I don’t mean to embarrass anyone so I’ve changed some identifying details, but yes, this really did happen during a recent book tour…
After arriving in Tinytown, BC in the dark, pulled off the highway and into the gas station to ask for directions to 4th Avenue. Understand that Tinytown is a town with a grand total of perhaps a dozen roads. The town is so small it isn’t included in any of the regional guidebooks I’ve picked up. The poor quality of the map printed from the Internet by the librarian is so fuzzy that I can’t read a single street name.
I don’t figure this is too much of a problem because surely, in a town so small, everyone must know everyone and directions should be easy to come by, especially at the local gas station. The young woman behind the counter sells me two AAA batteries (for the IPOD transmitter) and some masking tape (display materials repair) and we have this conversation.
“I was wondering if you could give me some directions.”
She looks shocked, like I have slapped her or asked a rude question she wasn’t expecting.
Undeterred, I press on. “Could you please tell me where 4th Avenue is?”
She looks at me blankly as if to say, “Our streets are numbered?” This look is followed by a shrug. “No. Sorry. I don’t know any of the street names.”
Thinking I will have to drive around in the dark (there aren’t any streetlights in Tinytown) I decide to narrow my search area.
“Is there more to the town? Or is it just the streets behind the gas station?” I might not be able to read the names of the streets, but the fuzzy map doesn’t indicate anything like an East and a West Tinytown.
Another blank look is followed by, “Yeah. I guess. Except there’s a 9th over there…” She waves her arm toward the pitch darkness on the other side of the highway and looks pleased that she has remembered this. “Yeah – over behind the old church. Well where the church used to be – they pulled it down.”
“I see.” (I’m not quite sure how it will help to know that there was once a landmark and make a mental note to keep an eye out for rubble piles… perhaps with a lopsided cross sticking out of the top.)
“Ok, I’ll drive around on this side of the highway first and then I’ll check over there.”
“Oh, wait!” she says, calling me back as I turn to leave. “There’s a map stuck in the window. You have to go outside and look in. It’s stuck to the glass.”
“Excellent! That should help.”
Oustide I peer at the very basic map, hand drawn in the window. Tinytown's four slightly bigger streets run perpendicular to the highway. These are crossed by the five avenues running the other way. Second is right behind the gas station. Fourth is two blocks beyond that.
Thinking that the gas station was probably on one of the four bigger roads but not certain which, I guess it might be Main. To confirm, I go back inside.
“Is this road right here Main?”
“The road right here –“ I point outside and wave my hand from side to side so she knows which one I mean – “Do you know what it’s called?”
“Ah – no, sorry.”
“That’s ok – don’t worry about it. And, thanks for the batteries.”
I wonder if maybe there are no street signs (since there are no street lights, they would be hard to see… ), but then I hop into the car, turn out of the gas station, look up at a sign which clearly says, “Main.” Now knowing for sure where I am, I drive the two blocks to the B&B with no trouble despite the fact that houses do not seem to have visible numbers here.
The oddest part about all of this is that a bit later while I am perusing the historical notes in the front of the menu at “The Local Café,” I read that the old church was demolished in the early 1990s. Which means that if the helpful gas station attendant remembered the church, she could not have been a newcomer… Wow. Just wow. How could this be possible?