When faced with split-second, life-altering decisions, most of us assume our instincts and good sense will somehow kick into high gear, and, fueled by pure adrenaline, we will make instantaneous smart choices.
As far as I can tell, the opposite may be true.
For example, a good friend of mine once told me about driving around with her mom back in the day. As it was pre-seatbelt smarts, my friend was changing her baby sister on the bench as they maneuvered around town. For some reason, her mom had to hit the brakes. But did my friend grab tight to the baby, saving her from flying off the seat and onto the floorboards? No, no she did not. She did, however, rescue the can of coke from certain spillage as it leaped forth out of the armrest. (The baby escaped unharmed, thankfully, not that much more traumatized than the soda)
My similar stupidity involved the rescuing of a twodollar flea market hat in the face of my own inevitable kidnapping or maybe death. An ugly hat, I might add.
The situation was this: one night, while traveling through Italy, my friend and I decided to sleep in a train station to save money, as neither of us had much left. It was mid-May, and for some inexplicable reason, it was freezing in Southern Italy. I asked my friend if he wouldn’t lend me a sweatshirt, but he feigned sleep and rolled over on the bench. I was entirely too chilly for sleep, so I walked around the station a bit, looking for a drink cart or something.
Now, train stations are not typically found in the fanciest parts of town, and certainly most places are not the ideal location for a leisurely walk at 2 o’clock in the morning, least of all a train station in a port town of Italy, but I was annoyed at being cold and really annoyed that my friend didn’t care enough to save me from the chill, and so I decided I would wander outside of the train station.
At 2 o’clock in the morning.
In a port town.
It was pitch black, and there was one road stretched out with jersey walls on either side, plastered with bills advertising establishments no respectable individual would frequent. It took about 45 seconds before a car pulled up close to me, dimmed its lights, and the driver leaned across and started to shout at me in Italian, motioning for me to hop in. I could read the danger on his olive-toned face.
At that moment, I realized I had never been more foolish in all my 19 years. Additionally, that if I intended to live for any more, I should move along quickly and get back. I smiled politely and confidently at the creepiest person I’ve ever seen outside of a horror film, and picked up the pace a bit.
Which is when he swerved the car in front of me, cut the engine, and got out.
My heart was now lodged in my throat as my eyes darted toward the field to the right of me. Thankfully, it led into bright lights which I assumed my pursuer would avoid, right back to the train station, and eventually to my friend. I have never been even close to athletic or fast on my feet, but I swear they only hit dirt every few paces as I went. He wasn’t that far behind me, but he wasn’t catching up to me, perhaps inhibited by drugs or alcohol.
And that is when my foot caught an uneven spot in the grass, and I stumbled over, my two dollar flea market hat, purchased at the beginning of the semester in the market square in Vienna, went rolling off of my big stupid head.
And at that moment, in the midst of outrunning a man with only God knows what hideously evil intentions, I stopped to pick up my two dollar flea market hat. Yes, I really did.
I don’t know if you can really measure time in smaller increments than seconds, but if you can, that’s about how long it took me to reconsider my hat-rescuing instincts and resume my sprinting. By the time I hit the safety of the floodlights, I turned and saw that the man was winded and bent over, having given up his chase.
Perhaps he saw me reach down for my hat and realized I was entirely too stupid for his tastes.