you head into the restroom area.
Don’t leave it unattended. If that "it" is an item of value, it should be locked and hidden as I stated above. If that "it" is a child, keep them close and under no circumstances should you leave them alone and unattended in your vehicle.
Hold the hand of little ones and try to locate a family-style restroom. If a family restroom is not available for you and kid, take them in the bathroom with you. Block their view, shield their eyes, do what you have to do, but keep them close and do not let them wander.
For older children, have an appropriately-gendered adult family member or sibling go with them into the bathroom. If none are available, stand guard outside the bathroom door and strike your most menacing mama or papa bear pose. If your mommy or daddy clock is sounding an alarm outside the door, call inside for your child and make sure you get some sort of verbal response. If you don't, announce yourself, your gender and that you are coming in to retrieve or check on your child — NOW!
If the "it" is a pet, leave a window cracked and do not dilly-dally, as it gets hot inside cars at an alarming rate in the summer sun. Do not forget to walk your pets in appropriate areas and be considerate and pick up after your best friend. Do not leave organic piles or “landmines” in your animal's wake, but instead pick them up and place them in the trash or pet excrement receptacle.
Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are alone. This probably is the most important tip and starts with knowing where you are in case you need to call for help. Park your vehicle in brightly-lit areas in hours of darkness and always out in the open. Avoid parking sandwiched between larger vehicles or close to wooded areas.
Before you get out of your vehicle, simply take a look around. Are there people just hanging around? If so, that spells trouble and potential danger.
Are there lights out and darkened corners around this rest area? Are your instincts, "spider senses," or goosebumps on the back of your neck telling you you are about to enter into a situation befitting a Stephen King tale of terror? If so, you are experiencing what Gavin DeBecker describes in his excellent personal safety guide of the same name, "The Gift of Fear." My advice is to trust what he calls nature's gift and find another place if at all possible.
If this is not possible because of the less subtle urgencies nature demands of us all, get prepared. Turn your cellphone on, keep your keys in your hand and get out the pepper spray that goofy cop uncle of yours gave you and hold on to it.
Most important, when you get out of your car, square your shoulders, squint your eyes like Clint Eastwood and take a look around. Walk with purpose or amble like “the Duke ”— John Wayne. Get determined, keep your head up and walk like you are the baddest hombre in the valley, or if not the baddest, walk like you have a secret would-be criminals do not want to know. Do your duty, wash your hands and repeat the walk on your way out. Get in your vehicle, drop it in drive and “Get out of Dodge!”
Watch out for your neighbors. If it looks like someone is scared, being threatened, hassled or assaulted by another, then make your presence known. If you can't physically assist, lay on your horn so all parties know you see what is going on and call 911.
If you see anyone begging or asking for money “for gas” while holding a gas can tell them you would like to help and gladly will call the police so they can get the help they need. Do not give these people money and do not give strangers rides. Call the police who will respond to assist in any way they can.
Finally, have you ever noticed how busy the Baker Road truck stop and the rest area east of Chelsea is? The reason for this is these are the last two big stops on Interstate 94 before Detroit, where most eastbound loads are heading. The truckers will rest there overnight because they know they cannot get into many Detroit loading docks until 7 or 8 a.m.
Drive carefully and always buckle up it’s the law.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com.