A couple of weeks ago one of my co-workers went to Atlanta for a conference. On the day of her arrival we got a phone call at the office. "I need help. I'm lost in the mall." Resourceful soul that she is, she had our other office mate pull up the mall map on the internet and guide her out store by store.
When it comes to getting lost, malls are their own special brand of Hades. Like casinos, they are designed to trap you like a rat in a retail maze, running you around in circles until you've lost all sense of direction and monetary discretion. On a recent trip to Spokane we ventured into a tri-level monstrosity with an open floor plan specially constructed so a person on the ground level can hear every whimper and screech of a tantrum thrown by a toddler up in the third level food court, compounded by approximately ten thousand patrons.
Within five minutes of entering our party had scattered, confident of our ability to stay connected via cell phone. Except--oops!--there's no signal in large sections of the place, assuming you could actually hear the ring if a call did go through. The guys had to make three trips to the ice cream stand before we got everyone gathered up again.
The daddy of 'em all, of course, is the Mall of America in Minneapolis. I went there soon after it opened, purely by chance. My husband was roping in the rodeo held right next door in the hockey coliseum and we arrived a couple of hours early. Hello. Mall time.
There really should be warning signs at the door because if you're like me you walk in, look around and say, "Note to self…your exit is right next to Payless Shoes." And off you go, diving headfirst into the depths of sensory and budget overload. An hour later I had logged approximately ten miles, half of it up and down escalators. My eyes were spinning in my head from trying to look at too much too fast, but voila! There I was. Back at Payless Shoes. I hustled out the exit, worried I was cutting it a little close to rodeo start time, and emerged into a parking lot with no coliseum in sight.
But it was right there. And it was a coliseum, for crying out loud. How could I have misplaced it?
Easy. The Mall of America is so stinking big they have multiple versions of popular franchises. So just because you started at Payless Shoes and ended at Payless Shoes doesn't mean you're even in the same zip code as where you began.
I did manage to return to my original point of entry and to the coliseum before the calf roping started, albeit winded and sweaty. Afterward we made a beeline back to South Dakota and home, a straight shot on Highway 12. Or so we thought until we hit Ortonville.
Ortonville isn't a particularly well lit town, especially at midnight on a Sunday. We rolled down a hill and turned just after the sign that said "Milbank, South Dakota" with an arrow pointing left. The road curved sharply, narrowed, and wandered into the pitch dark to the side of the lake.
"This isn't right," my husband the native South Dakotan said. "I've never driven along the lake before."
We got pickup and horse trailer turned around and went back into town, somehow arriving via a slightly different route down Main Street. At the eastern city limits we U-turned and retraced our route, this time being much more careful. Turned left at the Milbank sign. Ended up at the lake again.
After our third loop we pulled into the parking lot of a closed convenience store and discussed our theory that this was how people ended up living in Minnesota, something I'd always wondered. Now we knew. They stayed because they couldn't get out.
Then a cop car pulled up next to us and rolled down his window. "Problem?"
Great. Now we were going to get arrested for trespassing or loitering or something and then we'd have to stay for weeks to work off our fine and next thing you know we'd be watching hockey and talking like the people in that Fargo movie.
"I've seen you drive past three times," the cop said. "Are you looking for something?"
"The road to South Dakota?"
The cop gave us one of those You're kidding, right? looks and pointed. "It's right there. By the sign."
Of course. How could we have missed it? Um, possibly because the stupid road went left twenty yards before the stupid sign? Ah, well. It seemed to make perfect sense to the Minnesotans. Then again, these are the same people who put four versions of the same store in one mall.
Lucky we got out when we did.