Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Frustration Blindness

Unless you are unshakably calm, you've probably been there: so frustrated you can't see nor remember what's right in front of your nose. I have. So's Steve. I'll tell you both tales.

My very first day working as a courier, I was doing a pretty fair job of finding my way around the greater metro, even though I needed the map book for every stop, and would for months to come. After all, finding it once was one thing. Next time I needed to find the same address, I'd darn sure be coming from another direction and needed to scout that route also. I had also been in and out of the downtown Minneapolis loop, but only coming from and returning to I-94 heading towards St. Paul.

It turns out there are a whole lot more ways of getting in and out of The Loop, either to hit one of several highways or freeways, or bypass them completely and wind up in one of the many surrounding neighborhoods. Need I say I got lost that day, and under the worst possible circumstances?

This was back when we were still being dispatched via radio, and a mandatory piece of equipment was a miniature (for then) tape recorder so we could replay what dispatch had said, often several times until we could actually understand it. Between static, enunciation, lack of context due to unfamiliarity with the territory, and Gordy's super-speedy dispatching voice, this could be more than a challenge. A notebook to write down everything you thought you heard, and later to add mapbook coordinates was also a must.

Unfortunately, two critical things happened at the same time. First, it was rush hour and the runs - yes, plural, as in 4 of them! ON MY FIRST DAY! - were all direct service. I know, the customers were supposed to be naive enough to actually believe that direct meant that the driver had only their run on board and transporting it without any other stops, but we drivers very quickly knew better. The second thing was that I started my run of 4 from inside the loop with no way of figuring my way out of it in the various directions I needed to go. I needed to hit south Minneapolis, then Calhoun area, before heading up through gridlock to Brooklyn Park.

But, no pressure, eh?

It wasn't long before my fourth or fifth try actually got me into south Minneapolis, but by this time I was ready for my meltdown. I wasn't even sure which direction I was going at that point, especially as streets in the loop twist off the compass points to hit a diagonal, and what I thought of as north was what everybody else thought of as west. Still works that way in my brain, in fact. But I was fighting my way towards my next stop, so frustrated and pressured that I was stopping every block, trying to figure out where I was and where I was heading. I needed west. Was I heading in fact west? Or north? Or south? So I decided to make note of the street signs on the next corner, then the next, see how they changed, and consult the map again to figure it out.

That sounds like a sensible idea, right? However, I was so frustrated at the time that by the time I got to the second corner I totally spaced where I'd come from and it did no earthly good.

I called into dispatch like a good little driver, telling them I was turned around and lost, that I was way behind as a result, and requested that they take the last run to Brooklyn Park off of me and hand it to another driver. That radio call was, as it turned out, the only thing that saved my job that first day. As usual that time of day, dispatch was overwhelmed at the time and refused my request, telling me to keep on keeping on. By the time I actually got up to Brooklyn Park, I was over 90 minutes late. The package I had on board needed to be repackaged and shipped off to meet their own customer's emergency. It was to meet a flight at the airport - an hour earlier!  We nearly lost a major customer in the process, and I was lucky that there were people listening to my request to have that package given to another driver because I was going to be very very late.

I don't believe that the company gave four directs to any first day driver after that, either. Or any directs, in fact. They start you out now with 3-hour service runs and give you a chance to get your wheels properly under you.

As for me, I stopped at the home in The Loop of the friend I had been regularly visiting there, the one who was the only reason I knew even that much about getting in and out, and together we generated a hand-drawn map showing which streets were one-way which way and where each of them led once they left the loop. By the time that map wore through, I knew enough about downtown that I no longer needed it, and the company I drove for had gained confidence in my ability to get around, enough so that I lasted with them for nearly 30 years.

Steve's case of frustration blindness happened earlier this afternoon. He misplaced his wallet. It's the typical essential, holding driver's license, fishing license, credit card, health insurance card, cash, and family pictures. He needed it to drive down to North St. Paul to pick up a friend, take him to pick up his own car where it was being repaired, and then the two of them were going fishing. He could maybe get by without the other stuff, but he definitely needed that fishing license.

Now with all the pockets that men have in their jeans, you might think that there'd be one where a wallet could go and would stay put, right? Apparently not. This was, after all, not the first time that this wallet had turned out to be missing. He and I had gone running errands yesterday, and we both knew that the last time he had it was at a drive-through window, and he hadn't left the car after getting his change put back away until we parked in the driveway. So it had to be either in the car, on the driveway, or in the house.

Habits are useful. When I was driving 5 or more days a week, I made a habit of where and when I emptied my pockets, where I put things down as I came in the door. Steve hasn't driven regularly for so long that any habits he may have had were long broken. My habits are starting to break, but I still have a limited amount of places to look for what's missing. Steve's not so lucky.

His in-house options are in the pockets of what was worn yesterday, the clothes worn yesterday, the floor and table near where he undressed, the tables near his living room chair, between the cushions of said chair, in the outside pocket of said chair, under that same chair since it is a lift chair. He had a pipe last night, so it may have been in the screen porch, our designated smoking area. It may have fallen out of a pocket in the bathroom, or onto the lap blanket near his living room chair, to be dragged around and/or buried with said blanket as the dogs rearranged it to make their beds cozier once he sets the blanket down on the couch. The blanket sometimes also finds its way with their help to the floor, so there's always the possibility it slipped under the couch as well.

Are you getting the picture? At least when it's his cell phone that's misplaced, I can call it with mine to facilitate recovery. They don't put anything that makes noises in wallets to give clues as to their hiding places. Now throw in that his bad knees are even worse than my bad knees, and the frustration mounts even more with the increasing pain levels from a lengthening hunt.

I sent him out to check the car, since that's the last place we positively knew he had it the day before. I recalled him fumbling with a number of objects as he cleared out his space, so maybe it had dropped then?

No go. Of course, his wallet is black, and my car interior is mostly black, except for grey seats. Black stuff hides really well there, even in daylight. Both of us have found our missing cell phones in the car, but only once they started ringing.

He came in to sit and chill for a few, taking a moment to tell his buddy he was running late. We brainstormed ideas. We couldn't remember what all he'd been fumbling with when he left the car the day before. There was his bag of tacos, enough for three meals' worth, the remainder still in the fridge. Had he put it in there for a hands-free ride in? I will sometimes slip my pocketbook into a bag when a third or fourth hand could have been useful. He checked. He hadn't.

More brainstorming.

I recalled he had a travel cup for his tea, now sitting in the living room. He'd also had a couple empty aluminum cans he cleaned out. Might it have fallen into the recycle bin when he'd tossed those away? After he'd calmed down a bit more, he went out to check the bin, as well as taking another look inside the car. I reminded him how well dark things can hide there. I also knew, without reminding him, how frustration hinders actually seeing what's in front of your nose. He was calmer now.

He returned a minute later, wallet in pocket. I asked where it had been: recycle bin?

Nope. It had been sitting in the car, black wallet quite visible on the middle of my grey seat. His frustration had kept him from looking there, or even seeing it where is wasn't expected to be.

By now, his buddy's car should be picked up and the two of them getting ready to dip their lines in one of the many lakes they like to go to, ready to tease the local fish with the bait du jour.

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