I spent an hour with sixty people lost on a tour bus.
The wind-up to this spiritual Armageddon was actually something bordering on euphoria. My company had generously sponsored a night out for all conference attendees. And it was not some rent-out-Olive-Garden type of breadstick bonanza. This was the real deal. They rented out the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium for a grown-up's evening of make-pretend:
- when we arrived our images were projected on the world's largest television screen that dominates mid-field (I wore a paper bag over my head and crawled in on my back, but I heard it was cool);
- there was a huge bar-b-que buffet (I don't understand the fascination with bar-b-que but I couldn't get anyone to explain it to me because they were all brow-deep in sauce);
- Emmitt Smith spoke to the crowd about his Super Bowl rings and Dancing With The Stars trophy (the fact he puts those two things in the same speech prompted me to sell my Emmitt Smith trading cards);
- the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders performed (yes, I was embarrassed when they asked me to join them but no, my high-kick did not disappoint); and
- there was a pass, punt, catch competition (I don't want to brag. Nailed it!).
As I approached the door to my chariot, I overheard a disturbing conversation. The driver of my particular bus was in deep consultation with one of the event coordinators on the subject of...directions. To wit, the driver charged with delivering us from point A to point B wasn't exactly clear on where point B was, or on how to get there. The event planner was obliging with seemingly detailed, turn-by-turn instructions, complete with lots of hand-waving and finger-diagramming. As the driver appeared to have the faculty of hearing, seemed to at least understand the English language, and presumably was from the area, I told myself all would be fine and we would arrive safely at our destination.
But they must have laced the cornbread, because my decision-making capabilities were WAY OFF.
Just exiting the stadium took about ten minutes, and I think our bus clipped some of the poor catering staff on the way out. When we finally saw the friendly lights of convenience stores and fast-food restaurants again, I knew we'd made it out and were back in the charming embrace of northeast Texas. The highway our driver navigated us onto looked familiar, and the nagging voice in the back of my head that had been channeling worrying thoughts started to pipe down.
Soon, though, my lullaby was interrupted by a ferocious sight. The driver had slowed the bus to a snail's pace and was doing something I'd never seen done to a tour bus: he managed to get it to shake its head like a dog sniffing out the right trail home. Back and forth and back and forth - highway or exit, highway or exit? The driver finally opted for the exit, but I quickly realized that was only because he thought the lights above the toll booths were pretty.
So now we were on some road running parallel to the highway, high-fiving all the folks strutting in for a late-night snack at Chili's, Waffle House, and/or Taco Bell.
By now we'd been on the bus for about 30 minutes. The entire ride back should have taken 15. We'd seen the same line up of fast food restaurants so many times that I had already developed heart disease and diabetes. Things were going downhill, fast.
I was sitting towards the front of the bus, so I heard it when one of my fellow doubters tremulously asked the driver if he knew where he was going. The driver had the nerve to admit:
"Not really, but I think something will start to look familiar."
Oh really, Wendy? Why did Peter Pan have to pick THIS bus to find his damned shadow? Mr. Driver, you do know that the instruction "sixth strip mall to the right and straight on 'til morning" is not a MapQuest-approved direction? MOMMMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!
We finally exited Bowel Barrier Boulevard, only to end up in residential development after residential development. Round and round the cul-de-sacs we went. I think I heard the driver say "weeeeeeee!" at one point, but that might have been the sound I made when I leapt off my seat to assume the fetal position on the floor.
In case it's not already clear, here is why this whole series of non-events drove me bonkers. First, I hate being lost. It necessarily means that you are wasting time and behind schedule. It also means that you either didn't plan well enough, or you screwed up your pristine plans with some unidentified misstep that you must now identify so as to right your wrong. Second, worse than being lost is being lost on someone else's watch. In this case, I was not driving and could not drive the bus, so I had to leave it to the knuckle-head up front to figure his way out of the mess. The same guy who goes into the night knowing he has to ferry dozens of people from a nationally recognized sporting venue to one of the world's largest conference centers, but who couldn't identify either one on a to-scale map and nevertheless figures he'll just wing it. Third, I feel like ants are crawling all over me when I think about the dunces at the bus company that didn't think about sending their A-team out for this job. And by A-team, I mean people that know the difference between "highway" and "paper route."
So here is what I did. I prayed to Steve Jobs and asked him for guidance. He told me to whip out my Genius Phone, plot where we were in relation to where we had to go, and baby-step the driver there. And that's what I did.
When we arrived, the driver turned to me and thanked me. Then he had another doozy of a confession. He told me that he'd never had any idea where he was supposed to have been going, and that the directions from the event planner back at the stadium had never really "clicked." I had no response to that other than to punch him in the face.
I do hope, though, that someone or some phone was waiting for him when he got home to help him with the rest of his night - the unlocking of his front door, the removing of his shoes, the brushing of his teeth, etc.
Several psychiatrists, a couple of blood thinners, and one Long Island Iced Tea later, I've moved past the trauma of that night. On the bright side, my daughter was thrilled when I told her about my adventure with a real life Disney character.