Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Dave's 7-11 receipt read:
  • fried chicken - ¥125
  • green tea (500ml) - ¥150
  • xylish gum - ¥100
But Dave wasn't looking at the front of his receipt. He was looking at the back. It was a mess of intersecting lines and confusing foreign characters.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand your map ... are those train tracks or buildings?" Dave asked.

He looked hopefully at the girl. She looked helplessly back at him. And there they stood, hopeful and helpless.

For some length of time -- longer than a moment, but shorter than a while -- they simply stared at each other, separated by a big convenience store counter and an even bigger language barrier.

Dave was lost.

7-11 employees had been exceedingly helpful in the past, but not in Tomakomai. Oh, how Dave hated Tomakomai. Toh-Mah-Ko-My. That cursed name would stay with him 'til his death, he was certain of it. It was an industrial port city of 200,000 people, and they all seemed to be working against him.

"I can take you as far as Tomakomai," he recalled the driver saying to him earlier that morning. And of course, Dave had accepted. How could he have known? No, there was no way. Dave, through no fault of his own, had agreed to be dropped off in the most geographically confusing location on Earth.

As the crow flies, he was exactly 2.8 km from where he needed to be. A cakewalk. A cinch! But Dave was not a crow -- he had not the wings nor the perspective of a crow, and instead he accepted his 3rd illegible map of the day and headed out the door with an appreciative nod.

He sat on the curb and studied his newest "map." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the others as well. He studied all three together, positioning them vertically, horizontally, even upside down, hoping for clarity -- for some vision of a way out of the godforsaken city.

Dave was certainly no imbecile -- in fact he'd often prided himself in matters of intelligence -- but time passed and Dave was simply unable reconcile these three little mysteries of geometry that didn't deserve to be called maps.

So he stood up and walked.

He slowly roamed Tomakomai's labyrinthine streets, stopping in at convenience stores from time to time. In Japan, they are ubiquitous, and after three hours he happened upon his 6th convenience store of the afternoon -- another 7-11.

The clerk's name was Kanako. Dave patiently listened to her directions, and nodded at the appropriate times, but by now it was more of a game to him. He had no intention of following her advice -- in fact he'd do the opposite. He'd been skeptical of their guidance for quite some time, but by now he was certain; Tomakomai was home to a malicious consortium of convenience store employees, all colluding to keep him from leaving. Strict orders from the top prohibited communication of anything but directional misinformation.

But this story does not end in Tomakomai, a fact owing not to Dave's ingenuity -- and certainly not to the help of 7-11 staff -- but to a surfer named Osamu, who saw a tired-looking young man with an outstretched thumb in the middle of what he knew to be the most geographically confusing place on Earth. Tomakomai.

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