Helping strangers get more lost than they were when they started

Nicholas Tillinghast/The Miscellany News.

This year, I’ve really enjoyed watching people who look confused and lost on campus. I feel a sense of superiority in understanding geography better than someone else, and so I can’t take my eyes off these people as they go one way, hesitate and reverse course. I watch as their smiles turn to looks of distress; dry eyes turn into water fountains. 

Once in a while, someone in this predicament will lock eyes with me, whether from a car or on foot, and they’ll say to me, “Do you know where the [Admissions Building, Soccer Field, Sex Tree, etc.] is?” And, in my infinite wisdom, I attempt to give them directions that are approximately accurate. I go to these places constantly, but the second I need to verbalize how to do it, troubles emerge. I always try to provide good directions, but I’ve found that using words is hard and getting people to understand them is even harder. Let me paint some portraits of times I’ve tried helping the lost.   

Portrait 1: I work for the Grounds Greenhouse, which is a job that allows me to drive golf carts but also puts me near strangers constantly. I was driving up to Walker Field House when a lady, probably in her late twenties, stopped me and asked where the dining hall was. I attempted to describe how to get there with words—words that meant very little to her—so instead of doing my job, I offered to walk down to the TA bridge and give her directions from there. She accepted. In retrospect, I think she thought that would mean I would take her down to the bridge in my club car, but we instead went on foot, which means we chatted on the way down about my major, her young son, this tumultuous weather, etc.

 Eventually, we got down to the TA bridge. After explaining to her that the dining hall is the big building with pillars, she told me that I was a gentleman for helping her and that my mom should be proud (I bet you feel really cool right now, Mom). I don’t know if she found that big building with pillars, but I at least got her halfway there. 

Portrait 2: I finished practicing the organ in the Chapel one afternoon when an older woman came up to me and asked about the second organ on campus in the Recital Hall. Explanatory words of direction were insufficient once again. I had nothing going on that afternoon, so I offered to take her to the Recital Hall organ, an offer she accepted. As we walked over, she told me she was on campus specifically to see the Chapel organ, that she was a retired Hebrew and Yiddish teacher and that she was taking a seniors class about local organs. We crossed the Bridge and slipped into an open door at the back of the Recital Hall. She took some pictures of the organ and then proceeded to yell something to test the acoustics. She then told me quite plainly, “I am very old, but I am a child inside.” 

We walked back to Main under the bridge. On the way back, whenever I asked her a question and she had to think about it, she would just stop in place, which concerned me because we were practically in the road at times. When we finally made it back to Main, we stopped, and she thanked me in both Hebrew and Yiddish, and I, in turn, failed at trying to pronounce either of those back to her. Also, she was in the middle of a crosswalk while doing this, which again concerned me. Still, she was the coolest stranger I’ve met on campus. 

I know this sounds like I’m just taking people where they want to go all the time, but I’m mostly just saying things I hope will get people sort of there. I can’t provide good statistics on how many people I’ve actually helped by doing this. I suppose I could hand out paper surveys afterwards—like they have on Burger King receipts—and then give them a stamped envelope with my box number scrawled on it. But while Burger King can provide Whopper discounts as incentive for filling out their surveys, I don’t have any coupons to give. What I can send back are various rubber bands, which one could use for gathering small papers, such as Whopper coupons. 

There’s one person that I actually followed to see if they made it to their destination. This one dude in a truck asked me where the Maintenance Building was. I knew this building well because it was right next to the Grounds Greenhouse, and so I told him to go past the Bridge and by the lake. I had to drive my club car back to the Greenhouse anyway, so naturally I followed him and watched as he crossed the bridge and drove up to the gym instead. I did not help him any further. In confirmed stats, I have given people helpful directions zero percent of the time. 

I’ve helped many of the lost this year, but I’ve been in their shoes, too. I often remember this one time my family was going to Pittsburgh for a baseball game and we were lost (pre-Google Maps). We stopped a dude with a bike on a street and asked him where to go, and he was helpful. We were able to watch baseball that day. I think about you a lot, Pittsburgh bike man, and I thank you.

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