Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Getting lost in Houston

On July 11, I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. As I was talking with her, I could hear a loud crackling over the phone. “Do you got static going on?” I asked.

“Yeah, I got a rip-roaring thunderstorm going on over my head.”

We talked just long enough for me to give her the news that I accepted a job offer as a Public Assistance Advocate.

“That’s great. Almost a birthday present in itself now that I don’t have to worry about you,” she said as the line crackled again. “Did you hear that?” she asked. “I think I need to get off the phone.”

“Call you tomorrow,” I said.

The job offer from MASH (Medical Advocacy Services for Healthcare} could not have come at a better time. I’ve been in Houston for over a month now and I’m just about flat broke. Thanks to food and other expenses being less than what I had anticipated, my funds have held up fairly well. But I’m not sure how I’m going to get through the next couple of weeks until my first check. I told my cat not to worry, though. Pigeons are plentiful here.

The job almost didn’t happen, and I really didn’t expect to be offered the position since I was horribly late for the interview. Although I’m getting better at finding my way around, Houston is, as some people say here, “inmenso” in its geographical size.

How big? Well, bigger than the state of Connecticut. Yeah, imagine that. Over 6,200 sq, miles compared to Connecticut’s area of 5,800 sq, miles. I’ve learned that when somebody says, “Oh, we’re just ‘cross town,” you better look at a map. They could be 40 to 60 miles from where you are. Though Houston is the fourth largest city in population, its geographical area makes it the largest city in the United States. Good luck if you get lost here. MapQuest even has a hard time figuring out where you are, much less where you want to go.

And so it was on the day of my interview with Tim Lacy that I happened to get quite lost on the 610 Loop. I headed out an hour before my 2pm appointment, figuring it wouldn’t take more than a half hour to get to the Washington Mutual building where he said his office was located. I followed the route exactly as MapQuest had given, except that when I got off the exit it gave, I could not find any of the landmarks Mr. Lacy had indicated. No cross street named Buffalo Speedway, no stadium, and no bank building. And even though the frontage road sign said I was in the 3000-3500 block, which is where I needed to be, something clearly wasn’t quite right.

I looked at the directions again. From the route it gave, I was where I was supposed to be, but it was obvious something was wrong. The only things adjacent to this block were a lone convenience store, and a run-down residential area. I looked at the time. Ten to two. Great. The one job opportunity that looked tailored made to my background in social service and education, and I felt like I was about to kiss it goodbye.

I hopped back on the 610 and started to backtrack in the direction I had come, but when I didn’t see anything that made sense as to where I was, much less where I was going, I pulled off and stopped at a Valero station. I approached the lady behind the counter. “Do you know how to get to S 3003 W Loop?” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know.

After asking a few more people, I gave up. It seems most people don’t know how to get to any other place in Houston, either, except the place they’re already in. Knowing I didn’t see anything that looked even close to what Mr. Lacy had described, I got back on the 610 and headed south. Ten minutes past two, I called Mr. Lacy and apologized for being late, and then explained I was quite lost. “Where are you?” he asked.

As if I knew.

“I just went back over the harbor channel heading south.”

“Oh, my, you’re quite a ways out. Didn’t you see Reliant stadium? We’re right across from there. You want to take the Buffalo Speedway exit and then turn left. The Washington Mutual building will be on the right. Don’t worry, though. My 2:30 is early, so I’ll start with her. Just try to be here in the next thirty minutes. I have a plane I need to catch back to Dallas.”

“On my way,” I said, thanking him for being understanding.

Twenty minutes later, Reliant Stadium came into view. And there on the left was the Washington Mutual building, I parked my car and jaunted up the stairs to the second floor. “Hi, I’m Scot Cunningham,” I said, announcing myself to the receptionist.

“Oh, you’re the gentleman who’s lost,” she said.

“Was,” I said.

“I’ll let Mr. Lacy know you’re here.”

Mr. Lacy proved to be very gracious and accepting. As I stood up and thanked him for taking the time to meet with me, I apologized once again for being so horribly late.

“Can I see the directions you got from MapQuest?” he asked.

I handed him my printout.

Chuckling, he said, “Well, here’s the problem. We’re S 3003 W Loop, but the address you put in is N 3003 W Loop.”

All I can say is I’m glad it wasn’t a Yellow Cab position I had applied for. Still, I seriously doubted I’d be offered the position considering I was such a numbskull on passing the mental test with typing in the wrong address. The position I applied for requires accuracy with processing information, and yet I botched a simple rule of always making sure to double check. No wonder why Map Quest couldn’t figure out where I needed to be.

When Mr. Lacy did call and offered me the position after reviewing the results of a personality and temperament test I’d taken the previous morning, I just about gelled into my car seat. Come Monday, I’ll begin a new adventure in a career that will be similar to the work I did as a Medicaid eligibility specialist with the state of Florida many years ago.

Moving to Houston from Maine has been like moving from the trunk of the car to the engine. It’s a city with a lot of rev. As I sat on the Woodhead Bridge over Highway 59 later that evening, watching streamers of red shoot out from underneath me, I felt grateful that after several applications and interviews, I finally had a job. Taking in the sun setting on an orange creamsical sky, I thought, I'm going to like it here just fine.

By S. L. Cunningham

Village Soup Citizen, 07/19/2006:24

No comments: