Rant: Existing in shared spaces

When I was 6 years old I remember being able to run at full speed through crowded rooms with no problems. Later in my life, when I was a teenager, I realized that this was because other people were paying attention and were getting out of the way of the small child with little awareness of what was going on around him. When I had this realization, I knew that I had elevated to a higher plane of existence: I was a “mature adult”*. With great power, though, comes great responsibility. Now that I had reached this great pinnacle of human achievement, I knew I had to be aware of my surroundings when I was in any place that I shared with other people. No longer could I run without looking where I was going. No longer could I stand in a place where I was blocking the path of others. Those days were gone.

*The irony that I’m using the words “mature adult” to describe myself is not lost on me.

I had this epiphany when I was still in high school, but many times in my life I have noticed people much older than me who don’t seem to understand this basic concept. The purpose of this rant is to increase awareness of the obligations people face when they are in spaces they have to share with other people. Another purpose of this rant is that I like to whine and it makes me feel good.

I realize that in some situations, the problem is solved by alerting the offending the person to the fact that they’re in the way. Simply saying “excuse me” can suffice in a lot of situations. On the other hand, there are a lot of times where this is inconvenient, difficult, or even impossible to do (as you will see in some of the examples below). I believe it is important, regardless of circumstance, that every person take responsibility for making sure they are always aware of what’s around them when they are in public. At the very least it makes you more pleasant to be around; but it’s nice to not have to worry about distracting people from whatever is so important on their phones that they CAN’T PAY ANY ATTENTION TO WHERE THEY ARE WALKING OR THE PEOPLE THEY ARE ABOUT TO RUN INTO. I also won’t judge you silently and harshly if I interact with you and you’re being particularly annoying to me.

I’d like to outline some scenarios that have come up in my life where people have created situations that made me wonder if they had any awareness that other people might have been around. If you should ever find yourself in one of these situations, perhaps you will have read about it here and you can do the right thing. Even if the people there don’t thank you for thinking ahead, I thank you now for making the world a better place.

Situation 1: You’re in a grocery store aisle. The bad guy (denoted with red circles) is looking at some item on the shelf, but has parked his cart (the red rectangle) across the aisle so that it’s blocking the entire path. Innocent bystanders just trying to get through (the blue circles) now have to either wait for this person, or interrupt them and tell them to move.

Much better would be to park your cart on the same side of the aisle that you’re looking at, or to stand on the other side of the aisle with your cart and look across the aisle at the shelf until you’re ready. A move I sometimes use is to park my cart at the end of the aisle and just hop in and grab what I need, but this has its issues.

Then there are the worst type of people in the universe, who see someone they know at the grocery store and stop to chat with them for however long — while having their carts block so much space that the entire aisle is unusable. They are so engrossed in their conversation that they will never realize what’s going on and don’t respond to interruption. Ugh.

Situation 2: Now we’re in a hallway, or maybe on a sidewalk or something. If we’re on a sidewalk, let’s assume there’s snow piled up on the ends or it’s really muddy or something so it’s oppressive to leave the sidewalk. There are pair of bad guys walking side-by-side in one direction, and even when they see me walking, they will not make any adjustments so that I can get by, despite the fact that the hall is only wide enough for two people, one in each direction. Often I’m forced to come to a complete stop, while one of them brushes up against me and acts like I’m a jerk because they couldn’t be bothered to move. Where am I supposed to go?

There are a couple of variations on this situation. One where I’m coming up behind them and I want to pass them because they’re walking super-slow. If I can’t get their attention somehow, there is no way for me to pass them.

Then there’s this travesty, when the hallway is wide enough for them to still walk beside each other, but they don’t move and I still have to smush up against the wall! When people walk side-by-side like this they are always taking up space that needs to be shared with other people sometimes, so when you do this, be aware of what’s going on around you and stop getting in the way, jerks!

Situation 3: Here’s one I ran into at work the other day. A guy was walking in the building, and he presses the button for handicapped-access, which opens one of the doors in front of him. There is already judgment here because he is fully capable of opening a door himself, but he decided to press the button, and wait for the door to slowly open instead of just opening the door that’s right in front of him. Seriously, how lazy can you be? And before you ask, yes I know he is capable of opening a door because I saw him open the door right behind him, which didn’t have this button (it’s an exterior door and you have to badge in and open it manually).

Anyways, he then goes over to the left side of the hall to enter the open door as I’m coming up. Naturally, I have to stop and wait for him to get back over to the other side of the hallway. I made sure to squeak my shoes nice and loud as I had to come to a sudden stop because this guy is too lazy to open a door that’s right in front of him. And yes, the doors were glass, he could see me coming. There is no excuse.

There’s a scenario that’s even worse, though. When I was in college, there was this same scenario, only imagine instead of one person going each way, it’s a constant stream of people (people entering/exiting a building between classes). Both doors open, but the red people are not allowing the blue people to pass because they don’t want to open the door that’s right in front of them. So the blue people have to just stand and wait because not a single person in the red line has the common sense to just open the other door so everyone can get where they’re going.

There should be a license to have the privilege of walking in a public place and it should be revoked for stuff like this. Come on, people.

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