Lost in the Neighborhood

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In the days when I first became the proud owner of a cell phone, albeit one without all the computerized apps now so readily available, I was working as a bilingual administrative assistant for a technical company. One day, out of the blue, my boss asked me to deliver a set of machine parts to an automotive plant in a neighboring suburb.  

And did I ever! 

Taking into account that I had been living in the area for years, I should have had little difficulty to know where I was going. Not only had I frequented shops, restaurants, and movie theaters, as well as occupied space in a huge hospital along that designated route, I had also crisscrossed the surroundings for a variety of other reasons.

But on that particular day, I had trouble getting oriented – and suddenly it turned into a real challenge to find the place I was supposed to visit. Still, I kept on driving along a familiar major artery, hoping to soon recognize some of the crossroads as well. However, the side streets branching off here and there meant absolutely nothing to me. 

So, I retrieved my new cell phone and dialed the designated plant’s number. 

Moments later, a man’s baritone spouted an assortment of directions that I could barely understand and even less comprehend. After the call ended, I desperately tried to figure out what to do next. Then, spotting a gas station, I promptly pulled in to ask for clarification. 

The young man behind the cash register politely muttered a few store and street names while pointing alternately left and right, before making a sweeping, circular motion which I took to indicate some important turn I was supposed to make. Although his well-meaning gestures had me now even more confused, I didn’t have the courage to admit that I still had no idea where to go. 

I climbed back into my car, swallowed my pride, and called the plant once more.

This time a lady answered, and I was greatly relieved not having to talk again to the same man who had previously given me those incomprehensible instructions. 

Unfortunately, just like her male colleague and that gas station attendant as well, she bombarded me with a colorful kaleidoscope of geographic descriptions. When I finally read off the names of two road signs I was passing, she advised me to turn left at the next intersection, then circle around a drugstore into the parking lot of a bowling alley that was adjacent to the plant in question.    

Hanging up, I sighed. It seemed to me that these locals, knowing every nook and cranny of their childhood territory simply couldn’t grasp an outsider’s mindset.

Just to make sure I was now actually on the right track, I dialed the plant’s number again, this time asking to be connected with someone in charge of customer service. At this point, I really didn’t care if I made a fool of myself. 

When once again a female answered, I immediately confessed to how confused and frustrated, and still lost, I was—my voice rising from a screechy wail to a high pitch.

“Calm down, calm down,” the woman cautioned. “You just calm down already.” 

I sobered. “Okay, I will, I’ll try.” 

After she confirmed what I had just been told moments before, I continued on with confidence, and soon I spotted the marquee of the very plant I was seeking.  

I pulled to the curb, jumped from the car, and ran into the lobby.

“Can anyone here help me?” I called out. “I’m kind of lost at the moment. Actually, I’ve been more than a bit lost for a quite while—and I really need to get to your shipping dock.”

The two middle-aged fellows lingering near the front desk looked at me, then broke into grins.

“What to you need to do there?” one of them asked. 

“To drop off some parts.”

“And where are you from?”

I told him the name of my employer. 

“No,” he said. “I meant, where do you come from?”

I mentioned my company’s location. 

“No, no, no.” He shook his gray-streaked, blond mop. “Where are YOU from?”

When I hesitated, thinking that my home address was really none of his business, he suddenly repeated his question in German. 

“Oh, my accent, huh?” I stared at him. “I am originally from Germany. You, too?”

“No, I’m not. But during my time in the service, I was stationed near Frankfurt. That’s where I met my wife—who was German.”

“Was?” I stammered, suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable and wondering if it may be appropriate to offer some condolences. 

That’s when he bailed me out. “She still is, but she’s now my ex-wife. We’re divorced.” He paused, before looking at me kind of lopsided. “Am I correct in assuming you married an American?”   

Relieved, I nodded. “Yes, I did — although we are also no longer an item.”

“Hm,” he smirked. “Seems to me that combination doesn’t work out too well.” 

We both laughed.

“Well,” I said. “I still need to get where I’m supposed to be going.” 

He pulled up a piece of paper and scribbled something down.

Equipped with his pencil sketch, I returned to my car—and moments later, I arrived at the plant’s shipping zone. 

The required documents in hand, I strolled through the open entrance, when I suddenly heard a thundering, “Hey, over here.”

I spun around. 

A few yards to my right, a dark-haired, middle-aged guy sat hunched forward behind a bulky oak desk. He waved me forward and reached for my paperwork. After scrutinizing the forms, he turned to his PC and punched in a code. 

He looked back up, muttering, “While I process this, you may as well go ahead and pull your vehicle around to door number 6.”

I did as was told, then waited… and waited… and waited… as my patience wore thin.

Sufficiently annoyed, I marched back into the building and approached the man with the computer. “Why isn’t anyone coming to help me? I’ve been sitting out there forever.” 

“Oh?” He seemed startled. “Well, then you’d best talk with that fellow over there?” 

He pointed to the far end of that spacious warehouse where a husky, bearded fellow was riding around on a yellow trolley.

I gesticulated with both arms to draw that man’s attention. 

Seconds later, he zoomed toward me and screeched to an abrupt halt. “Yes, Ma’am?” 

When I issued my request, he grumbled, “I’ll assist you as soon as it’s your turn. I have to take things as they come in. Soooo, I’m going to unload this shipment first.” 

I followed his gaze and just about fainted when I spied the open end of a huge semi stuffed to the ceiling with big, metallic containers.  

“But…, but….,” I stammered, suddenly not merely worried about the time required to unload that huge truck. I also wondered if this particular shipping department might be an around-the-clock operation. 

Not being comfortable with either idea, I was determined to talk that trolley driver into  taking care of me first. Angling my arms into a misshapen square to indicate how rather small my packages were, I pleaded, “I only have that much…” 

He started up his vehicle—and crept toward the semi.

Gasping, I spun around. 

I felt rejected and humiliated. I was also furious enough to rush out and use my own muscle power to drag my modest assortment of boxes in one by one, when suddenly the PC-operator appeared, shouting across the hall, “Just do her first, since she has so little.”  

Scrunching up his face, the trolley driver shrugged and circled back to me, grumbling, “Normally, I have am supposed to do it in a proper sequence. But if you really have just a midget…” 

He cruised toward dock door number 6. 

Hurrying across the ramp, I hopped down to open the trunk of my car, while my reluctant helper retrieved a large, wooden crate and deposited it nearby. After parking his vehicle, he gave me a hand in transferring my ten parcels into the big container.   

Our team-work took about three minutes before he climbed back onto his trolley and scooped up the crate. Waving me back into the interior, he zoomed toward the computer terminal. 

That’s when I caught up with him—just in time to hear him lamenting how much he really resented being asked to do something that was not at all in his job description.  

I was stunned.  

Then, when I mentioned to the computer operator that I didn’t understand why unloading a few small boxes seemed to be such a big deal, the man just shrugged, before explaining, “To be quite frank with you, it really isn’t the trolley driver’s responsibility to manually unload anything – and we are not usually expecting to handle little quantities like yours. Soooo……..” 

Although I was very tempted to point out that driving across town to deliver a pile of technical components to some elusive manufacturing plant’s loading dock was also not a part of my regular office duties, I decided right there and there to let things be. Having accomplished my little mission, after finally finding the appropriate place to do so, I was ready to go home and enjoy my time off.

175 thoughts on “Lost in the Neighborhood

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