I'm a journalism student, which means that I spend a good deal of my time scheming to get people to talk to me about things. I also spend a lot of time interviewing people about things (but not nearly as much as scheming.) Anyhow, when the scheming pays off and an interview gets set up, I traipse all over the five boroughs of New York to meet people. "Meet me at this loud and terrible unmarked bar!" they say. Or, "Come to my apartment in Brooklyn, only 15 city blocks from the subway!" or, "Meet me in this park, you'll see me, I'll have shoes on!" Tracking down my subjects is my least favorite part of my job, because I am terrible with directions. My heart sinks when I hear, "Then walk north six blocks" or "You'll come to a hill ... take the third right." This is because A) I always think the direction I am walking in is "north," (think about it: as far as you can tell, you're walking straight ahead!) and B) I always second guess myself when it comes to counting turn opportunities, thus turning too soon, thus getting hopelessly lost. However, since comparatively few people will both consent to be interviewed AND come to my apartment for the experience, I venture out on interviews a lot. Every time, nervousness about the upcoming interview always compounded by a fear of getting lost and then being eaten by wolves, not to mention missing my schemed-for interview.
Tuesday was an interview day for me. I had called the guy, we had talked, we had set up a meeting at his office. It should have been uneventful: the office was a mere 10 blocks away from my apartment, the streets are clean and well-lit and populated, and I was going in the middle of the day. "No problem," I said to myself.
My complaisance was ill-advised, however. As rule one of the Handbook of Going to Meet People Places says, "Never assume you have written the address down correctly." I had not, it turns out, written the address down correctly. I had the right building number, I had the right floor number, but I did not have the right street number. Thus, when I showed up at what I thought was my appointment site I was distressed to see no, not a regular office-building door, nor even a regular locked-door-with-a-buzzer set up. No, what I found was a freight entrance, and if you aren't in the habit of walking through freight entrances, let me assure you, they are possibly the most foreboding areas ever. They are industrial, they often have chains lying about, everything is made of metal or concrete, and oftentimes there are men standing around them, spitting menacingly.
I had a bad feeling about the freight entrance, but since I also ignored Rule Two of the Handbook ("Never leave home without the phone number of either your person or your place"), I thought I would just go on up to the fifth floor and see if my target was there. He was the artistic type, after all, and in New York you take the spaces you can find. Maybe the freight entrance was a ruse.
I got into the elevator (the chain-filled freight elevator) with a middle aged man holding a Burger King bag in his hand. He punched "11," I punched "5." I stood back and shuffled the papers in my hand, conscious of looking like a person who did not belong in the elevator. He ate french fries and regarded me with suspicion.
The doors slid open when we got to the fifth floor, which was clearly an office, but the not the artsy, cluttered, kind of vacant office I was expecting. It was very busy, very loud, and there was a large and ferocious looking woman with large shoulder pads in her large blazer sitting at a desk, guarding the elevator. "This is probably not the right place," I thought to myself. I made to step out of the elevator, try and figure out where I was and where I should be. I froze mid-stride, however, when the woman, with great concern in her eyes, majestically reared her bulk up from her seat to point a large and imposing finger at me. "YOU HAVE THE WRONG FLOOR" she bellowed at me. I started.
I was unsure as to how to react. Clearly she was right, but where did that leave me?
"Oh, am I?" I asked, fatuously. Sensing my confusion, and clearly fearing that I would partially exit the elevator in my disoriented state, the buffalo rose higher in her chair. She brayed, "YOU HAVE THE WRONG FLOOR!"
I put my foot back down and started to back up.
"Ah, well, I seem to have the wrong floor!" I said. I waved at the woman in what I hoped was a placating manner. "Sorry about that!"
I retreated to the back wall of the elevator. The buffalo fixed her gimlet eye on me as the doors slowly closed, watching until it was presumably certain that I wouldn't attempt a last-minute leap through the doors. The elevator lurched upwards. I smiled weakly at the man with the french fries.
"That's the office of the parole board, you know," he said, eating another handful.
"Ah, yes," I said, after a minute. "Apparently, I, ah, had the wrong floor."
The man ate some more fries.
"Yeah," he said. "I thought maybe you were just checking in."