This time of the year, I think of the advice St. Augustine’s then-Police Chief Virgil Stuart gave me before I went off to work in the big city of Jacksonville to a job that had required night work.

It was simply, “Be aware of your surroundings.” He knew that my enthusiasm for being a reporter in a big city and paying attention to every detail for a news story might outweigh concerns for personal safety on the job, especially at night. Common sense prevailed just as it does today.

And this time of year, with the rush to get holiday shopping done and the temptation to do it at night, I can hear Chief’s words as I leave the house. I appreciate that more stores have parking lots lighted as bright as football fields. When I must be out shopping at night, I look for those places with those bright lights, and for parking spaces close to the store’s front door.

I don’t know anyone who takes risks but there are times when I see people unknowingly taking them when shopping overtakes their thoughts. One is at a mall. We all have seen this. The shopper with multiple places to go who shops a store and then takes them to the vehicle so they are not lugged through the mall. Smart move, but then the person puts them in their back seat where they are still visible to anyone walking by. If you do that and you never have a problem, you are indeed fortunate.

The other issue is the person who puts their purse in that basket and forgets to zip it and/or not tie it to the cart with the straps. They are not just for kid safety. Strap your purse in.

And above all, keep an eye on the cart when you do that. It’s better to lug the purse through the store on your arm or shoulder than to turn away for a few seconds and find your money gone in a flash.

Better yet, leave the bulky purse at home and opt for smaller one on a shoulder strap and wear it crisscross your body and don’t carry more than you need: wallet, keys and small note pad and writing tool. Or carry your wallet, keys and phone in your front pockets.

Don’t let strangers distract you from your stuff with their idle conversation about an item. They may be the distraction for their partner in crime.

And lastly, be sure someone else knows where you are going and for how long. If you change your shopping plans for that trip, give them a heads up. Have a mid-shopping check-in time, too. Night traffic anywhere is more intense than ever before.

Use common sense. Enjoy shopping but always be aware of your surroundings.


Margo C. Pope was associated with The St. Augustine Record for 24 years, retiring in 2012 as The Record’s editorial page editor.