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February 10, 2000

I'm not sure if I spent more of the day in Adventureland or Fantasyland, but I'm ready to cash in and drift off to Tomorrowland. A good part of the day was spent on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

It all seemed so simple. I was supposed to be at the insurance agency at 10:00 to pick up some documents, bring them back to my home/office to sign them, then take them to Pak-Mail to send them off for overnight delivery to Sacramento. It was raining, but I don't mind driving in a light rain. There wasn't enough traffic for it to be dangerous.

The insurance agency is in Petaluma, about fifteen miles south of here. I haven't been to this office for a couple of years, but I know I can find it because it's just off the main road, in an industrial park. I get to the building, which looks familiar, and check my watch. I'm exactly on time. But I can't find the company's name on any of the signs, so I drive around the massive parking area looking at every sign I can see. I must have simply gone to the wrong building. Since they all have that similar corporate look, all glass and plants from the outside, it seems logical.

Now that I've been to every building in the park at least twice, it dawns on me that the company might have moved. I would have no way of knowing, since they use a post office box, and it's been so long that they could have moved months ago and just assumed I knew about it.

They don't put many payphones in industrial parks, do they? I guess the folks who frequent those places all have cellular phones. All but me, anyway, so I find a seedy shopping center and use the phone in front of a hardware store. There's no phone book, of course, just the empty plastic cover, still chained securely to the mini-booth. I get the number from information, then push the buttons to connect directly.

Big mistake.

The only options are to pay with a credit card. I thought they'd just ask me to deposit the 35 cents, but I go through all the options on their menu and that isn't one of them. So I hang up, losing the quarter I used to call information, and dial the number. Now they want their 35 cents, but at least it's good for ten minutes.

That's fortunate, since it's taking about that long for the young woman at the reception desk to tell me how to get to her office. Once I'm able to describe where I am, it seems easy from there. Stay on that street, turn right at the second light. They're in the building before the Green Building.

Okay, for the second light to be at the right intersection, you have to be driving the right way on the right street. If, for example, you turn the wrong direction coming out of the shopping center, the second light is likely to put you on the highway toward, say (for example) Sebastopol. That's just wrong. And maybe you have to go a few miles before you realize you're not going to find the Green Building, and maybe you have to go a few more miles before you find a place where you can turn around.

So far, so good. I'm headed back toward Petaluma. If I can find the hardware store in the shopping center again, I think I know which way the agency is from there. That I was so totally wrong the last time makes me that much more certain now.

Wait a minute, this looks like it might be the place she told me to turn. Maybe I don't have to go all the way back to the hardware store. I realize quickly this can't be right, because all the buildings here are green. So how do I get out of this endless loop and back onto the street where I started? Obviously, by driving around in circles, in and out of driveways, until I start to worry someone might think I'm a stalker.

At last, back on a real street, but which way to turn? Well, it doesn't really matter, because whichever way I turn the first time is bound to be the wrong way. It's the law. So I'll find my way back to the starting point one more time and turn the other way. I see the hardware store. Way over there. See it? Now how do I get there? Easy. Turn this way, circle back because it's wrong, and turn the other way.

Still with me?

Miraculously, especially since the rain is now fogging up all my windows, I finally come upon the mysterious second light described to me so eloquently about 45 minutes ago. Yes, there's the Green Building. I just passed it. No place to turn around, so I circle the block and ... oops, almost passed it again. I go into the Green Building's parking lot, turn around there (just once this time), and go back to the next building, the one before the Green Building, the Horse of a Different Color you've heard tell about.

This building has a huge sign, probably visible for miles on a clear day, with the name of the agency in fourteen-point bas relief letters. Must be the place.

"Oh, so you found us," the receptionist says. I decide not to tell her the whole story, just that I took a wrong turn. It wasn't her fault, I say, it was my poor sense of direction.

After I've done my business there, which takes all of about five minutes, I head home, making (can you guess?) a wrong turn coming out of the parking lot and having to go to the dead end of the court and make a U-turn in front of the DMV building. All I want to do now is get back on any street that will point me toward home.

Headed home, at last! I've probably been driving on this road for about five miles now, when I realize I'm heading south instead of north. I don't know what my clue is, or even why I haven't known which way I was going, but when North McDowell suddenly turns into South McDowell, even I am able to make sense of that subtle hint.

Okay, there's an intersection coming up. Two ways I can go, besides straight ahead which I already know is wrong. If I'm going south, then a right turn will take me ... ummm, let's see ... Too late! I had to make a decision before I was ready. The beauty of this last blooper is that either direction will get me home. One way leads to the freeway, which would have been quicker, but the other way, the way I've taken, leads me to Adobe Road. Ha! I used to drive it every day, so I know how to get home from there. I also know, now, how far out of my way I've driven. A forty-minute errand has taken me two and a half hours. This is why they don't let me out of the house very often.

In the end, everything has worked out. I've dispatched the documents to Sacramento on time, and if the UPS truck doesn't overturn somewhere in between, I guess I can call this fiasco a success. Successful fiascos are a particular specialty of mine. You can't make lemonade without breaking a few eggs, as they say.

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