Have you ever been waiting for someone on the street and seen someone standing near you looking slightly confused? You know what I’m talking about. They look a little lost. Like they’re having an internal conversation with themselves, trying to figure out their next move but unsure which direction to move in.
Those are the people I have a weakness for. When I see people like that I have an overwhelming desire to walk up and ask if I can help them. The thing is, I’m trying to learn to control this urge because I have an unfortunate history of … well, getting it wrong.
It started a few years ago when I was waiting for my friend Turtle (long story) on the corner of Bourke and Spring Streets. Turtle and I used to meet every Monday for a coffee and at the time, we’d meet at Bourke and Spring and then walk down Spring Street one block to Café Excello. As I stood there and waited I noticed a little old lady near me, looking a bit lost. I asked if I could help and I can’t remember now where she said she wanted to go but I remember telling her she needed to catch the 112 tram, which for the non-Melbournians in the audience, you catch from Collins Street.
Now… that part of it was correct. The part I stuffed up was when I told her to catch the tram from the tram stop “just there” (ie on Bourke Street), because (and I know it sounds unlikely but it’s true) I thought I was on Collins Street at the time.
It was only once Turtle and I had got to the café and I was proudly telling him what a great citizen I was, that I realised my mistake. As if on cue, just as I was thinking about how annoyed the poor woman must’ve been when she realised I’d given her the wrong directions, she walked past the cafe, heading towards Collins Street to catch the 112 from the correct tram stop. And yes, she looked very annoyed.
Thereafter Turtle referred to our meeting spot at Bourke and Spring as “Confusion Corner”.
The second instance of my inadvertent unhelpfulness occurred about a year after the Confusion Corner incident. I was on a tram heading east along Bourke Street when, just before the Bourke Street Mall, the tram pulled up quite suddenly. After a minute or two the tram doors opened, despite not being at a designated stop. I poked my head out to take a look and saw that my tram was behind several others that were banked up.
There was only myself, a young man, and a family of five from India who were clearly tourists, on the tram. After another minute or so, the young man got off the tram and the Indian family looked a little hesitant. A little lost. Thinking that something had occurred on the line further down and that the tram would be terminating, I told the Indian family to hop off the tram as it would be travelling no further. They looked a bit unsure but I assured them that I worked in public transport, which I did at the time, and that was enough for them. They all stepped off the tram.
On the other hand, I wanted to investigate the matter so I headed to the front of the tram. I was just about to knock on the driver’s cabin door when the tram’s engine kicked into gear, the doors closed and we started moving. I looked onto the street where the Indian family that I had persuaded off the tram were all pointing and looking up at me with looks of utter confusion and utter disdain. I felt terrible because I really had meant to be helpful.
So after that I tried very hard not to give anyone directions or be helpful in any way. Best to just leave people to their initial confusion rather than confuse them more, I reasoned.
I was doing fine but then recently it happened again. It was on my road trip with my friend Joi. We’d stopped in Lakes Entrance for the night and had gone out to a really lovely dinner at Miriam’s. We were walking back along the Esplanade to our motel when a man coming towards us asked us if the KFC was “that way” (ie behind us).
Now, in my defence, I’d had a little bit to drink and I was really tired. “Yep! Right down there!” I said to him cheerfully, glad to be of service. Which is why it was such a shame that we walked another 20 metres or so and came upon the KFC… in exactly the opposite direction to the one in which I’d pointed.
Which is why if you’re ever feeling a little lost and you see me on the street, and I have a really helpful look on my face, it’s best you turn around and start walking away from me. Very very quickly.