Columns

2006.02.01 Don't go out that door!

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

It’s late in the fourth quarter of a girls basketball game at Pettisville. I begin to make my exit plan. I want to beat the crowd, get in the car and drive away.

I start to run it all through my head: I parked over there, I entered there, I walked in through that door and crossed over to here.

So, there’s my door. That’s the one I need to make my get-away.

This was my first visit to the Pettisville gymnasium. When driving up to the school in the dark, I first encountered a small parking lot that was full and I noticed cars parked along an adjacent street. I headed down there and parked nearly a block away.

Not good, but it would do. At least the car was pointed north, back to Michigan.

Then things got a little more confusing. I went in Door X and turned down Hallway Y and then made a turn to veer over to the ticket table. After that, a right turn into the gym followed by a walk to the other side for photos, and later a move to the other end of the gym for the second half.

So as I said earlier, I ran all of this through my head and decided the nearby exit would do. The other end of the gym would have been better, but a little walk along the side of the school would get me back to the side street.

I walked out and thought briefly about holding the door for a moment to prevent it from shutting behind me. Why did I do that? Well, I recalled two or three or maybe four gymnasiums in the past where the correct door was actually the wrong door.

I didn’t think about it long enough.

I let the door shut and took a couple of steps. It was completely dark. There was no parking lot. There was no road into the residential area. There was nothing but blackness.

I took a few steps and I could sense that I was going downhill. Soon, I saw a fence up ahead in the gloomy light. This was a dead end.

I turned, walked back past the closed door, and began the long trek around the school, hoping there were no more fences. Ah, the main parking lot came into view. I didn’t know about that one when I arrived. I walked through and eventually spotted the road where I first came in. Fans were pouring out of the gym.

This is the dilemma of a sports photographer visiting strange gymnasiums. I try to save a few seconds by making a quick exit and suddenly I’m...somewhere, nowhere.

It’s not just the Ohio locales. Earlier this season I walked out of the wrong door at Clinton. It should have been simple enough. I’ve been there before. But once again, I had this notion of which door would lead directly to the parking lot. I parked in the small lot on the west side and entered through a door where someone else was exiting.

When it was time to leave, I chose a door that must have been near the one where I entered the gym. Not the same door, but the same side. But I was wrong again and soon lost again. At least there were lights in the school yard.

The worst situation ever was somewhere else in Ohio. Stryker? North Central? I don’t know. I suppose I should have made note of it before it happens again.

I chose the “right” door and stepped out. As the door slammed shut, I discovered I was standing on about three feet of sidewalk, surrounded by nothing but snow. I tried to escape through one snow-covered field and was fenced in. I walked and walked the other way, but the parking lot was nowhere to be seen. Would I have to wait for daylight? How could everything disappear? When I finally made it back to the car, my first chore was to empty the snow from my shoes.

I think I know when this all began. Years and years ago we stayed in the Amway Grand Plaza hotel for the annual press association convention in Grand Rapids. I think my family was waiting for the elevator to arrive to take us down to dinner and I rushed down the stairwell to see if I could beat them to the bottom.

I reached ground level, burst out the door and I was suddenly standing outside on a very frigid January night, looking into the faces of the diners through the restaurant window.

Clank.

That was the sound of the door to nowhere closing.

– February 1, 2006

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