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.