A few weeks ago I was in Boulder, CO. It was the evening after a hard day of climbing at the boulder park and a bunch of us were going out to eat. We were heading down towards Pearl Street in a 15 passenger van and the guys were all playing "Legal or not," a game which involves guessing the age of passing females from as far away as possible.
At one point we passed a little shopping mall, and G, the driver, remarked, "Whoa, definitely not legal. And the guy who is following her looks super creepy. Looks like someone is about to get raped."
"Are you serious?" one of the Captain's asked.
"Yeah, dude, that guy looked super sketchy."
"Alright, then, let's turn this van around and check it out."
I'm going to pause the story right here to explain something about the way SF guys, and a lot of soldiers who have Iraq/Afghanistan experience, view the world. We are all observers. Some of us are better at it than others, but we all have a lot of practice observing things as we pass by them and making snap judgments based on what we see. Potentially lives hang in the balance of these snap judgments. Depending on the personality type of the observer, some develop an almost arrogant confidence in the accuracy of these judgments, while most have a subconscious habit of second guessing themselves. I tend towards second guessing, but historically my guesses are right, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I am usually a middle class observer. My eyes aren't shut, but I don't have the detailed photographic memory of, say, a sniper. I remember things in terms of connections and concepts and the story, not visually. I hadn't been paying as close attention to the girl that G was talking about, but I had seen her in passing, so I replayed the image in my mind. There had been a girl, probably in young highschool age range, walking north along Broadstreet with a young boy of about the same age. At the time the van passed he had been slightly behind and to her right side on the sidewalk, maving at about the same pace, but close enough that it seemed to me they were walking together. At the same time a homeless man (there are a lot of them in Boulder) had been walking out of a side alley from east to west, and had paused at the crosswalk, right in in front of the teenagers. He wasn't looking at them, he was watching the crossing sign on the opposite side of the road. I reviewed that memory and concluded that most likely there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. All this took a second or two.
In the meantime the guys up front were arguing about whether to turn around. Most weren't willing to give a definite, "No, I saw them and there is nothing wrong," but they didn't want to delay dinner based on G's gut feeling. G is not known for being the brightest light on the Christmas tree. However the Captain was adamant. "If you have a funny feeling we are going to go check it out. I am dead serious. What's the worst that can happen if there is nothing weird going on? We are five minutes later eating. But what if she is in trouble and we don't do anything?"
At any rate, the Captain carried the day and we flipped it in a little housing development and headed back north again. As we drove back to that intersection M said, "Okay, what's the plan?"
The Captain said, "They will be on your side of the vehicle so keep your eyes open as we get closer. When we pass we'll slow down and take a closer look."
M said, "I'm nearest to the door so if it does look sketchy do you want me to just jump out and punch him in the face?"
"If he's molesting her then f--- yeah! If not I'll get out and talk to him."
By that point we were coming up on the intersection, and we could see the girl up ahead. As we got closer it became abundantly clear that the boy walking with her wasn't a day older than fifteen. They were just a couple of teenagers out for a stroll, and the homeless guy was nowhere in sight.
"Nope, I'm not punching a fifteen year old," M said. "Nothing going on here."
"No, but we pretty much just saved a life," G said.
"Hey, at least we did something," the Captain said as we turned around again. "I mean, what if you had read about a kid getting raped in the paper tomorrow morning, and we could have stopped it? Too many people go through life and see things happening but don't f---ing do anything, but at least we were ready to."
You know, SF guys aren't saints, by any stretch of the imagination, but generally speaking they are men. And every once in a while they do something that makes me proud to be one of them.
Although, I couldn't help but think how creepy it would have looked to anyone paying attention. A stretch van with tinted windows and seven dudes in it drives by, then turns around, and drives by again slowing down as we pass this teenage girl. Yeah. That doesn't look weird at all.
Fortunately for us, most civillians don't see anything. Especially teenage ones.