SOUTH OF SOMEWHERE – If I take a right at the next intersection, then a left and another left, I will be, uh, a bit left and right of where I am now, wherever that is. The main thing is not to get killed in an auto wreck here. My family will gather around my cardboard casket – I’m not big into fancy funerals – and ask one another: “What was he doing in Mexia? And why the ‘I Break for Cajuns’ bumper sticker?”
“Beats me. He was going to get his car washed.”
This is a variation of the old line about when you’re up to your rump in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your initial plan was to drain the swamp. My saga began when I decided to get my car washed, which was near the drop-off place run by the Sisters of Unneeded Stuff. So I loaded up my car with a dial telephone, a lamp that would turn on but not off, some books that didn’t quite make the best-seller list (“Peace and War,” “Moby Duck” and “Dial N for Nurder”) and my worn-out polyester leisure suits that my wife will no longer let me wear outside.
First stop, the charities. But the gate is closed so I have to go around to the side entrance. It is a good feeling to give those less fortunate some junk I don’t need, and the gifts can be deducted from my taxes. “Hi, I’ve brought a few cherished family heirlooms that I part with under great sorrow.” The attendant looks in my back seat. “Are you the same guy who tried to drop off five VCRs and a manual typewriter last week?”
“I still have them if you’ve changed your mind.” He shakes his head, walks back inside the building and locks the door. I take that as a no. Do you know the feeling of being rejected by an organization that accepts used fountain pens and pet rocks? Off to get my car washed, when I suddenly remember that I have a coupon from a tobacco shop, the Topic of Cancer, which is nearby. The address on the coupon is given as 55555 Westheimer, Suite 123. Just go down two blocks, so I am driving along Westheimer, which is quite busy, looking for the 50000 block. There are signs on both sides of the street, touting everything from tattoo parlors to gypsy fortune tellers. It is hard to drive, text, drink, eat and check for addresses at the same time.
I see signs, arrows, blinking neon lights and signs on stores selling signs, but no addresses. Apparently there is a city ordinance against posting addresses. How do firefighters, EMS drivers and cops find the site of an emergency? “911, there’s a big fire here at Smokey’s Fire Hose Shop, and don’t make jokes. It’s at 000 Westheimer. No, we don’t have a number out front. This is a very exclusive establishment – our hoses only shoot Perrier — so we have an unlisted address. Just look for smoke pouring out of our shop. Uh, and the shop next to us. Maybe two more.”
As Yogi Berra’s wife said when they were driving in the country: “Yogi, we’re lost.” Yogi replied, “Yeah, but we’re making great time.” I drive, stop, signal, turn left and right simply trying to run a few errands in a big city, and can’t. There are orange barrels in my lane, forcing me to stop, turn left then attempt to get back on Westheimer. “Dead end” reads a sign. Someone is honking at me. Smarter than most people, I get off Westheimer and go north, thence to cut around and. Wait. This is one way and I am going the wrong way.
It is a historical fact that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated only because their driver took a wrong turn in Sarajevo, had to stop and back up, which gave Gavrilo Princip the chance to shoot them. The assassinations caused World War I. Sarajevo must have had a no-sign ordinance. Don’t be smug. You, too, have also been lost. You ate your boots and drank possum urine. But in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot? I could have just called Uber and let a driver spirit me to my destination, but they couldn’t make bond. My car is equipped with one of those Global Positioning Systems, but the last time I used it I ended by parked backwards in my garage. Now I am passed by a car driven by a crash dummy.
I take the entrance ramp to the freeway to go around the construction sites but – as you well know – if you miss the off-ramp you just keep driving until you find an exit, which is in the next state. I spot an off-ramp and try to take it, but a convoy of Peterbilts prevents me from getting off the freeway. My first hint that I am not moving close to my destination is when the Border Patrol asks to see my passport. Somewhere around here is the car wash place, but by now I am so exhausted by this destruction derby that I’ll just wait for the next rain or for one of those high school car wash fund-raisers put on by bikini-clad cheerleaders.
If my wife were here, she’d say, “Ask for directions.” That’s such a wussie thing to do. Did John Wayne ask for directions to the Alamo or to the peak of Iwo Jima? (Actually, maybe if he had he would have lived.) OK, I give up and pull into a parking lot at a shopping center on the corner of First and Not First Streets, and call the Topic of Cancer for directions. “We’re in a shopping center on the corner of First and Not First Streets. But we’re closed because of a fire next door at a fire hose shop.” Close, but no cigar.
Ashby is lost at firstname.lastname@example.org