As I rolled through the parking lot towards the exit, a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye caused me to stand on the brakes. From between the minivans to my right came a shopping cart with a baby carrier in it, the father pushing it chatting happily on his cell phone, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he had just pushed his child mere feet in front of the bumper of a moving car...Every day you see them: People completely lost in their own little world while out in public. Cell phones, iPods, hand-held video games, nose down in a book, thumbs clicking out a text message, staring into the distance trying to remember what they need at the grocery store, or simply daydreaming. And then they say "I don't know where the car came from," and "The mugger was just there all of a sudden," and "That rock just fell out of the sky!" Do these people not realize that life is an audience-participation activity?
Sitting in the parking lot at Lowe's, I had the door to my roommate's car open and was about to get out when I snatched it shut again. The woman in the car next to me, absorbed in her conversation, had just thrown the door of her PT Cruiser open. Had I not pulled my door shut, there would have been a crunch and shouting and who-knows-what unpleasantness. Luckily, one of us was paying attention to our surroundings. She never even noticed the situation as she exited her vehicle and continued her conversation while walking across the lot...People talk about going through life in "Condition Yellow" like it's some kind of paranoia. It's not; it's merely staying aware of the world around you. It's not even necessarily a "tactical" thing, either. Being alert and aware of your surroundings can prevent all kinds of minor mishaps that can make life annoying, painful, expensive, or all three.
As we ate our breakfast in the the little Greek diner, I watched the neighborhood wake up on Chicago's 57th Street. A guy pedaled his bike diagonally across the intersection, narrowly missing a pedestrian. The cyclist was staring off into the middle distance like he was receiving signals from another planet, distinctive white cords dangling from his ears. "How can people do that?" I blurted, "'I didn't hear the car!' 'The guy just jumped me!' He's oblivious!"You can be all tactical and call it "Condition Yellow" if you want, you can call it "situational awareness", or you could just call it "paying attention"; whatever you call it, it means giving up some of the little luxuries we've all come to take for granted, like having your own personal soundtrack for the movie of your life, but there is a payoff. Sure, people think me a little strange for not cocooning myself with electronic entertainment in public, or constantly prairie-dogging my head up out of a book, but I'm just doing it to people-watch. Because if you don't watch these people, the oblivious idiots will walk right into you.