I've been gone for three weeks, but I still carry pieces of the Riyadh mindset with me. Last night, I was eating dinner with my parents, and I wanted to sit at a table where I could watch pedestrians outside - because I was so excited to see people walking around normally, wearing normal clothing. I woke up one morning last week and drove to the grocery store just because I could, revelling in the fact that I could drive myself to a store where I could buy cheap, fresh produce without putting on a stifling black cloak.
Being vehicularly independent has its mental costs, though. Last week, I was driving in Memphis when I realized I was boxed in by slow drivers in front of me and beside me. I panicked and nearly jumped the curb onto the median of the parkway before I realized that neither the granny in front of me nor the workmen beside me were likely to have snipers in the back seat, waiting to pop up and attack me. The worst was a few weeks ago, when I was riding with my parents somewhere in Memphis. We were laughing and talking, and everything was fine - until I saw a plastic bag in the roadway, over which we drove. I instantly thought bomb, but since I wasn't driving, there was no way I could swerve. I didn't tell my parents until later what caused me to shut down for the night - no more smiles, no laughter. Evidently I also was rude to someone who asked a friendly question about my hometown, because I didn't want to reveal any personal details.
It's not that Riyadh is extremely unsafe - after the wave of attacks in 2003 and 2004 the government cracked down on domestic terror, arresting anyone who sneezed in a way that was likely to cause suspicion. However, there's still an active undercurrent of ill intent in the Kingdom, and I've had a few too many friends experience close calls in the past year. Better to have sharp nerves that fray from time to time than to be caught napping.