Who hasn’t been lost at some point and time? Who can’t relate to the feeling of helplessness when you are surrounded by unfamiliar places, people, smells, and sights? One such experience made me acutely aware how easily and innocently I could end up somewhere completely out of my comfort zone. On one sunny day in September a few years back, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the familiar terrain of downtown Dallas behind me. Ahead, I could see I was travelling somewhere I shouldn’t be.
I had come to Dallas the night before for a conference for work. Since I processed payroll for a living, a refresher course in state and local income taxes was very important to ensure that I kept my multi-state employer compliant with applicable laws. At the end of the conference on that mid-September Friday, as I exited the Hilton Anatole hotel, I could see I-35 traffic was backed up for quite a ways. There were no breaks in the waves of bumper-to-bumper cars. “Ugh,” I cringed. “How long will I be sitting in that?” I decided there had to be a better way to get back home than drudging through miles of turtle-paced traffic.
Unable to pull up the navigation system on my phone, I called my husband. “Hey, I just left the conference. I’m sitting here looking at rush-hour traffic on I-35 and it looks like I will be stuck for quite a while. Any chance you could find me a detour around it?” After giving me a hard time about my inability to operate my navigation system on my own phone, the “I-D-10-T” problem he called it, he began directing me on a new route through downtown Dallas. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ve driven these one-way streets a number of times before, and it’s got to be quicker than sitting indefinitely stuck on the freeway with the other suckers trying to escape the city.”
Driving under the freeway and down streets snuggly surrounded by skyscrapers that were filled with banks, offices, and residences, I was happily unaware of what I was in for next. On the other end of the phone, my husband was giving me turn-by-turn directions through the city. Casually driving down the one-way streets of downtown Dallas, past the convention center, I noticed the streets became eerily quiet. It was as though someone inside the convention center flipped a switch as I passed by. Suddenly, radio silence on my cell phone.
It was not until I saw before me a sight only previously represented as fiction on TV that I became worried. Aware I was hopelessly lost and not a signal to be had on my phone, fear seized me from my core. I was not only lost, but cut off from communicating with the world I knew. I was all of a sudden surrounded by the stench of poverty, in a seemingly foreign land, a clear line drawn between two diverse ethnicities. The road down which my little Malibu puttered was a distinct, natural line drawn between the dwellings of these two cultures, a physical line. Usually only symbolically and culturally drawn, this line was physical and unlike anything I could have imagined if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Shanty’s on both sides of this little side road housed the poorest of the poor, short of the homeless. These dwellings were only a mere step up from a cardboard box. Had I been transported to a third-world country? As I looked up from my phone, despondently aware there was still no signal, I see traffic has stopped in front of me. More traffic slowing down behind me, we are all trapped because of a passing train on the tracks ahead. On either side, the people that are always stuck in this slow-motion poverty are sitting outside their shanty’s, watching the world go by, or walking from one to another for purposes only they know. Liquor stores, BBQ joints, and Mexican groceries are mixed in between the homes, but there are no post office, no bank, and no gas stations. I began to wonder if the loss of cell signal was some sort of conspiracy. Was I about to get caught up in some sort of action-thriller-shoot-out-carjacking-kidnap? I was ready to speed up and race out of this god-forsaken place. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have come this way. My husband has no idea what he’s done to me, and won’t if they never find my body.” Was I being silly? Was I allowing my imagination to control my thoughts? My growing fear began to pray, “Please deliver me, Lord.”
I was rescued by the raising of the train crossing arm after what felt like two years, but was more likely about 30 seconds. The train had passed and traffic moved on again. In single file fashion, we drove on toward our destinations. “Thank you, Jesus,” I prayed. I sighed with relief. The third-world country was now just an ant-sized sight in my rearview mirror. I was never so happy to merge onto eastbound I-20; homeward bound, I was headed back to my life, with a new appreciation for my world.