Living Smarter

By Ron Ciancutti

The manager at the restaurant I worked at through college offered me some extra hours one weekend.

“Come in around 5 a.m., and we’ll clean out the walk-in refrigerators and coolers. I’ll give you $50 if you give me four hours of work.”

I needed the money and 50 bucks was a nice bonus in 1983. On that morning, we met out front as she fumbled with the keys and opened the door. The air rushed past as she entered the restaurant, and just as I started to follow her in, she froze and then put her finger to her lips to indicate the need for silence.

She backed out of the building, saying loudly, “Oh, my gosh! I left the coffee pot on at home. I’ll have to come back later.”

As we rounded the corner, she whispered, “Shhh, don’t move.”

I watched as she coolly got into her car and pulled around to the back alley. She parked the car close to the curb with the passenger side against the restaurant’s back door. Closing the car door quietly, she led me across the street to a bakery. She asked to use the phone and called the police, reporting that someone had broken into the restaurant and was still inside.

The police arrived quickly and used her key to enter the front door. Sure enough, the intruders tried to go out the back, where the car completely blocked their escape. After a few minutes the police arrested the suspects.

The men, with guns and criminal records, were foiled by all 4 feet 11 inches of my 20-somethingg manager. Having obtained her restaurant training and savvy in New York and Chicago, she didn’t panic, and in a flash, thought her way through the crisis from beginning to end.

I was so impressed. As the squad car drove away, she said, “OK, let’s get to work. We lost an hour.”

That statement alone was a testament to her self-reliance and efficiency. It was all just business to her -- business she could handle just fine, thank you very much.

As we worked later that day, I asked how she knew there were men inside.

“The air smelled different and the temperature was not typical. I knew I locked up last night and didn’t leave any windows open, so the only way the air would have been cooler is if a window or door had been opened. Once I felt the temperature, I smelled the difference in the air, which was a mix of cologne, sweat and musty clothes -- that’s how I knew there were still people inside.”

I had to hand it to her -- that was a nifty bit of police work, and it got me thinking about how to live more defensively, or better yet, more aware.

A Sixth Sense
As a child in the 1970s, I recall my friends and I were enthralled by the silent power of David Carradine in the TV series Kung Fu. What was so admirable was his quiet manner and cool delivery of lines, along with slippery karate moves that were essentially simple dodges and feints. His character had a complete awareness of everything around him. Often he would utilize that “enlightenment” in combat.

For instance, in a fight with several villains, he would cut a rope holding a chandelier that then would drop on the bad guys 20 feet away.

A modern-day, less-violent example of this “sense” might involve a mother of two or three kids at a restaurant. She moves the children’s chocolate milk cups around the table like chess pieces, knowing that little arms flail around as kids talk and laugh, getting up or sitting down constantly. She has a sense of constant preparedness and awareness.

To that end, here are some precautionary measures I try to practice:

• As I am sitting down in a restaurant, I look for the “exit” signs. It’s not paranoia or pessimism, but I have a family that I love and want to protect. In an emergency, my knowing where to go gives me added security. I do the same on busses, rapid-transit trains, stores, etc.

• When approaching my car in a crowded parking lot, I have my car key ready. As soon as I get in, I lock the doors, start the engine, and depart as quickly and efficiently as possible.

• At a drive-up ATM, I make certain the doors are locked and the radio is off so I can hear any sounds around me. Before I begin the transaction, I always check the rearview mirror to see if anyone is behind me. Someone may be impatient or irritable, or perhaps there’s a carload of guys with the radio blasting that might become a problem. If I get any bad vibes, I move to another ATM or to let them “play through.” I can always come back later.

• When someone knocks on my door at home, my two large dogs bark. Once they recognize who is knocking, the dogs stop. A thief might think twice about entering a home where dogs are growling and barking on the other side of the door. And don’t go to great lengths to tell mailmen and delivery men, “Oh, he won’t hurt you, he’s really just loud.” It’s OK if people think you have a protective dog. The word will pass along, and people will take notice.

• Although I don’t participate in social-network sites, I do encourage others to think about whether they really need all of those sites in their life. Do they have any idea how many people unknowingly give critical information away? For example, a woman’s photo is displayed on the site with the beautiful dress she wore on New Year’s Eve, along with her beautiful, expensive jewelry. Now, in random, posted conversations, she tells the world that someone close to her has passed away, and she doesn’t know how she’ll get through the funeral and the sadness. Some unscrupulous person sees the site and says, “Wow, I bet Gladys has lots more of that gold in her jewelry box; plus she’ll be at that funeral all day on Friday. Her profile says she’s a widow and she lives just minutes from the library -- I could find that place.” C’mon, everyone, is a revelation of your privacy worth hooking up with an old high-school flame? I think not.

We can approach life in a number of ways. We can lament that being aware and cautious is too much responsibility, and we had rather be carefree and let the life chips fall where they may. But I think the real answer is somewhere in the middle. I simply call it living “smarter.”

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at