Sometimes we learn things in the oddest ways.
My recent lesson started with a gas cap.
You know, those things you screw back on your car’s gas tank after you’ve spent about $60 on a partial fill-up.
OK, so somehow I wound up needing a gas cap. Never mind how it happened, just trust me.
Anyhow, I called the NAPA auto parts store, was reassured that they had the proper cap, and set out on a drive to the address I found online: 719 Fort Riley Blvd.
How hard could this be, even for a newcomer to Manhattan?
Very hard, as it turned out.
See, you can’t GET to 719 Fort Riley Blvd. from…well, from Fort Riley Boulevard.
There are a few stores in that block, including NAPA, but no entrance off the street into a parking lot. No entrance, period.
Eventually I bumbled around with a few turns, found myself blocked by railroad tracks, and finally realized that a well-disguised alley behind all the buildings fronting Fort Riley Blvd. was the only way in.
And I made it, despite no signage and one little detrour into what seemed to be a warehouse loading dock.
When I finally bought the gas cap, the smiling fellow at the counter said: “Nope, there’s no way in off the street. That’s why the last owner sold this place.”
Right, so now I had the gas cap, and promptly made another decision: I needed a map of Manhattan. A real, honest-to-goodness paper map I could spread out to see where all these little hazards might be lurking.
Except that almost nobody sells maps here.
I tried a Dara’s just up the road. No luck, but they sent me to another Dara’s up on Anderson near K-State — where the clerks just laughed.
Try Walgreen’s, they said.
So I did, and got the same reply. In fact, people seemed to think the idea of buying a map was as strange as if I’d walked in and asked to purchase an aardvark.
And I’m thinking: “This is a visitors’ town. We have a huge university, a military base nearby, and people coming from all over the globe who need directions. This is a city that NEEDS maps!”
Eventually, I got to Dillon’s, where again they had no maps but were willing to share some advice: Try Hastings, or just go to the Chamber of Commerce during business hours.
I can be a complete buffoon on occasion, but honestly, if it had been daytime I probably would have thought of the Chamber after my first failure at Dara’s.
And yes, for all of you who may be destined to drive down blind alleys and funky streets in Manhattan someday, folks at the Chamber of Commerce — 501 Poyntz — would be thrilled to give you a free map of the city.
If you want two or three, extras are a buck apiece.
You can’t beat it.
Now I feel incredibly smart, having chatted with Karen Hibbard at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and even learned that our city has a web site to let you know what’s going on (http://www.visitmanhattanks.org).
Directions to 501 Poyntz?
Sorry, without a map or GPS, you’re on your own.
Steve Cameron is a Mercury columnist. He will become the paper’s executive editor on Sept. 30. Follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecameron100.