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December 11, 2008

Are you lost, or am I?

December 11. Day 164.

A few feet from my car, on an empty street corner near downtown just after nightfall, I noticed a man. He was standing by himself and rocking from side to side. As I walked down the block, he didn't advance at all. Just stood there, rocking gently. As I got closer, I thought he seemed old and fragile.

Was he okay? Lost? Waiting? Just chilling?

A small laminated plastic card, hanging by a string around his neck, reflected the light of a street lamp. Was it an ID? The address of his nearest relative? Or perhaps a fashion accessory or his favorite baseball card?

Maybe he noticed I was watching him, because as I got closer he suddenly started walking. I sat in my car, following him in my rear view mirror. It was a slow stroll, relaxed, like anyone's grandpa would take after dinner. Then, he ran across the street (though no cars were approaching), and continued walking slowly.

Something seemed off, but I wasn't sure if he was disoriented or just a little eccentric. Didn't want to automatically assume he has Alzheimer's, but didn't want to let him get more lost, if he did. I started following him in my car for a few blocks, parking once in a while so it wasn't too obvious, and then catching up. Then, an idea occurred to me: Pretend I'm lost.

"Excuse me," I called, from my car. "Do you know where 5th Avenue is?"

"Fifth? That's over by the park."

Good sign, but not good enough.

"So am I headed the right way? I'm so bad with directions."

"No, you need to turn around. First You'll hit Fifth, and then Sixth, which borders the park."

"Oh! Thank you!"

"You're welcome."

Gained: Directions.
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