Tuesday, July 26, 2011

False Sense of Security

Fighter pilots go through intensive training, but they only are active for a few years until they are replaced by newly trained pilots. Why? It is easy to get a false sense of security. One is more sharp and aware when he is newly trained. Maybe it gets to be the same thing, over and over, that makes one get overconfident and too sure of what they are doing, making bad judgments and oversights.

I have been caning, that is, using the white cane for the past two years as a mobility tool to get around independently because of my legally blind status.

I was taught how to hold the cane, how to stay "in step". (In step means sweeping the cane opposite each step I make. It's like it's one step ahead of the real foot. If the tip of the cane is in front of the foot that just took the step, it's not "telling" me that there's nothing in front of the other foot when you take the next step.)

I was taught to cross intersections of all kinds, residential where only one street has a stop sign and the traffic does not stop in the other direction, 4-way intersections, traffic-controlled streetlights with and without designated left-turn arrows, with and without pedestrian buttons (to help ensure that one has a longer time to cross the street) and the intersection that has the designated right turn lanes. (I really hate those. Drivers are more interested in watching for a break in traffic to cut into the street traffic than they are watching for pedestrians. (Ei, ei, yi.)

When the caner walks to a store or business, s/he has to walk along the far side, the perimeter of the parking lot. This is where the least amount of traffic would be. Most people park in the middle of the lot, closest to the store/business. The caner pretty much walks along the last row of cars in the lot and makes a sort of an “L-shaped” path through the parking lot. Once they reach the area where the business/store front is, they cross to get to the sidewalk that is in front. (Very little traffic would be going along the side/back of the building.)

Sometimes the caner gets dropped off in front of the store/business so there is no parking lot to cross. Sometimes, the city bus drops the caner off by the street, in front of the store, so the caner has to acclimate him/herself and go to the edge of the parking lot and make that invisible “L-shaped” path.

I do a LOT of walking in the warmer months. I can be with my kids or I’ll be going solo. If I’m with my kids, I’ll take “short-cuts”. For example, there is a traffic light a few blocks down a busy street near my house. I would use that intersection to cross the street. There is NO way I would want to cross a busy street without a traffic light. Cars pop out of parking lots, driveways, other streets in the next block on either side. It’s a constant flow. My kids would let me know when there is a break in the traffic flow so we can walk across the street. I am not comfortable doing this by myself for the reason I just mentioned.

Sometimes we walk about a mile to a small strip with stores, businesses, and restaurants. Once we reach the parking lot, we turn into it and cut through the parking lot. When I am alone I must use the “L-shaped” path.

Sometimes, I don’t know, I get overconfident. Not much traffic is heard or seen in the lot. I’ll cut through the lot. I know I shouldn’t do that, but I get the “false sense of security”. I’m safe.

I walk the dog most days. We go about 55 minutes in the early morning/late evening hours when it’s not too hot for the dog. It is about three miles. This is all residential. Lots of driveways. We come across a few mild distractions, such as kids and critters. I can get lost in thought a lot. I might think about what I have to do when I get home (clean, clean, clean), what to add to my shopping list, what to make for supper that night, or make an appointment for something. Or I might just be thinking of something that happened, funny or sad, and just dwell on it. All this...while I am walking.

I got a phone call the other day. A friend saw me cut across the parking lot of a mini-strip of stores. This area is not a hotspot by any means, it's not very busy, not like WalMart is.

I was scolded. Apparently a car was backing out (behind me?) and could have hit me. I looked like I wasn’t paying attention. Wasn’t I supposed to be walking along the perimeter of the parking lot? I told him/her that yes, you are supposed to. S/he said, "But you didn’t. You could have been hit. I was watching you."

I felt like a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar. I was a bad girl. I wasn’t looking out for my own safety. I got too confident.

Then I got defensive and a bit angry. How did s/he know about O&M? Did s/he research it? Did s/he talk to someone who knows or uses it? S/he said that it was common sense. Walk in the grass on the outside of the parking lot. I felt a bit insulted. Yes, I do things without thinking, impulsively, even, but I'm not stupid.

Like the job hazard of fighter pilots, I got a “false sense of security”. I needed to stay sharp and aware of what is going on. I knew my friend said this out of concern for me, but I felt like a child being scolded. Common sense? What, I have no brains?

But s/he was right. I should ALWAYS go along the perimeter of the parking lot. I should always stay sharp.

The next time I walked the dog, the 55 minute walk turned into a 70 minute walk. I slowed down, especially when I got to each driveway to see if anyone would back out. I needed to stay sharp. It is exhausive to check every driveway. It was tiresome to be so overcautious. Is this what I will have to become? Overcautious? Worrying about who will be watching me and scolding me so I have to do everything by the book?

This morning, I walked the dog again. Our walk was 60 minutes. No, I didn’t get to my false sense of security again. I’ve seen a LOT of open garage doors with neighbors getting ready to do yardwork. I just walked a bit faster, kept an eye on driveways/garage doors. I tell myself, I am watching. I don't always hear/see things. Do I want to be a prisioner of fear? But I still walk on, watching, listening.
I will try not to fall into the trap of the fighter pilots. I must stay sharp. I must not drift off into la-la land while walking. And mostly, I MUST always walk along the perimeter of any parking lot, unless I’m with a sighted guide.

Nowadays, I walk as I've always done. I'm always thinking that someone I know could be watching (who just happened to be driving by) and will see what I"m doing. I do not want another phone call by someone telling me what I should do and how I wasn't safely traveling again. I am conscious of that and scan driveways for anything coming in or out. Only thing is, there's a LOT of driveways.

At first, yes, I was saddened by that call. But I won't let it make me hide in my house, never to risk another bad judgment call about my safety. I don't know why that friend didn't say anything to me in that parking lot instead of calling me a few days after that incident. People take a risk driving every day. A sudden movement and slow reflexes can be a bad combination.

So, I do my best to keep scanning, to watch traffic, and ALWAYS walk the perimeters. You just never know.