Saturday, October 22, 2005

LOST ... IN ... IOWA ....

So ... a little background:

I'm doing an elective rotation at the "other" U of I (University of Iowa) ... normally I'm a medical student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The places are somewhat similar, once you get past the yellow-black (Hawkeye) instead of orange-blue (Illini) color scheme. They have a decent bus service, which they need because parking is a bear.

On my first day here, I had to drive in to the hospital (instead of walking 30 minutes in the rain), and to park nearby had to pay $12 for their parking garage. I'm here for 4 weeks, and I'd rather not pay rent for my car almost equivalent to my own rent for the month. The options are sparse, with all sorts of restrictions by the University on which lots they can offer to people that live within the city, as opposed to people that commute in to work from nearby cities. They actually refused me a spot completely, since I was not interested in something for the whole semester, and am living "too close" to the hospital. How a 30-minute walk translates to "too close" MUST involve some sort of logic about the local bus service, which of course doesn't start running until after 6 am.

Upon turning to the hospital for a solution, they happily offered-up a spot in one of these commuter lots I mentioned above. Of course, it is so far from the hospital that they offer bus service to-and-fro. Fortunately, it even runs during the times I need it (as opposed to the local bus service in the city) - to get me to the hospital before 5:30 am and to get me back to my car as late as midnight (at times!).

Here's the set-up:

Friday was my first time taking advantage of this commuter lot (which they so creatively call "Hawkeye Commuter / Storage Lot" - storage because that is where students who drive up for the semester are forced to leave their vehicles). I find my way there and park next to a little hut that resembles a bus stop. All around, for as far as I can see in the dark before the dawn, is a huge-ass parking lot and this little hut that resembles a bus stop. As I'm checking it out, a bus actually drives up to this little hut. Ah, all is well.

I get to the hospital in about 5 minutes, and actually made it to the floor in time to see patients before rounds. A *bit* of a miracle there. So far so good. The day actually proceeded ok, as I went from case to case in the OR instead of drudging through yet another day of clinic. It actually looks as though I may be out of there before 5 pm! Ah, but alas - as a "sub-intern" hoping to attend this school, my role is as much to make an impression on the staff and give them an opportunity to get to know me as it is to learn and get exposure to the field. I do one last sweep through the OR and find a case about to start. Shucks. It was with one of my favorite docs, and it was to be a short case, so I didn't mind too much.

The case drags on, of course, about 2-3x longer than it should have been. I'm still out of there just after 8, so I am a happy camper. I leisurely head down to the floor and gather my belongings from the resident's workroom, and stroll out to where the bus should pick me up.

OK, now the story...

I get down to the bus stop and it is COMPLETELY DESERTED. Oookaaaay... I guess these buses run like every 10 minutes. No big deal. Let's look at the posted schedule, eh?

Oops. They DO run every 15 minutes, during "normal" times. Which I have, of course, missed. After 6:30 pm, it seems to revert to every half-hour. (All this I am figuring out after-the-fact, by the way, since the posted schedule reads a bit like tax instructions.) So when is the bus due? 8:21. What time is it now? 8:23. Sweeeeeet.

Ok, I can wait around 28 minutes. I debated walking home (28 minutes in the other direction), but that would require somehow getting to that lot to get my car anyway at a later date. I decide to wait it out, especially to make sure my car is still there and not ticketed for somehow parking in the wrong place. I do a little text messaging, I look at the route maps and schedules another 15-20 times. I consider going back into the hospital to take a leak, but figure I might get lucky with a bus coming off-schedule / early. Besides, I really don't have to go badly, since I've probably lost about 5 pounds in water weight during the last week and haven't put much in to make up for it. (My liquid intake averages about 2-3 cans of pop a day, and maybe a swig of water in the AM.)

A few random buses come and go, getting my hopes up, but all going in the wrong direction. I consider hopping the bus downtown, which gets me to within a 10-minute walk of the room I'm renting, but yet again I'm left with the prospect of still getting back to the car. I wait more. It's a bit brisk outside, being Iowa in late October... but not so cold that I would put my burdensome white coat on over my scrub top.

The bus finally comes. Oh look, right on time! Figures. Within seconds the driver is heading off to the commuter lot.

As we approach the lot, I notice he turns down a different road (Mormon Trek Boulevard, how's that for a landmark in Iowa?!?) than the way I entered the lot that morning, but I'm not alarmed since we had left the lot from a different direction that morning as well, and I knew that Mormon Trek was an alternate. There are about 7 of us on the bus at this point.

He drives through a series of convoluted turns toward (I think?) the lot, barely missing going up on the curb several times on the LEFT hand side (you, know, where you expect oncoming traffic to be coming from, if you don't live in Malaysia or Britain). Nothing looks familiar as he comes to a stop, and all but 2 other people disembark. I look out into the dark at the mini apartment buildings we're near, and then ask him if he makes another stop in this area. He says yes. I breathe a sigh of relief and sit back down.

He proceeds to drive about 100 feet, and stops again. "Is this the last stop?" I ask him. "Yes, now I go back to the hospital," he states very matter-of-factly. Hmmmmm....

I disembark, and see I'm now on the other side of a square that is surrounded on all sides by mini apartment buildings. This is not a huge empty parking lot, bordered by other not-so-empty parking lots. This is an apartment complex. Ooookaaayyyy... I figure I'll check out the name of the road we're on, glance at my map, and then just hoof it to the lot. Can't be too far, right?

The road sign, it says "561-587" or something like that. That's funny, it doesn't sound like the name of a road. Ok, I'll just head down some sort of main road and eventually figure out where I am. Which way did the bus go? Oh, wait - that's right - I didn't see it 'cause I was too busy trying to look like I wasn't lost until I had a chance to look at my map in relative privacy, in the middle of an apartment complex in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of October. I put on my coat.

Roads seem to go off in all directions, at least from what I can see in the darkness. No problem - I'll just look for that collection of tall street lights that marks off a parking lot. Uh, yeah - easier said than done among all these damn trees. Crap! Lets look at the map again ... yup, I know I'm in one of two places... there are two groups of apartment complexes indicated on the map. They are, of course, in opposite directions from the lot I need to get to. Not that it matters, since I have no FRIGGIN' clue where I am or what I'm heading toward anyway. I flip a mental coin and start walking, all the while imagining that coin circling the drain. **EXPLICATIVES DELETED**

Ah, a main "road." I walk toward it. Ooh, look - a sign! "Mormon Trail Park" - wait, that's not on the map at all! How does that help me?!? I pass a sign facing the other way, and my suspicion is confirmed - I've just come from "Hawkeye Court Apartments." That IS on the map. It's about as far from the commuter lot as I can get, but at least I have regained a glimmer of hope that I'll find my way outta this mess.

I start the timer on my watch (for S's & G's - "shits and giggles"), as has been my habit lately, to see just how pissed I should get about my walk. It's pretty deserted throughout. As I progress I see collections of tall streetlights, only to see them spread out along the road. These are not in a parking lot. Despite being pitch black out there, I'm seeing far more of Iowa than I ever hoped for. I've got some low-grade urgency to pee building up, but thankfully I'm too seething mad to pay any attention to it. I keep tramping along, realizing at some point that at least I have stopped muttering and swearing under my breath. That's a good thing, as I trudged past some foreign students playing soccer (I assume) on an unlit field that was part of the sports complex I ended up passing. For the most part I was alone - which didn't bother me much, given that there was decent enough lighting, and I was in Iowa - I would have been more worried if I was in a real urban area and if I was a woman. But I guess that's a whole 'nother blog. :-P

Eventually, on the horizon, is the TRULY unmistakable conglomeration of lights of a parking lot. Along with a car every now and then. Goody, now I can switch my focus to wondering which end of the parking lot I'd find myself on, and how many little huts I'd come upon to search for my car next to. And here's me, not even technologically-advanced enough (or just too cheap?) to have a remote keychain, to get my lights to flash and horn to honk to beckon me.

By some stroke of luck, the first (and still only, to my knowledge) little hut WAS the one I parked near. That part of the lot contained only a smattering of cars, and I recognized my car's butt long before I could read the license plate. As I started to make a bee-line for it, another car pulls up one slot away from mine, and a young woman gets out and opens her hood. Keep in mind, I'm still on the periphery of the parking lot. My thoughts were, in approximate order:
  1. that's sorta weird, at this time of night, in this location
  2. wonder what the trouble is
  3. should i offer to help?
  4. well, this is sorta awkward, appearing like i'm headed straight for her
  5. oh, geez - i hope she doesn't think i'm a rapist or something!!

    By the time I was within shouting distance of my car, another person had appeared from the car. A guy.

  6. that's good, at least she's not alone
  7. he looks like a pretty big guy
  8. oh geez - i hope he doesn't think i'm a rapist or something!!

Long before I reach my car, I start digging for my keys - which is pretty damn awkward when one hand is otherwise occupied (with the ripping plastic bag of spare clothes, including shoes, in case I got drafted into clinic instead of the OR during the day), and the keys are buried in a breast pocket under a notepad, reference book, coins, tuning fork, pen, etc. Eventually I gave up on the keys, but did everything else in my power to give the impression I was heading toward my car, and not them. Once I got there it still took me suspiciously long to dig my keys out, but I think actually getting the door open and driving the car away made it convincing that THAT was the target of my walk.

It was just over 10 minutes from the time I was thinking straight enough to bother timing the walk until I got to the car. Of course, that consisted of angry strides in cold weather, lubricated by an urge to pee. In other words, I was probably walking a smidge faster than usual.

To sum up and conclude...

Yeah, ok, not a big deal. Just a dumb visitor in a podunk town, who wasn't familiar enough with the bus route and too proud to ask the bus driver about the lot position. It was uneventful overall, with the only real "misfortune" being my lost time. Not like I even had anything else planned for the evening. But when you're stuck doing something you never wanted to do in the first place, and it's taking longer than you EVER wanted, you really appreciate the value of your time more. Just one more reason for me to be so verbose in this blog entry - to give you, the READER, a taste of what I went through. You can thank me as you post a comment. :-P

On the plus side, I did discover a nearby strip of shopping including the all-important McDonald's and the good-to-know KFC, previously unknown to me in this vicinity, as I explored a bit on my way home. Nice to know there are more options for quick eats for us health-conscious types.

I'm do at the hospital tomorrow (Sunday) morning, and upon looking at the info sheet just now it looks like the bus doesn't even run on the weekends. Glad I bothered looking! At least it shouldn't be for too long ... I may as well pay for the garage. Then I'll go check out that lot in DAYLIGHT for the first time. Yeah, yeah - that's the ticket.

Spent way too long writing this, but it was semi-therapeutic. What this blog lacks in number of posts I'll likely end up making up for in length. Will that correspond to quality instead of quantity? NOT LIKELY. . . .