This may sound familiar…
Step into a restaurant and the wheels begin to crank. Immediately 3 sets of eyes find me, I scan through them. Checking hands for threats and weapons and faces for signs of intent. There is a big guy leaning on the bar, looks like he has had few but could still handle himself, a kick to the knee would slow him. There is a back exit and that waiter’s shoe lace is untied, damn civis. There is one guy on my six I can feel him looking over my shoulder but he is just checking out the little girl behind the podium. A TOUCH at my elbow, move move move, no slow down its your girlfriend, breathe, act normal. The waitress will seat you now. Moving into the main room, those walls look solid probably could take a couple rounds good for cover. Haircut on the guy in the back corner with his back to the wall makes me think military or cop, he’ll have a gun if something goes wrong, I will take it from him. There are steak knives on the tables and plenty of bottles. Know from experience a full bottle does more damage, not to mention mythbusters proved it. Steak knives are unbalance bad for throwing but I am not all that good at it anyways. Ah finally at our table. My back is exposed but only to three people, I use my toes to feel the floor shudder when their seats move and I use my girlfriend’s eye reflection to get glimpses of them. The kitchen swinging door bothers me because I can’t see who or what is behind it nor can I tell what is going on in there. The guy at the table across from us is pissed, his eyebrows are down and he stabs his food and cuts angrily glaring at the woman across from him, If he moves fast and doesn’t stand up I could boot him in the ear, before it goes wrong, if he does stand kick the back of the chair take his knees out chop at the throat shouldn’t be a threat. Back window best exit, my steak knife first weapon, shiner beer bottle secondary, hard wooden chair good for defense. She looks at me, can tell I am scanning the room, I stare at the menu, try not to think about it. But the wheels continue to spin.
Sound familiar? Lets talk about what you can do with this. The process of threat assessment, analysis, and role play is built into us at this point. If you don’t think you do it to that extreme you still do it even if its subconscious. It makes you anxious, angry, and distant to anyone who is with you. Your brain is processing so much information in a crowded restaurant and your body stressor mechanics are in freak out mode. This process of breaking down a room isn’t just for people with PTSD, I would venture a guess that just about anybody that did anytime in Iraq or Afghanistan outside the wire does it. I bet Vietnam and WWII veterans still do it. You are in a confined place with a large number of unknown people speaking and moving in different directions. Its the perfect place for anybody who’s life once depended on being able to break down minute details on peoples’ faces or how their body language read, to freak completely the hell out in. So what do you do? You make it more efficient. Thats right, I said more efficient. You practice making it a secondary thought process that only requires a few sweeps every 30 seconds or so. This allows you to relax and eat or to engage in conversation with others, or just be able to sit in a crowded room and not sweat.
We can do this by prioritizing what we look for and then setting them in our heads as variables or constants. Constants- exits, floor patterns, wait staff, tables, chairs, and most of the stuff on the tables like knives, bottles, so for the most part weapons are a constant. The variables are the people cruising through the restaurant. The way I do it now is like how most people scan their mirrors when they drive. Its second nature and everything is fine until that mini cooper pops up in the very tip of my mirror and causes me to glance over my shoulder. Same concept, do a focused sweep when you come in the door, as you walk to the table and when you first sit down. Get your exit paths and most likely weapons you would use. Then scan the room for anything that might look like trouble. If you catch a guy that looks like a problem mental note to break his knees and keep scanning. Then every 30 seconds or so look up sweep subtly with your eyes, note any major changes or anything out of place go back to chow or conversation or beer. At first this is rough and it doesn’t work well, eventually with practice you get damn good at it. It will make you more relaxed because you have a system and will also allow you to not look like a sociopath as you mean mug every person in the building. Give it a shot, develop your system, and start out small. I started out working the kinks out of my system in a small bar and then built up to standing in the middle of a busy shopping mall. Let me know how it works or other ways you have conquered the crowded room.