Jeff Phillips: The Awareness Badge

Family-LifeLet me start this piece by admitting I’m sometimes a screw up – I zone out and get in the way.

Like the time I decided the train I was on was riding along smooth enough to where I thought it would be okay to keep clutching my coffee in one hand, and take my other hand off the pole to take out my phone and check the weather report. Then the train jerks to a sudden stop and my legs are forced into a sudden run into the people in the aisle ahead of me due to this inertia, scaring the shit out of people with the coffee cup I wielded up high. Or the times I was engrossed in a podcast and swiveled my back-pack into the face of a sitting passenger, and it took me a few moments to feel them pushing back against the fabric. Jesus, how embarrassing it is to be that guy, that dense lump requiring such a tap, such a reminder that you’re not immune to being a motherfucker.

I’m a work in progress and I hope someday to be flawless with my awareness of the goings on around me. I hope to someday sew a badge on my jacket sleeve just below my shoulder proclaiming “Awareness!” And I will feel tremendous in my capability for good, just as the cavemen did when they shared flame instead of waving it at those they felt threatened by.

Here’s the inspiration for my self-improvement plan, the play-by-play of my awakening through irritation.

The other day I was at an Einstein Bagel’s and I had a cup of water to fill and was waiting off to the side of the fountain soda station. A girl filled up her cup with orange soda, and instead of stepping aside after, she stood in front of the machine, blocking all entry and sipped. She sipped again. She drank half and I said “excuse me, please.” And she looked annoyed with me.

I got on the Red Line at Grand one day, after 4 trains arrived in which there wasn’t any room for me. So we arrived one stop later, and people on the packed train needed to get off, so I stepped off the train, just off to the side of the doors to let them off. Then all of the people waiting at the stop bum rushed through the doors and there wasn’t room for me to re-board. I told them they all sucked. I had to wait 3 more trains for one to have enough room for me to get on, and was pressed up against a guy whose eyes indicated he was on heavy opiates and definitely smelled like he peed his pants.

There is too big of a percentage of people who ride public transit who will stake their spot right by the subway doors, in the way of the rush hour travelers who need to get on and off, and these riders will still stand there several to a dozen stops later. It’s rarely the case that they need to get off at the next stop, then it would make sense to position oneself there. Once a heavy set construction worker parked his ass on top of a big cooler, right by the door, and his bent knees spread out taking up the whole doorway. This was rush hour.

A guy had sat next to me on the train, let his legs splay open, one of them resting on mine, and pulled out his cell phone to start cussing out his friend, saying “damn, why you gotta be like that, it’s called being street smart, bro, you gotta, like, be aware.” I don’t think he’s yet mastered the concept he is preaching.

This sort of disregard, maybe intentional, maybe not, starts young. When parents fail to notify their children they’re being a public nuisance. At a taqueria, while I was eating and trying to read the news a family next to me allowed their probably 8 year old to continuously blow into his empty chocolate milk bottle like it  was a trumpet. He did this loudly and he did it the entire meal. They didn’t stop him. He was too old to be doing this and he didn’t appear to be mentally handicapped. The parents had clearly given up on coaching his manners or just hadn’t started. And this kid will someday grow up and ride the subway. He will probably listen to music on his phone without headphones. He will probably put his bag down on the seat next to him. He will probably raise a family and they’ll walk nice and slow down the side walk, side by side, all 4 or 5 of them. They may even hear people in a hurry to catch an approaching train come up behind them but will be unable to register this as something that should prompt them to modify their behavior.

Then their children will have children.

“Be aware of your surroundings” should be a motto in all schools, from pre-K through college. So that a few generations from now, getting around town will not trigger hypertension in others and lead to eventual heart disease. Throw those graduation caps aside, and proudly display your Awareness Badge, man, you’re ready for the world. And the world is actually ready for you. You paid attention in the most important subject and are the better for it.

The cavemen could sense a mastodon miles away. The cavemen would have been  gentlemen on a crowded train.


  1. Yeah, a.k.a. common courtesy. Like when someone in a cross walk is aware that you’re waiting patiently in your car as they cross the street, and they choose the courteous route of puttin’ pep in their step, vs. those that consciously slow down. (BTW: I’m referencing my fellow Californians that take advantage of pedestrian right of way.) Unfortunately we can’t legislate common courtesy Jeff, but I feel you brother.

  2. Great read. I relate very much to the article having to take to take the train from Manhattan to the Bronx every morning. From the person blasting the music at such high decibels that pretty sure there causing hearing damage to themselves to the bum that reeks of urine, booze, and shit. To add insult to injury he lays down takes up a whole bench.

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