There is nothing more prosaic than a morning commute. Usually, I take residential streets instead of the freeway. The reason? I never like how highway traffic can drop from 70 to 15 mph. I don’t like how my ETA can range from 15 minutes early to 20 minutes late. Mostly, I don’t like paying attention. Instead, when I turn the car key, most of my decisions have already been made. I take 50th and head west until it turns into Vernon. Vernon wanders into Lincoln, which runs parallel with Highway 169. Once I reach Londonderry, I go over the bridge where my office is only a few blocks away.
For a time this is what I did every day except for one. While driving along Lincoln I saw a long yellow ribbon stretch across the entrance of a strip mall. And as I moved down the road, the thin ribbon followed alongside and continued through the intersection at Londonderry.
Behind the yellow tape sat a police car, its flickering red and blue lights illuminating the predawn sky.
Later I would be told the intersection, the bridge and the parking lot were part of some sprawling crime scene that started out as a car chase and ended in a hail of bullets. But at the moment, I sat frozen in front of the fluttering yellow tape that acted like a velvet rope between me and my job. I needed to take the bridge because that’s what I did every morning. My God, didn’t the police officer know this?
The cop became annoyed by my loitering and rolled down his window to wave me on. All I could do was stare back, blankly. Besides the bridge there was no simple way to reach my office. At that moment I did not know what to do.
There are so many daily tasks we complete without even realizing that we are making decisions. Breathing is one. Walking down the street, buttoning a shirt, making a bed. We don’t stand in front of a mirror with a brush in our hand and say, “Okay, how does this work?” Default decisions are helpful for they free us from the mundane.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” Obama explained to Michael Lewis of Vanity Fair. “I’m trying to pare down decisions.” (Lewis, 2012)
When David Lynch was creating the television show Twin Peaks, he went to a Big Boy every day and ordered the same hamburger meal. In the movie Miss Sloane Jessica Chastain plays a Washington lobbyist who must think eight steps ahead of her opponents. In order do this she spends her evenings at the same Chinese restaurant.
We need default decisions just to make it through the day and some move beyond dressing and dining. We go with our neighbor’s contractor for we have no time to research one on our own; we pick the auto mechanic who is down the street; we send our kids to a charter school. There are many situations where we turn over the reins to the “experts” for we just want them to take care of it. It may be convenient but it might not be the best approach.
Economics Professor Noreena Hertz became so frustrated with conflicting medical advice when it came to her mysterious illness she decided to research how her options could be so varied. What she found? Doctors were far from infallible. “Physicians do get things wrong,” she wrote. (Hertz, 2013) “Studies have shown that up to one in five patients are misdiagnosed. In the United States and Canada its estimated 50,000 hospital deaths could have been prevented if the real cause of the illness had been correctly identified.”
I’ve had good luck when it comes to my health, but there was a time when I routinely took an older car to a mechanic. Usually, I defaulted to the closest shop, but I also asked the mechanic to not only explain to me what he did but show me as well so I could be better informed for future decisions.
One time the mechanic popped the hood to show me where he installed a new radiator and laying on the engine block next to the new radiator was a misplaced wrench the size of a small baseball bat.
“That’s where it went,” the mechanic nervously joked as he picked up the wrench and tried to hide it behind his back.
It never hurts to ask…
It never hurts to prepare…