In a world of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, iPads and I-have-to-make-more-money-to-keep-up-with-the-Joneses multi-tasking, it's easier than ever to lose focus and become negligent when engaged in routine everyday tasks --- like turning off the stove, unplugging the iron or putting the car in park. Those simple things we usually execute without much thought or difficulty, unless of course, something distracts us.
Last week, I reported on a Fairfield County (CT) man who thought he put his car in park after pulling into his driveway. Talking on his cellphone, the man went into the house just as he did every night after coming home from work. However, this night, his shiny, black Audi rolled slowly down his driveway and picked up speed. A lot of speed. The car had been stopped on an incline and it was moving fast. Hello, disaster. The car proceeded across the street and into a neighbor's yard, smashed through a fence and finally stopped hanging perilously close to the edge of an embankment. The car was hung up on trees and rocks which prevented if from barreling 30-feet down a ravine into an occupied house.
The car looked like a coyote howling to the moon, its nose scraping the stars. It was an, "OH...MY...GOD" moment for that man, like one I'm sure many of us have had in our lives. Oh, perhaps, not to his extent, but I'm sure there were times when you left the house with a fire crackling up the chimney or disappeared from the kitchen with something boiling on the stove as you took an important phone call, only to return and realize the catastrophic situation you could've experienced because you and your mind were elsewhere. It's not a great feeling.
A few weeks ago, my mind was elsewhere. It was in a place my ex-fiance (yeah, I actually had one of those) used to call "Paul's World." We worked together in television and I was always in that world thinking about my stories, shows, leads, and any way I could make the product better. What else is there to think about when your engaged and living in Fort Myers, Florida?
I'm no longer in television, but I still often go off into my own world thinking about my life, job, career, and future. Throw in a cellphone and texting and situations like the one that happened on my way to work that morning, can happen.
Running on empty, I pulled into a gas station and a self-serve pump. I swiped my debit card and was reminded by the sign that all but hit me in the face that I shouldn't "leave the gas pump unattended while pumping gas," which is something I never do.
Never until this overcast December morning. I went into the convenience store and started to talk with this gentleman about the three rich guys from Greenwich who won the $254 million Powerball. We were both amazed that of all the people with a chance to win the lottery, it happened to be three hedge fund guys who walked away with all the loot. Never thought that would've happened. And I never thought what happened next would have ever happened in my lifetime.
I got a call from my office telling me to go to another part of town immediately for a breaking news story. Still on my phone, I got into my truck, put my keys in the ignition and hurriedly took off. That's when I heard a frightening thump and quickly glanced in my rear view mirror to see what appeared to be a black Anaconda flying away from the rear of my truck. It was my, "OH...MY...GOD..." moment. I had pulled away from the pump with the hose still hooked to my car. Visions of the demolition scene from "Rambo" blitzed through my mind. I expected to see a towering inferno as I raced away from this disaster.
I didn't race away though, perhaps the sight of the man running toward my truck in my side view mirror forced me to slow down. I didn't want to see my mug shot on the 11 o'clock news or my name smeared across the internet forever. I calmly got out, surveyed the scene and saw the hose had detached from the pump. Three people on the island of pumps looked at me in disgust, as if I had just been caught stealing Christmas presents from under the tree at a children's hospital. I was remarkably calm, though. Perhaps, some of the other embarrassing moments in my life, like bouncing the ceremonial pitch at a major league baseball game, or falling down the stairs after giving the best man's toast at a wedding, prepared me well for this make-your-face-turn-red-as-an-apple-moment.
I was composed as the Middle Eastern man who appeared in my rear view pointed me towards the cash register inside the store. I had no idea what he was saying, but I figured it wasn't good. It was time to pay the bill for my colossal mistake. As I approached the manager of the store, I wondered how much the bill would be for ripping the hose out of a gas pump. $500? $1,000? I said good-bye to that winter vacation in Aruba as I scanned the list of prices the manager had placed in front of me. The number $3,000 and $1,800 stood out to me. But those were for the the really mindless customers who ripped everything out. I had just torn the hose in two.
No biggie. He said $138. I remarked that it was one heckuva an expensive tank of gas. But on the other hand, it could've been a lot worse. Cellphones, texting, and Twitter have made life so much more convenient and entertaining. Unfortunately, they've also made it a more dangerous world to live in because of the consequences that may come as a result of their distractions. The man with the Audi was lucky his out of control car didn't maim or kill someone. I was lucky that my mistake didn't hurt my wallet too badly --- or hurt anyone else.