June 17, 2012

That particular spring afternoon began innocuously enough as I left my Belleville apartment to meet my wife after work in New York to join her to celebrate her birthday. My plan was to walk to the local subway station, take it to Penn Station in Newark, and then hop a train into the city. The weather forecast warned of possible showers, so I brought my umbrella to be safe.

I crossed the final street at the crosswalk approaching the station. The light was red for oncoming traffic, but I saw a white station wagon speeding toward me looking like it wasn’t planning on stopping. I hustled to the sidewalk, pointing to the light with my umbrella, an unpremeditated gesture in reaction to the dangerous situation. Perhaps at other times or places I might have chosen a different gesture, but for whatever reason, this time I did not. Therefore, what happened next came as a complete surprise.

The station wagon screeched to a stop just past the intersection. The driver, a burly and rather unkempt man, clambered out and came after me with an angry scowl on his face. I could tell he meant business, so I began walking more rapidly down the block.

“Com’ere! I just wanna talk to you!” he yelled with a telltale slur.

Not likely, I thought, judging by his aggressive demeanor. He began coming after me, so I began to run. His staggering gait told me he wouldn’t be able to catch me on foot.

I was now a street beyond the subway stop with the brute between me and it, so I decided to go around the block and return after enough time passed to ensure he’d left. When I rounded the corner, I heard a squealing noise closing in behind me. It was the station wagon, the sound unmistakably that of a loose fan belt. He was chasing me! I sprinted up that block and cut through an alley to the next one over, but after a moment, there it was again — that fan belt signaling the approach of the station wagon.

Panic set in. This guy was serious. Abandoning the thought of catching the subway, I took off down the side streets towards my apartment, but the wagon kept reappearing around each corner in relentless pursuit.

In desperation, I decided to cut through a complex of old-fashioned garden apartments. I sprinted through the courtyard, but there it was again! He had driven over a sidewalk and entered the grassy area between the buildings and zeroed in on me, bouncing over flower beds and through clothes lines as he went.

I yelled to a woman hanging clothes, “Call the police! I’m being chased by a crazy man!”

She saw the car and called back, “Oh, he lives here. He’s probably drunk, as usual.” I had unwittingly wandered into the lair of the beast!

I cut back through another alley to the street that led to Clara Maas Hospital, dashed past it to my block, and considered taking refuge in my apartment but thought better of it in case he spotted me. Instead, I got in my car and sped away in the opposite direction to safety.

I ended up driving to New York. I must have looked shaken up when I finally arrived because my wife immediately exclaimed, “What happened to you?!”

I told her the story of my strange encounter and subsequent escape. Her first response was, “Are you sure you only pointed with the umbrella?” I explained that indeed I had, but even if I hadn’t, his reaction could certainly not be considered rational.

Not long after this incident, we moved from Belleville. It wasn’t totally because of that event, but I must say I was glad to be out of there. I had spent my remaining time looking over my shoulder, growing anxious every time I saw a white station wagon driving my way.

A year or so later, I noticed an article in the newspaper which told of the arrest of a man in Belleville. He was convicted of driving his car up onto a sidewalk in a partly successful attempt to run down two pedestrians. I can’t be sure it was the same guy who chased me (there was no mention of a fan belt problem), but the similarity seemed too great to be merely a coincidence.

To this day I try to keep a wide berth of that area. And I still jump whenever I hear a squeaky fan belt.



  1. Great stories…it looks like I have a lot of catching up to do since you have a lot of articles. If you want a little bit more background on who I am, then check out my blog at http://Wanderingamerican.com/ I also have some stories on there, but I’m not sure if you’re as interesting as yours.

    • Thanks. I will be sure to check out your blog, especially since I am very much into photography and travel myself.

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