The intersection didn't look mysterious. It was just an intersection, four corners and a traffic light, with a gray and red Texaco station on one corner.
I worked there for nine months, as a college drop-out doing time pumping gas, selling lotto tickets, wiping the counters with a wet, red rag, and giving out directions. I gave a lot of directions. It seemed like a simple, normal intersection, but apparently we existed in some dark, mysterious crossroads which baffled all the online maps, leaving a lot of people asking where they were and how to get where they were going.
A lot of the surrounding towns had names that didn't appear on maps, names which were holdovers from the days when George Washington slept everywhere, and when an intersection deserved it's own name. So people got lost.
They would come in, setting off the buzzer when the door swung open, and ask me how to get where they were going. I wasn't from there, didn't know my way around, and had to learn the map to do my job. An older clerk, a native of the north Philadelphia metro area, knew the place down to its details and would give directions with all of the landmarks included.
I learned the neighborhood from him, and before long, I knew my job. I could sell losing lottery tickets, check the oil on every make and model, order next week's milk supply and give directions to places I'd never been.
Once I gave directions to an entire wedding party, one groom's man and bride's maid at a time. When the seventh, 20-year-old walked in wearing a tuxedo, I just assumed he was lost. I never heard back from them, and never saw the bride and groom, so I assume they all made it to the chapel and the marriage happened. But you never know.
The irony of the situation hit me pretty hard. No one needing directions was as lost I was. I was in a strange town, working a strange job, giving directions to places I had never been and wondered how I was going to pay my college loans without a degree, making $7 an hour for 38 hours a week, wondering how to get back on track and back to college. Yet, they kept coming to me for help.
I started the Monday after Easter, that year, and worked every holiday. On the Fourth of July, I sold ice and propane and gave out directions. On Mother's Day, I fixed a flat tire and sold doughnuts and gave directions. On Halloween, I asked people not to wear masks inside the store and not to smoke while pumping gas. On Thanksgiving, I gave out a lot of directions.
It seemed like an awful lot of people were lost that Thanksgiving. I looked up the home addresses of mothers and grandmothers, aunts and other relatives. I let one kid use the phone to say he was late, but would be there.
I sold a woman a winning, $100 lottery ticket and she promised to bring me some turkey and cranberry sauce. She asked me if I wanted white meat, or dark. She didn't come back, though.
It seemed like a lot of people were lost. Maybe, though, they just felt that way, because there's nothing like visions of stuffing and green bean casserole, while you're doing 80 on the interstate, to make you feel like you don't know the way home.
It's a holiday about family, friends, warm kitchens and good smells. It's a holiday for playing drawn-out board games and chasing cousins and hearing uncles tell war stories. It's a holiday where your parents are called by nicknames they gave up with diapers, and hearing hundreds of 100-year-old jokes repeated and laughed at.
It's a holiday that can convince you you're lost.
It was cold that year. I broke the ice on the window washing fluid when I started work. Before I went home, I tried a couple of scratch-off tickets, just to confirm my luck. I kept a map unfolded on the counter.
In 2007, when people ask me what I'm thankful for, I say, "Well, I'm not lost anymore."
Daniel Silliman covers crime and courts for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 254, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.