In times of stress, I try to remind myself that getting lost is not always bad.

We speak positively about meaningful meanderings and exhilarating escapism, such as getting lost in a good book. Regardless of whether our choices of political candidates in this week's election have won or lost, we may find comfort in the end of campaigning - perhaps having lingered on the brink of losing our minds.

We might join a throng, as I did recently, venturing into a gigantic corn maze on Sauvie Island. We sloshed merrily through mud and muck (preferable to political mud-slinging), winding our way along walls and walks amid confusingly configured stalks.

In this gigantic arrangement which from the sky formed an image of the face of Sacagawea, we followed clues about which directions to choose. By correctly answering a question about TV sitcoms, for example, we deduced we should turn left near what must have been her right nostril.

Far from something to sneeze at, these ways of getting lost are relatively pleasant pursuits. But sometimes we wind into not so relaxing routes.

My weekend found me lost on the south slope of downtown Astoria in the wee hours of the morning, and not for the first time.

We had just left a Halloween party and the clock had long passed the witching hour. Make no bones about it, my confusion was not a consequence of alcohol. I do not drink and drive, and everyone who attended this party got a cab, got sober or got a ride from a designated driver.

I'm just navigationally challenged.

Maybe the full day preceding the party and the distracting emotional residue from political conversations conspired to intensify my directional ineptitude in the maze that is the back side of Astoria, a place seemingly engineered to bewitch and bewilder.

My wife and I in my car tried to follow the taillights of my brother-in-law's van to his house. An Astoria native, even he has acknowledged that when it comes to the confusing streets in the area at night, "all bets are off." We were trying to take Klaskanine Avenue toward the street which would connect us with Olney Avenue and, ultimately, Lewis and Clark Road.

What was that street again?

We wondered if we were following the right vehicle when we careened to a stop near a dead end street.

Understandably, at 3 a.m., it looked a bit suspicious. The lights of the car following us turned out to be those of an Astoria police officer.

I rolled down my window to explain how we had missed our turn. "OK," the officer said. "But I'll be watching."

True to his word, he found me again after I failed to locate the van, failed to find the correct street, and in looking for an appropriate place to change directions I had doubled back too far, headed down another dead end, and finally into a street that became a driveway. Were there no trivia questions to give me a clue to the right way to turn?

I was filled with dread as I rolled down the window this time. Would the officer misconstrue my meanderings? Barring a reasonable explanation, would I be thrown behind bars? My wife and I could see the police blotter in The Daily Astorian: "Columnist arrested." At that moment, I could not see my way clear - but I did want to disappear.

But I confessed. "I'm lost."

A pause of epic proportions ensued. "It's your story," the officer replied, prompting me to continue.

Fortunately, I think he could see the look of exasperation and embarrassment on my face. He must have a sharp eye, because even in the darkness and without my name he recognized me.

"Didn't you work for the Astorian?"

Realizing the implication was, "Shouldn't you know your way around here?" I hastened to explain how I covered south Clatsop County, living and working in Seaside, so apart from driving to weekly staff meetings - in which I would simply turn onto Eighth Street and take a left onto Exchange - I was not terribly familiar with Astoria's wonderfully wacky, winding ways.

To his credit once again, he gave directions toward a familiar landmark nearby, the Peter Pan Market, where we could turn right onto lucky Seventh Street and be on our way.

On this attempt, at last - even though I knew we were being watched again - everything worked. For a time, I had lost my sense of direction, lost my tranquility and all traces of confidence about navigation. But I found our way, and in the end, thanks to a little help, I had not lost but won.

Brad Bolchunos recognizes that in describing his experiences about getting lost and mazes of maize he runs the risk of looking corny, but adds that "lost or found, it is important to be amazed."


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