The Case for Situational Awareness

Over my years of doing book signings, I’ve developed a pretty keen sense of situational awareness. Most people who come to signings are fine, but occasionally people show up who are downright nuts. Like the guy who came up to the table and said, “I’ve just been acquitted of murdering seven people. Do you want to write my book?” Well, the short answer to that would be an all cap N-O!

Others have developmental issues that don’t show up in the first few bits of conversation, like the young woman who had me autograph a book for her in Louisville, Kentucky, thinking that this was like picking up a free sample of food from Costco. (The manager of the store, kindly let her take the book anyway.)

Or they have a personal story they need to share. My first husband and I crossed paths with a serial killer in Tucson, Arizona, in 1970. Thirty plus years later, a young woman showed up at a signing asking about it. Her father had been the second of three victims. Her mother would never talk about her father’s death, and the daughter came to me asking for information.

So yes, my sense of situational awareness is highly developed, and it works outside book signings as well.  Yesterday, on the flight from LA to Phoenix is a prime example.

When I arrived at my seat, the guy next to the window was engrossed in his cell phone. On the table between us sat his cup of McDonald’s McCafé. Those are paper cups. They have tops, true, but they also have sippy holes that do not close. So as the plane left the gate and taxied toward takeoff, the cup remained where it was and the guy remained buried in his phone.

Here’s the thing about plane take offs and landings. They involve important items like speed, changes of altitude, momentum—bits and pieces of physics, I believe. I kept watching the cup. He did not. So when the engines started taking us up, the cup came slip/sliding back. and if I hadn’t caught it, I would have ended up with a cup of hot coffee up my elbow and all over my clothing. Being doused with coffee isn’t a major make or break event if you can walk into your laundry room at home and stick everything in the washer. But if you’re an author on tour with limited wardrobe choices, public appearances to make, and limited access to laundry facilities, it can be a big problem.

My seat mate noticed when I caught the cup. He muttered “thanks” and then went back to his phone. Those were the only words we exchanged on the flight. But the cup went right back where it had been previously and stayed there for the duration.

When it comes time to land a plane, those previously mentioned laws of physics come back into play—in the opposite direction. It had been cold on the plane and I had requested a blanket. As we approached SkyHarbor, I used the blanket to cover my clothing and then I waited to see what would happen. And guess what? The cup went sliding again, forward this time, and this time I didn’t catch it.

The remains of his coffee went tumbling through space and ran down his leg, and I didn’t feel the least bit sorry! It landed on his clothing NOT on mine. If I were a nicer person, I could have caught the cup a second time, but I believe we’ll file that under the heading of ONE AND DONE!

And now for a serious word about situational awareness. We live in troubled times. I’m sorry that my kids have to warn my grandkids about what to do if they encounter an “active shooter” situation at school or at concerts or at shopping malls or even at church.

I’m sorry they have to, but I’m glad they do, because in this day and age, that’s what responsible parents do.

As for the guy with his nose in the phone? I somehow doubt he gets it.

20 thoughts on “The Case for Situational Awareness

  1. You have such adventures even in the air! Just finished the latest Beau… what a fantastic read! I love how we’re seeing a more personal side of this character as he ages. I might have gotten a bit teary as he made his decision about Lucy… I’m betting a new dog is in his future.

  2. That is such a great story. Still giggling over the coffee incident. I think you were very noble because the coffee had cooled. The Hour Of The Hunter was the first Jance book I read and loved. That was some years ago. Recently I was wishing for another book in the Walker series. Then decided to re-read the first book. It was just as thrilling the second time around. You certainly put a certain professor in his proper place. Now I am working my way through the rest of the series. Thanks for the hours of enjoyment.

  3. I just finished Sins of the Father. We spent 10 days at Harbor View several years when my husband broke his pelvis after a horse incident. A hospital worker signed me into a motel walking distance away. The hospital was great to us. I could get rids back and forth courtesy of the hospital. My daughter and I experienced bumper to bumper traffic driving south from Portland over Labor Day this year. I had never experienced this before living in Idaho. This is the first book of this series that I connected with.

  4. The serious points of your note are right on… But I love the coffee cup story… Now that’s Justice in a Cup!

  5. OK, so why was the tray table even down during takeoff and landing for his cup to slide around on? And why was he allowed to be on his phone? I’ve flown enough to know those are both prohibited during takeoff and landing.
    But kudos to you for not grabbing the cup a second time.

  6. I have read every one of your books and could never choose a favorite until Sins Of The Father. Beau has always been my favorite Jance character. This one made me cry when he was saying goodbye to Lucy. I thought after Proof Of Life we may have seen the last of Beau. This book gives me hope of more Beaumont stories. So, when do we see Joanna Brady again?

  7. Loved your story about the cup of coffee. I give you a hand for not catching the second cup and it landed on him. I would have probably had to have words when I even saw it there. I haven’t flown in years but didn’t think cell phones were allowed during take off, and the trays down.
    I am on a waiting list for Sins of The Father and I can’t wait to read it.

  8. I called my friend last night and told her, “J A Jance put a character in her latest book who grew up in your hometown, Oarkridge, Oregon.” She was delighted.

  9. Well done!

    Many years ago, I was sitting in the middle seat, hubby and mom in either side. Plane was packed. The mom behind mine was engrossed in a book, totally ignoring her darling sitting behind me. Said darling kicked seat, reached up to top and grabbed my hair to pull himself up. I asked him nicely several times to stop. When it continued, I raised my voice and said to my mom, “don’t you think we should tell his mother I’m on a weekend pass from the mental hospital to see if I’ve successfully learned to appropriately handle stress yet?” Not another grab or kick for the remaining 3 hours of the flight. My mom’s look, tho, is with me still.

  10. I have to say, I am a little behind on reading these days. I just finished reading The A List, I could not put it down! When finished reading, I did something I have only done with one other book in my life, I went back to tbe beginning and started reading it again.
    Well done! I love your books and look forward to your blog each week.

  11. I’m about 3/4 of the way through SINS OF THE FATHERS. I read a comment in response to your blog and I’m very upset about Lucy. I don’t know why JP loses Lucy, but i’m hoping it’s b/c she goes to live with Athena. Nevertheless this has put a huge cloud over reading the remainder of the book. I am loving the book however but just kind of sad now.

  12. I’m sorry that some people spoiled the book by revealing something about the dog. That isn’t nice for us who have yet to read the book.

    I, too, am surprised the cabin attendants did not put the seat tray up when the plane took off. Trays up is the rule for take-off and landings.

    Isn’t it strange that almost everyone carries a coffee container and a cell phone these days? I haven’t flown since 1991 and things have really changed.

    • Correction. My last flying was in 1997 when I went to visit my sisters in Tucson in early September. This was just after Princess Diana’s funeral. We bought all of the newspapers and magazines about her. Didn’t talk about much else.

  13. Man, I wanted to be at your Phoenix signing but I have been in Glendale training for a new job and was absolute toast at the end of the day 🙁 I am sorry I (again) missed your signing. Throughout the years, my great aunt then my Mom always hit up your Seattle area book signings so I have inherited several signes copies, but I am always missing them.

    Funny story….I grew up in Ballard and as I started reading the Beaumont books, I was a new bride away from home for the first time. I could picture in my head all the different places you wrote about…Ballard, the Dog House, Camano Island, etc. After I started reading your Joanna stories and reading your blog, I started discussing where to retire with my husband (we moved back to the Pacific NW when he left the Navy). Arizona became the top spot. Just as you packed up your home in Bisbee and moved to The NW, we made the move to Buckeye.

    Thanks for all the great descriptions of the desert SW because we LOVE it here!

  14. I believe that one of the irritating things about modern life is the lack of situational awareness. You have struck a blow for it to those ‘who have ears to hear.’ Thanks.

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