Let’s talk about doors.
Years ago, a shop in old Montreal provided the setting for a rather awkward incident. The space was designed in such a way that, from inside, the entry way sat between two sections of floor that advanced beyond the door, extending to the street and ending with large bay windows. After touring the store, a visitor instinctively walked toward one of these windows thinking it was the exit since it reached all the way to the street. When he discovered that it was not, he backed away and tried the other bay window, on the other side of the door. When that did not work, panic began to show on his face. By then, it seems, his brain was so certain that the “large, clear opening facing the street” had to be the way out that he could not see the actual door.
On another occasion, I lived across from a gift shop that was hardly ever open. From my couch, where I often sat to read, I witnessed countless people stop by. Regardless of their apparent cultural background, one after another the visitors tried the door, peeped in a window (though the interior was clearly dark), tried the door again, but with a different technique, tried to see through another window, tried the door one more time (perhaps the latch sticks!) and stood there questioning each other about the situation before finally giving up. Nearby businesses were open, so it only made sense to expect an open door, as though “open” were a state of being that should apply to all contiguous dwellings.
More recently, the most puzzling expression of confusion played out at the door of a restaurant. This establishment sits right on the street. Every single parking space associated with it and located inches from its front porch was occupied. The “open” flag danced in the wind, quite visibly. Cars filled every possible space on each side of the street. Lights were on in both front bay windows and diners sat inches from the window pane. Two motorcycle riders stopped next to the parked cars and porch and began the tedious process of removing all unnecessary equipment and garment. Upon reaching the door, one individual happened to notice the one small detail that changed the course of their day.
You see, a small sign posted on the door informs visitors that the establishment is normally closed on Mondays. However, this particular Monday was an exception. We are obedient creatures. Closed means closed. End of story. The hungry traveler did not set one finger on the door, nor could she take in the whole picture at that point. After her mind had received its orders, she respectfully stepped away to return to her partner and announce the “truth” of the situation. Both stood only a few feet from the inside activity as they began to restore each layer of riding gear, having plenty of time to notice the error.
You might question why I did not offer to enlighten such kind, hungry visitors. I was certain they would notice the error at any moment. Perhaps there is a reason the theater industry makes deliberate use of stage entrances and exits. Most of us are capable of sometimes comical and sometimes awkward behaviors, though unintended, that often turn out to be nothing more than our automatic response to conditioning. Do you remember ever nearly forgetting to reach for a knob after you had effortlessly walked through automatic doors all day? Now, this is one theatrical entrance I miss every time!