Don’t Make it Easy

Her name was Tiffany. You don’t need to know her last name, because it isn’t important. She had a really nice embossed luggage tag with her name, address and phone number on it. She was next to me on the Atlanta “plane-train” and she had her nose in her Iphone. Periodically she would smile, but she acted as though no one else in the free world was even around.

I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and say “Tiff, girl, how you been, you still in Albany?” I wanted to explain to her that having information displayed on her luggage and on her North Face backpack where the key fob for her Lexus was clipped, marked her as an easy target. But I doubt I could have gotten her attention. She didn’t even look up from her phone when she walked off the tram at Terminal C.

Tiffany was attractive. She was about 35, with nice blonde hair, and she had no clue about the people around her. None. She was a perfect target for a predator.  She was making it easy for one.

So, this blog post is about a couple of things: information sharing, situational awareness, and smart phones in the hands of dumb people.

People walk around like zombies all the time texting on their phones. While this probably is not a huge problem during the day (see the linked video), when you’re out among people, it starts to become a problem when it has the potential to affect your safety.

Sure, we’ve all seen the idiot texting while driving behind the gasoline truck and wondered why people seek to audition for Darwin Awards. Likewise we’ve seen the people who habitually and reflexively turn to their iPhone when they have nothing better to do. In your house, in the passenger seat of the car, or on the airplane, I get it. It’s your electronic pacifier. It’s better than trying to pay attention to the world around you which can be (and often is) deadly boring.

Until it isn’t.

Other than apps for travel and conference calling, I have taken the majority of games off my iPhone because I do not want to be distracted in situations where my phone is all I am carrying. I have headphones that I used to listen to audiobooks when flying, but I do not walk around plugged in to my IPhone during the day. It isn’t safe.

Neither is it safe to have your biography displayed on the outside of your luggage where someone can read it.  With name, address, and phone number on such a tag, you can be googled almost instantly, and targeted by a seasoned con man.  Or maybe just an irritated lawyer.

So, I have to confess, while I don’t try to upset pretty girls in the airport, I do sometimes harass pompous idiots in elevators. Several months ago Joe, not his real name, was chatting up a woman at the elevator in a Midwestern hotel. She was half his age, clearly wasn’t interested, but Joe was a salesman for a drug company, and he clearly wasn’t taking “not interested” for an answer. When the elevator doors opened up the young lady perhaps disgusted with the drooling moron, walked off, leaving him to either follow her, or get into the car. He did the latter.

On his luggage tag was his full name, address, and the name of the company he worked for. I had pulled out the iphone and run him through Google. His Linked-in Profile provided lots of data.  He even had a photo of his wife.  When the doors closed I braced him:

“So, Joe, you still out in Fairview Heights?”

He gave me a startled look, and said “do I know you?”

“You’re Joe [Smith] from XYZ Labs, right?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” he was searching his memory for my face, “I don’t recall ever meeting you.”

“You know,” I said. “chatting up that cute little blonde girl is the kind of thing that would make Martha really mad.”

Apparently Joe was not real keen on those marital vows, and I saw a flash of panic in his eyes.Then they narrowed.

“Who the hell are you.”

“I’m the guy telling you that being a creepy stalker of young women when you’re out representing the company is the kind of thing that gets people like you fired, and makes getting new jobs much harder. Consider this a warning.”

The elevator dinged, and I got off. Out of the corner of my eye I could still see his mouth hanging open.  I have to say, it was one of my finer moments.

Amazon sells luggage tags that are self-contained, and ones where you write the information on a piece of paper and slip it into a clear window. Get the ones that cover up the information. The airlines aren’t going to look at the luggage tag unless the bag tag comes off. And if other people are looking, they could be up to much worse than just reminding you that you’re married and need to have penile redirection.

Also, that fancy backpack that identifies your company, that may tell a bad guy more about you than you realize. A bag identifying you as working for a drug company may convince an addict that you’re a good source for drugs. I know this makes no sense to you, but drug addicts never stop to consider you don’t carry around free samples.

The same thing with Camera Bags. A bag emblazoned with Canon or Nikon on the side is an advertisement to a sneak thief when you sit down on a bench and shrug it off your arm. It says “EASILY PAWNED ITEM” to a thief.

Finally, there are some excellent videos on the internet that point out pre-assault indicators and discuss the subject of situational awareness. Situational awareness is just being aware of where you are, and how other people are reacting to you. If you’re walking on a darkened street and someone steps out of a doorway and starts following you, if you have your head in a phone, you won’t notice. Likewise if Metallica is blasting in your headphones, you won’t hear the telltale footfalls behind you.

It drives my wife crazy that when we are out in the community I will only hold her hand with my left hand when I am carrying. I keep my strong hand free because if I need to take action, I don’t want to have to disengage first. I always try to get at able with a view of the front door, and I like to have things like walls at my back.

No one who was ever a victim of a robber or attacker ever left the house thinking they were going to die. As a result, they were not prepared. Being prepared doesn’t guarantee a good result, but it puts you miles ahead of the next guy.

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