Assuming the worst is not the best assumption

It was too bad to be true, but I should have known that assuming the worst was not the best assumption. I was driving the “other” car, the Saab, on the way back from the METNAV shop around eight in the morning. Since the shop was located in the middle of the three runways, this meant I had to drive across the 18 taxiway, along the white lines painted between the C-141’s, C-130’s, KC-10’s, F-4’s, and sometimes other odds and ends, and then past the Tower, off the flightline, and onto the “surface streets.” As I was coming off a call at around three in the morning, I wasn’t in uniform. For some reason, I hadn’t driven my normal car — a white Jeep — so the folks in the Tower certainly wouldn’t recognize me.

So when the SP flipped his lights on and pulled in behind me, I was worried. Just as the lights came on, I remembered something really important: I had forgotten to put my sticker on the car. You see, to drive on the flightline, you had to have a sticker on your car. There were various colors for the different areas you could gain access to; mine was red, which meant I had access to everything on the flightline other than the red zone and hot spot. But here I was at eight in the morning, after spending five hours putting the glideslope back on the air for the morning’s landing runs, in a plain pair of jeans, a ratty T-Shirt, without a shower, electronics junk and tools strewn in the back seat of the Saab, and no sticker.

As an aside, I’d encountered the SP’s before on the flightline. Several times, in fact. I was once pushed to the ground face first because I’d accidentally crossed the red line. One night a friend and I walked out of the shelter at the localizer to find ourselves staring down the barrels of at least a dozen M16’s. It seems there was a shift change while we were inside working on something, and the outgoing duty officer had forgotten to brief in the oncoming duty officer. Not a happy memory.

Needless to say, then, I was assuming the worst.

I stopped (there is no place to “pull over” on a flightline”), rolled down the window, and waited. The officer walked up to the car, took a look at the back seat, took a look at me, and said, “I just wanted you to know your lights are on. Don’t forget when you park to turn them off. I wouldn’t want you to have to call a tow truck because of a failed battery.” With that, he turned, went back to his car, and drove off.

I’m glad he didn’t give me time to go through all my excuses. On reflection, it would have only made it worse. Of course I had my military ID handy, but just having an ID doesn’t help you if you’re on the flightline without authorization. In fact, it might just make things worse.

Thinking back through my life, I can recall a lot of times that I’ve made things a lot worse by assuming the worst — by making the worst assumption my first, and best, assumption. By assuming the worst about a situation (and about people), I’ve probably made a lot of things a lot worse than they ever needed to be.

Don’t do this.

What I learned that morning, even though my head was foggy, even though I was tired, and even though I had a few hours of paperwork staring me in the face, is this: don’t assume you’re being stopped for doing something wrong. You should allow each person who enters your life at least a neutral frame of reference, if not a positive one. In a court of law, you’re guilty until proven innocent. In real life, if you treat everyone as if they’re guilty, you’re going to make them all act like their guilty.

Sometimes someone just wants to tell you that you left your lights on.