Hey, quick question: Considering the economic climate we’re probably going to face over the next several years, what would you say is the one key ability we all need more than anything else?
To my mind (which admittedly is a very strange and interesting place), the one key ability you’re lookin’ for is the ability to be, at all times, alert. (Besides, the world needs more lerts, right? Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Er, sorry.)
Alert for what, you ask? Hey, I’m glad you asked! It’s because you never know when opportunity is gonna, y’know, knock.
OK, got it? Alert. Yup… always stay… y’know, alert.
Why Does the Chicken Cross the Road?
During my year in Aruba, there was this spot we frequently, er, frequented. (Humph; my spell checker says that’s actually a word – so who am I to argue?)
Anyway, it’s a sortof combination shopping mall/restaurant row in downtown Orangestad (Aruba’s Capital). It also happens to be one of the busier tourist areas of the island. The thing is, the best parking for that center also happens to be on the other side of the busiest street on the island.
Unfortunately, crossing this particular street during “rush” hours (well, as rushed as things gets in Aruba, anyway) is a difficult proposition at best. That’s because the traffic consists of a more-or-less continuous stream of cars at any time of day or night, filled with both commuters and tourists (along with the occasional gecko or two).
Luckily (or due to good planning – hard to believe, but you never know), there’s an actual pedestrian crosswalk with one of these familiar “walk/don’t walk” signs, similar to the one pictured here. Thus, when you want to cross the street, you simply push the button, wait a minute or two – and when that odd-lookin’ little man with no hands or feet lights up – ya cross the street.
Easy as pie! (But then again, how easy is pie, anyway?)
Now, with that kind of a straightforward, clearly defined, and easy to execute procedure available for getting’ across a road, hey, you’d think even a chicken someone as clueless ever-vigilant as yours truly would have, y’know, no problemo, right?
Lemme just start off by sayin’… it’s not my fault! Honest! See, there were extenuating circumstances…
First of all, workin’ in the engineering business as I do, the concern for one’s personal safety – both on AND off the job – is absolutely paramount. (That’s no joke, y’all; it’s an extremely serious and sensitive issue.) That means when in a plant environment, we have to pretty much live and breathe safety or things could turn, well, dicey rather quickly, if you get my meanin’.
Therefore, one of the primary things you learn in an industrial environment is Bubba, ya better watch where you put your feet! And for most of us in the biz, that sorta thinking is pretty much ingrained, y’know? So naturally, I tend to keep at least one eye on the ground when I’m walkin’ in unfamiliar territory. Gotta watch for debris, holes, and in Aruba’s case, little (and occasionally, BIG) scaly critters and stuff, y’know.
Another important detail is the fact that in Aruba, it’s always a windy day! And believe me, the winds are pretty much non-stop. That’s cause bein’ that close to the Equator (about 8Âº N Latitude) means the island is subject to what sailors call the Trade winds.
Now, because of that – and this is crucial – I couldn’t wear my trademark cowboy hat. (If I had, it would no doubt have ended up in Venezuela.) And so (yes, I finally got around to makin’ my point) I had to settle for a regular ol’ baseball cap instead. I know, I know; sad, but true.
And as the final piece in this particular tale – see, there was this, um, hole…
As I crossed the street, ol’ eagle-eyes here noticed that right there, right where the painted crosswalk ended and where the support pole for that crossing sign was, there was a big giant hole, right there in the sidewalk! Yikes!
Sure enough, my safety-aware brain immediately lasered right in on that sucker like a guided missile. I said to myself, Now that’s an accident waiting to happen! I could easily imagine some poor unsuspecting shlub tourist, paying little or no attention to where he was going, and stepping right into it. Possibly even spraining an ankle – or worse.
Anyway, as my highly-trained mind began to plot alternate routes around the danger, it immediately presented me with two alternatives: Option one: I could step to the right of the hole. Or option two: step to the left. Simple, huh? (Honestly, sometimes the solution can be that simple! He said.)
But my brain didn’t stop there! Oh, nooooo – that would have been ‘waaaay too easy! Instead, that big ol’ gelatinous mass of little grey cells up there under the hat forged rapidly ahead, quickly evaluating the available choices.
First up, option #1 – stepping to the right. A survey of the area quickly revealed this path would add several extra steps to my journey (hey, it was a big hole). Near panic ensued. Good heavens! Extra expenditure of energy? Based upon that analysis, this was, um, a less than optimum choice, to say the least.
Now on to option #2 – stepping to the left. At first blush, this path also seemed a bit hazardous, because it would force me to come a bit closer to the light pole (the one the aforementioned pedestrian crossing sign was mounted on). But still, there appeared to be adequate space between pole and hole. I decided I could easily navigate that without too much trouble. And besides (he said, blithely), anyone can dodge a pole, right?
Anyhoo – after extensively evaluating the two alternatives (all this happened within milliseconds, mind you), I made my decision (sound of a slot machine hitting three-of-a-kind) and chose option #2.
Now, having settled upon a viable plan, I adjusted my path slightly so it would take me between the pole and the hole. (Gee, that sounds almost poetic, doesn’t it?) I kept one eye focused on the dangerous obstruction, while still keeping the other eye on traffic, passing pedestrians, and the occasional seagull surprise (after all, the Caribbean was just 50 feet away).
Approaching the curb, I made sure my footing was sound, stepping up lightly (well, as lightly as I can, anyway) and placed my left foot precisely where it needed to be – exactly equidistant between the pole and the hole (it’s starting to flow trippingly off the tongue now, isn’t it?) Everything was going exactly according to plan.
Along about now you’re probably thinkin’ to yourself, “I’m tellin’ ya; there’s got to be some fly in this here soup! Nothin’ this Bubba does ever goes that smoothly!”
School of (Resoundingly) Hard Knocks
See, just as I set my foot down in the proper spot, and because my head was looking down, and because I was wearing that baseball cap, and because of that annoying bill on the front of said hat that, y’know, mostly blocks the view of what’s above you… Well, my head hit the, shall we say, “unfortunately low” pedestrian crossing sign hanging off the pole! (sound of resounding whannnnng!)
Yup; you read it right – in my quest to safely avoid stepping in a hole, I hit the stupid sign with my head! And as an extra-special bonus, I hit it hard enough to see stars! (Ooh – lookit all the pretty colors!) Hey, about the only thing I can add is, it’s extremely lucky it was my head because there’s very little possibility of, y’know, major damage…
It wouldn’t have been so bad – except for, um, that amazingly loud WHAANNNNNGG! (sound of… well, you know). I mean, just about everybody within 100 feet of me heard it clearly, and turned to see me rebounding from my, er, close encounter. Sheesh, talk about embarrassing!
You know how, when you do something incredibly (and of course, publicly) stupid, sometimes the most prudent course is to act like nothing happened and just keep goin’ – while pretending you really meant to do that? Yup; it was sorta like that.
All I could do was keep walkin’ – pointedly ignoring the looks, the pointing, the suppressed giggles (not to mention the outright guffaws) goin’ on behind my back. I mean, what the hey, when you have no dignity left…
Anyway, the lesson learned (and I gotta tell ya; this was one lesson really driven home, uh, hard, if you get my meanin’) was pretty simple: Hey, no matter how important it may seem, don’t get so narrowly focused on that ‘thing’ that you lose track of everything else around you! I mean, you never know what delightful lesson the School of Hard Knocks has in store for ya…
Oh, and just so ya know – I just got notified by the NSoL (National Society of Lerts). Looks like I’m in.
OK, Enough About Me
So… have you ever tried so hard to be on the alert… but no matter how focused you thought you were, something (that in hindsight was absolutely obvious) waltzed right up and smacked you right upside the hatrack?
Has anything even remotely similar ever happened to you? C’mon, y’all; now’s your chance to come clean. Hey, we’re all friends here, right? (Er… just sorta ignore the fact that anything said on the Internet is, y’know, forever…)
Photo: Aruba Hat, by Robert Hruzek