Does your job ever put you in ridiculous situations?

The following is a true story of unbelievably bad luck…

5:15 p.m. –– Creative Director Scott Camarati and I pull into the parking lot of a nearby home improvement store. It’s practically empty because of a snowstorm.

A client has given us a last-minute emergency assignment: Design a better layout for arranging their products on this retailer’s shelves.

They need it for a meeting.

The next day.

No pressure there.

So we plow our way to the store to document where each product already is.   (A painstaking but necessary first step.)

The problem: Store managers get nervous with people making notes and taking photos in their store, even if you explain your good intentions.

So tonight we’re going straight to Plan B:

  1. Walk in real casual like.
  2. Get the info.
  3. Get the heck outta there.

A store full of customers is best for this. They keep the employees busy and make it easier for us to “blend in.”

But not tonight.

The store is practically deserted. The sales staff is gonna swarm us like vultures on roadkill.

Entering the store we give a polite brush-off to the greeter without breaking stride. One down.

Halfway to our aisle a second salesperson asks. We keep walking, smile and say we know what we need, thanks.

Moments later a third employee approaches, but we outrun her and she eventually gives up the chase.

For the moment we’re in the clear. There’s no one – employee or customer – between us and Aisle 32. Encouraged, we pick up the pace, turn the corner…

… and come to a screeching halt.

There stands a lone customer, right where we need to work.

[Okay, I know this is a long post, but you’re enjoying it, right? Hello?]

He’s the only customer in the entire building as far as we can tell. A kindly-looking, silver-haired gentleman of at least 80.

I’m not a mathematician, but I’ll bet the odds of us encountering someone at that exact spot – at the exact moment ­– in the middle of a blizzard – are pretty slim. You probably stand a better chance of spotting Bigfoot in Parma.

Yet there he is.

And from what we’re seeing he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

Struggling to maintain our composure as precious minutes tick by, we watch as he slowly – thoroughly – scrutinizes a package in his hands…

…then puts it back

…then carefully examines another

…then compares the two.

In the time it’s taking him to decide between Products A and B, they could have unearthed Tut’s tomb.

I begin to feel a throbbing over my right eye, the kind that signals my BP is exceeding the healthy range.

By contrast, the old man has long ago dispensed with any sense or urgency, or any concept of time for that matter. He proceeds at a reptilian pace, as though caught in a molasses-like time dimension. (Shatner grappled with something similar in episode 66.)

The minutes drag painfully on. We have no choice but to stand there in a cold, desperate sweat…and wait.

(NOTE TO SELF: Pick a happier topic next time. This one’s forcing you to re-live the horror.)

Hold it…did he?…YES!! The guy moved! He moved!

Granted, it’s a mere two feet to the right – and he did it so slowly we almost didn’t notice – but it gives us access to at least a portion of what we need.

Finally, some progress!

The joy is short-lived. After quickly gathering all the info available in that limited space, we take a step back to catch our breath.

And find ourselves once again at a dead stop.

The old gentleman has either fallen asleep with his eyes open or is utterly transfixed by the array of products before him. Either way, he’s essentially inanimate. (I’ve seen mannequins with more mojo.) And he is single-handedly turning our project into an all-nighter.

For half a second I entertain the notion of commandeering a forklift and seeing if I can move him to the lumber section without anyone noticing.

Instead, we take a quick lap around the store, vainly hoping the old fellow will be gone when we get back.

He doesn’t budge an inch. I swear to heaven, not one inch.

We take another lap (rejecting renewed offers of assistance from employees). This time – cue the angel choir – a miracle of sorts greets us upon our return: The silver scrutinizer has finally sauntered away.

Thank you, Jesus.

[And thank you, kind reader, for wading through this insanely long post.]

But now a new threat is looming: a little old lady* lingering nearby with a shopping cart. (What are all these old folks doing out in a snowstorm?)

There’s no time to lose. Working row by row, Scott calls out package part numbers and I feverishly jot them down, trying to keep up without making a mistake.

Meanwhile, the little old lady meanders in and out of my peripheral vision. I try to ignore the distraction. If I write down these part numbers in the wrong order it’ll be a problem later.

Eventually we manage to gather all the data we need and even snap a few photos for reference. It’s going to be a long night, but at least Step One is accomplished.

We start to hustle out of the aisle so we can race back to the office and try to make up for lost time.

“Excuse me, could you help me?” the little old lady asks as we’re about to walk past her.

No way. This can’t be happening.

We stop. She begins to question us about a faucet display on a nearby wall. We realize she has mistaken us for employees because she saw us counting products.

We tell her we don’t work there. Undaunted, she continues pumping us for information about features and benefits.

I feel the blood pressure thing happening again.

Then suddenly…

…out of nowhere, salvation appears: an employee. One of the folks we’ve been trying to dodge for the last hour.

“This lady has some questions,” we say, handing her off to the befuddled young man and backing quickly away before breaking into a sprint.

Moments later, safely back out in the snowy parking lot we heave a sigh of relief. We have the information to complete our project, but we’ve paid for it in stomach acid.

It was as though the gods of retail marketing had conspired to throw wacky obstacles in our way. We’re pretty sure some deity, somewhere, had enjoyed a good laugh at our expense.

Fine. You wanna play that game? Bring it on. There are plenty of big box stores around. If we can’t get what we need in one we’ll just move on to the next.

The gods can’t plant doddering shoppers in all of them.

* Her presence, and that of the gentleman, provide irrefutable proof that Buicks are good in the snow.