The Lewis and Clark of Big Lots

My dear friend Austin could get lost in a department store dressing room. To his credit, many of the short cuts I now use around Pittsburgh were because Austin had once gotten lost there, and had charted an unexpected path back to civilization...

Or, say, Target.

But one day, Austin got lost big-time... And he took half the traffic of Route 30 with him.

It was a sunny summer day, and Austin was driving back from teaching karate class. There, his young students learned Karate Lite and looked up to my friend as a powerful mystical ninja master. And not just some dude who didn't know north from North Versailles.

Music playing, and having smoothly answered his students' questions about pinwheel kicks to the neck and such, Austin was pleasantly tired and feeling good about life in general.

And then he heard the multi-car accident just a few cars ahead.

Now, Route 30 is a busy four-laner, and this accident blocked two lanes. In no time, the local police had swept in... lights swirling, sirens a-blaring, tazers prepped for tazing, megaphones for, er, megaphoning... And they contained the area, in only the way Pittsburgh police truly can...

Meaning, they saw it was a great time to exercise all that authority and equipment that had been sitting around dusty for a while...

Taxpayer dollars at work, you know.

So they put on their stern faces, because clearly we're all guilty of something here, and they motioned the two undamaged cars ahead of Austin, out of the way of their work.

This meant there was now the accident scene... And Austin, lead car in the lineup of an increasingly long line of cars.

Well, the traffic sat there a while. And Austin, laid-back soul that he is, had zoned out contentedly in the sunshine, as his tunes played.

So he was somewhat jarred when the stern sunglassed face of an officer appeared at his window, and spoke.

Austin rolled down the window. "Pardon?"

Only the words of the officer were not clearer for repetition. This officer was a mumbler of the highest caliber. And Austin, aware there were marble busts with softer, kinder features than this cop, decided it was best not to push his luck and ask the officer to repeat himself again.

No, Austin decided to go by the cop's body language, instead. Which had pointed off the road and into the Big Lots parking lot.

The Big Lots parking lot has two exits. And what Austin gleaned well after the fact was that the officer had wanted him to pull into the parking lot, circumnavigate the accident, and take the second exit back onto the road.

The key words here are "Well After the Fact."

Because Austin pulled into the strip mall parking lot... and then just kept going. Yes, our Austin had the idea that perhaps the officer knew of some other exit behind the Big Lots building...

And so he pursued this course with dogged ambition, missing the exit entirely, and instead swept around the building and back to a dead-end alley lined with dumpsters.

All of this would have been fine. Only the officer had also waved the 50 cars that had been backed up, to follow the lead car. Y'know: Austin.

It was somewhere about the time that Austin tried to get his car in reverse when he noticed-- for the first time, in his rearview-- the long line of cars snaking behind him. Yes, his fellow travelers had turned to him as the Great Trailblazer, leading them all to the Promised Land of New Farvignugen.

So in under three minutes, all of westbound Route 30 was gridlocked in the Big Lots parking lot, several of those cars now attempting to k-turn with Austin, amid garbage, back behind the store.

Not to be deterred, Austin assumed this unwanted leadership position and decided he'd better at least look like he knew what he was doing. They were depending on him, after all. And in a panic of trial-and-error, he now shot off in the exact opposite direction toward Dick's Sporting Goods.

And 50 cars trailed along to Dick's Sporting Goods, too.

It was somewhere at this point that Austin recalled, oh! He'd actually wanted something in this store, hadn't he? What luck! And so he parked. And thought he'd get out to run a few errands.

And that's when other drivers got the idea that maybe Austin's plan was not so much for them.

As he stepped from the car, he was yet again startled to see people in minivans and SUVs, Accords and Camrys, spread out higglety-piggelty across the strip mall parking lot, scratching their heads and wondering how things had gone so very wrong in such a small space and short time.

Austin, told us later that he'd felt the drivers pretty much got what they deserved, for relying on a stranger's critical thinking skills, when he knew very well he couldn't find his way out of a sealed Zip-loc baggie.

And now, every time I pass that strip mall, I find my own thoughts drifting to my fine friend Austin.... The good-natured, bewildered soul who wanted nothing more than a short cut and new jogging shoes... Some sunshine and a little music...

And instead gave his fellow travelers a behind-the-scenes tour that they were not soon likely to forget.


And today's question- How's your sense of direction? Or is GPS your best bud?



Sher said...

...and that, my friends, is how the "monkey see, monkey do" adage was born. LOL! Austin and I could be related.

Jenn Thorson said...

Sher- Heh, oh no, ya mean you made all your neighbors drive around a strip mall? What are the odds! :) (snicker)

Anonymous said...

Funny, my sister-in-law is exactly the same. We don't let her drive anymore.

Sher said...

I haven't done that (yet); but I get lost easily enough. I've had trouble re-finding the exit to a strip mall. An old friend of mine from HS once told me taking a trip with me wasn't a pleasure, it was a sport.

Lisa (Jonny's Mommy) said...

This is great! It sounds like something one of my friends would do. She is so much like Austin. They should have gotten married, but then both of them probably would have got lost on their way to church and ended up at Big Lots again or something.

Jenn Thorson said...

FreetheUnicorn- Heh, do you knock her down and take her keys, or tactfully suggest using someone else's car?

Sher- Oh wow-- note to self, never drive with Sher. :)

Lisa- I can't even imagine they'd survive that long. They'd end up over an embankment or something. It's just too much directional challenge in one car.

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

Austin sounds like he's be a riot on a date.

Oddly, I have have a wonderful sense of direction but struggle with right and left.

Jenn Thorson said...

Meg- He told the original story way better than I ever did. I was pretty much on the floor, because I KNEW no good could come from the set-up.

You've got to admire a person who knows what their quirks are and can relay them in a good story, as he could.

PS, I like the new avatar!

Da Old Man said...

Austin could be the Moses of Pittsburgh.

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- Great. Now I just envision him stepping up to the Monogohela River and shouting, "Part!" :)

Shawn said...

LMAO! I pretty much get lost going to the mailbox, so I can definitely relate to Austin.

Almost this exact thing happened to me just a couple of weeks ago, in fact, except I was following a car who I figured was turning off the highway on to the Interstate exit. I followed him up the ramp-that-was-not-a-ramp, down a dirt road, back on to a side street, and we arrived safely back on the highway, a mere block from where we'd just turned off.

Jenn Thorson said...

Shawn- Oh wow, that IS funny... Maybe you were following Austin. He doesn't live here in Pittsburgh anymore. :)

Melanie said...

LOL! I can just see Austin. I would be the twelfth car behind him going "what is that @##$% doing?!!"

I can find my way home from ANYWHERE, but sometimes I tend to make my passengers a little nervous. Especially if it involves shifting into four wheel drive.

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- Heh, I suspected a few folks might have been saying something similar that day... particularly after he parked. :)

So, with your offroad... do you go up over other cars like a monster truck rally? :)

Kathy said...

Oh, poor Austin and me. Cut from the same cloth. I probably shouldn't have read this story so close to my own wayward trip I'm about to take. If this happens to me, I'll just allow my GPS to recalculate to her heart's content until I get back on a road again. Any road. As long as it doesn't lead to a parking lot.

ReformingGeek said...

Yeah. That would be more. I'm more notorious for now seeing the way OUT of shopping complexes! I like his idea of going into the store. Make sense to me.

feefifoto said...

I believe that it's not a failure of direction as much as an overabundance of goofballness. I have an excellent sense of direction, yet I could sooo see myself (mis)leading the same sort of parade. Once I took what I assumed was a shortcut in a mall parking lot and ended up backing out of a below-ground loading dock that was flooded because of all the rain we'd been having. In a situation like that it's best just to pretend you're someone else and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Anonymous said...

I so needed to laugh today... thanks

Chris said...

Amazing how quickly we become dependent on new technology. I have gone off not having any idea where I was going, depending entirely on my GPS. Thank goodness she's dependable.

Jenn Thorson said...

Kathy- Well, while I admit your concerns about getting lost were what reminded me of the tale, I really don't think it's an omen. Besides, I'll probably get lost at least once, too. It will make for a good blog post later.

ReformingGeek- Austin would have appreciated the support for his decisions, I think. :)

FeeFiFoto- A certain goofballness as you say probably were some of the extenuating factors on it. Wow-- a below ground loading dock-- now that would have freaked me out!

Soapboxes- Glad to oblige!

Chris- Yes, because with your GPS lady, at least you know she's got a birds-eye view of the situation.

JD at I Do Things said...

HA! I'm surprised at least one of those other drivers didn't yell something at Austin. Or get out and follow him into Dick's.

Jenn Thorson said...

JD- Well, I can't say for sure they didn't, since the tale itself came from Austin. They may very well have been shouting and honking and he didn't notice. :)

jay said...

Hahaha! I'm with Austin - it was their fault for following him blindly! LOL!

But I think, for future reference you know, that when a policeman is talking directly to you, and making it clear he is expecting something back, this is Not A Time For Guessing Games. It's best to embarrass yourself briefly and ask for clarification. As many times as necessary!

chyna said...

Does Austin have GPS? DH's cousin has one outside of San fran and she still gets lost. No idea how that happens but it makes her a nervous wreck.

Dh also gets lost but we prefer to just refer to them as adventures. You see some interesting parts of cities when get lost. LOL

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- Well, having encountered our police here, I can see why he didn't want to ask twice about the instructions-- they can be really intimidating here, and quite impatient, depending on who you're dealing with. I sort of understand why he decided to wing it.

Chyna- He may now, but he didn't then. I imagine it would have helped quite a bit, but then you said it doesn't help your cousin-in-law, so maybe I'm wrong.

Jessie said...

Aww poor Austin.He sounds like a fun fellow,though.

And as for my sense of direction,I dont know.I dont drive yet ^^.
But the i mean,the moms,has gotten lost on three continents,every state shes been in,and can get lost going to Kroger.
So yea,she doestn us on vacations much anyre

Jenn Thorson said...

Jessie- Yep, Austin's a lot of fun-- even when he isn't circumnavigating the parking lot.

Don't let your mom teach you to drive, Jessie. I know this from experience. Get driving lessons from someone who is not family. Things get ugly. This is one bit of wisdom I can impart to you. :) Learn from my pain.

Jessie said...

Oh dear..someting tells me that when you learned to drive there was perhaps a little bloodshed?tears? ripped upholstery?