Thursday, October 20, 2016

Situational Awareness and the Gods of Paranoia

Last night I think I was targeted for robbery.

Normally, I'd chalk thoughts like that up to being a paranoiac, but in the cold light of morning memory, I'm actually pretty sure I dodged a metaphorical bullet.

So I was getting home later than usual last night, having met former co-workers for drinks. It's dark. I exit my local BART station and slip my transit card into my wallet as I start to walk in the direction that will take me home.

There's a guy lingering beyond the turnstile. That's not all that unusual. Lots of people linger, waiting for friends or whatever.

This guy, however, is a bit off. His eyes were lingering on my wallet and I noticed that. And he's also noting my backpack (which has my work laptop and stuff in it). He starts walking in the same direction I'm going.

I'm not cool with this so I stop and adjust my pockets. The guy also stops, ostensibly waiting for the nearby bus.

Again, this isn't unusual, but there's something a bit off that makes me nervous about him.

I continue on. My path, if I keep going as I anticipate, will take me into a poorly-lit area in a minute or so.

The guy starts walking in the same direction again.

I stop and "check my phone", paying more attention to him. He's furtively looking at me now. I'm still in a lit area with people around. I put my phone away and make eye contact with him. He doesn't quite look away, but breaks eye contact. Dude couldn't possibly look more guilty and I realize I'm being sized up for possible robbery. He's got loose clothes and may have a weapon under his coat or in a pocket.

Still watching him, I change course to cut through a populated, well-lit parking lot and pointedly watch him. He doesn't keep pace with me and when I cross a street, I lose track of him. I cut through a busy area, constantly noting anyone behind or around me. I'm clear, as far as I'm aware. I take a longer route home, keeping in a lit area and pausing from time to time to see if anyone odd is around me.

I get home without incident.

I've taken a lot of martial arts over the years. I'm out of practice in a bad way. I would fare poorly in an actual fight. I'm out-of-shape and it's just been too long. But some lessons really linger. The last style I studied put heavy emphasis on self-defense, which had a strong component of situational awareness. In a nutshell, the lesson is that you should always be aware of your surroundings and if something feels odd, pay attention to it.

It's quite possible I misread the situation last night. It's possible there was no threat there and nothing going on.

It's possible I was paranoid.

I don't think that was the case. I'm confident some asshole thought I was an easy mark and wanted, at bare minimum, my backpack and possibly my wallet and phone. I think someone sized me up for a mugging. I think I avoided a confrontation that could have gotten me robbed and possibly hurt.

Now I want to track down my teacher and thank him. And I'm kinda freaked out.

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