Thursday, November 17, 2011

And then there were police...

{image of West Quay from their site}

How do you spend your Saturdays? This last Saturday, my daughter convinced me to go to something called The West Quay shopping centre. I have been here since June and had managed to keep my shop-o-holic bottom out of this place up until then. The press release images of this place do not prepare you for the reality of this place.

{image from my cell phone. notice how this pic is nowhere near as empty as theirs above}

This place was so manic and jam packed full of people, it was enough to make a non-claustrophobic person have an anxiety attack. Moments before I took this picture, I had said to my daughter and her two friends, "I'll text you with a time to meet back at the car ok?" And in typical teenage fashion there were quick "Yeah, yeah O.K."'s and off they went bopping their way into the sea of people. 

Thirty minutes later, I pull my phone out to let them know a good time to meet back at the car. Has anyone ever mentioned the dangers of texting while walking before? I found myself in the middle of a food court standing in a line, I didn't remember putting myself in. It was lucky though because I realized I was indeed really hungry but then there was this buzzing which turned out to be my phone. 

An evil looking triangle thing with an exclamation point was stamped all over my text msg to my daughter about meeting back at the car. I was a little bit curious about it but assumed that surely, I just needed to send it again for it to work. The second time my phone buzzed like it was going to explode with the rejected text msg, I noticed I had no data and only 1 bar of signal. Seriously West Quay? Seriously??

This is where I start swinging my phone around in different positions, while refusing to get out of this line for food. Surely, being on the top floor of this giant mega shopping centre, I'm bound to get signal. I just need to hold the phone right. Ah! There, 2 whole bars of signal. Quick! Push send. 1 bar of signal. Crap. Buzz. Swing, maneuver, stand like a human antennae. 2 bars. PUSH SEND! Damn. Buzz. Red exclamation point and triangle. Sigh. Now, what am I going to do?

I'm going to eat. I'm freaking starving. There are a bajillion people in this mall and even if I can get my phone to work, I'm sure my daughter's got the same problem with signal mine does. A pay phone beckons to me from across the food court. This is where I get the brilliant idea to call my husband who isn't with us. He's a genius. Surely, he'll know what to do.

Me: "James. The girls and I've separated. I told them I would text them with the time to meet back at the car. I've got no signal which means they don't have signal either. Do you have the other girl's cell phone numbers? Maybe you could try texting them for me."

James: "Uhhhh...No? Why don't you just go to the information desk and have them paged? Wait, you have no signal? In West Quay? Is there a store with our carrier there?"

Me:"Well freaking d-uuh. I'm going to. I wanted to avoid that. And yes, I can see the store from here."

And the glow of the store welcomed all visitors but something was wrong. Very, very wrong. The piercing shrill rattle of an alarm is going off as I enter the space. There are 500 people packed into the 10 sq ft of store space and only 2 employees available to help. And no one is turning off that damned alarm!

I'm starting to feel the pressure of time ticking by as my intended deadline for us all meeting back at the car approaches but I'm still not reaching the girls. I bolt from the overcrowded cell phone store and feel like a salmon trying to swim against the current in this ridiculous stampede of people. And that's when I learned a magic trick. 

If you're ever in a situation that's ridiculously packed with people and are lucky enough to be carrying a large noticeable camera, make a really grand gesture of pulling it out to take a picture. The crowds will part like you're Moses and they're the Red Sea. 

You can literally clear yourself a path through the hordes with this technique. No one really wants to be caught on camera so only those who are oblivious will fail to move. 

Once I reached the information desk this is how the conversation went down:

Me:"Hi, this is my first time here and I didn't appreciate the magnitude of this place. I let my daughter and her two friends go off on their own. I was going to text them with the time to meet back at the car but I have no signal. I was wondering if you could page them over an intercom? " I'm holding up the phone here as a visual aid to show the ugly red exclamation point and the lack of signal bars. 

The girl I'm talking to slides their land line phone towards me and says, "We don't have one of those. You can try calling her with our phone."

Me: "Right, but she's on the same network as me. If I have no signal, she's not going to have signal either."

Her: "You can use our phone to try calling her."

So I fought back thoughts about Forrest Gump and went through the motions of using their phone and listening to my daughter's voice mail. Meanwhile, the non-Forrest Gump employee had been on another phone to the manager because she'd been listening to the situation. 

Mr. Manager comes up and introduces himself and listens to my request. This was his response:

Him:"And you last saw her how long ago?"

Me:"Roughly an hour ago."

This is where he starts to look like he might have to go take a dump. "To use our intercom system we have to fill out a missing person's report."

One missing person's report later an announcement went over the P.A. system and washed over the 50k-70k attendees. That's how many people they get on an average Saturday. My mind was blown. I can't imagine what it's like during Christmas rush. And we're in a down economy right?

Since my daughter and her friends have selective hearing or a cotton farm has planted its self in their ears, they didn't hear and respond to the page. Mr. Manager got back on his little walkie talkie type thing and was muttering a description of my daughter over it to people. People in some secret room are now scouring video camera feeds from all over West Quay. Every security guard on every floor is now scanning the crowds for them. Every employee in every store is now looking for my misplaced group of teenagers. All because I have no signal. 

Me:"Is that an exit to the street? Maybe I can try and run outside and see if I get better signal out there."

Minutes later, after clearing myself a path with my camera, I'm standing on the pavement outside West Quay and wildly swinging my phone around. Farfegnugen!! No bars. Where the hell am I? A black hole?!?

I am now sweating bullets as I dash back to the information desk. How can I have lost not only my own kid, but two other ones from two different families? This is NOT the kind of impression I need to give British families of Americans. And one of the father's is going to be at my house, trying to pick their daughter up very soon!

I've given my tale of failure to Mr. Manager and he's now putting out an alert to all the shops not just to West Quay, but to all of the stores along the high street. And look at that. The police monitor those types of broadcasts. Well. Isn't that fun?

Mr. Manager has one last idea. It's suggested I run back to the car to see if the girls have tried to meet me there and are waiting. Neither of us really believe that's the case and honestly, I think he was just trying to get me out of the building before the police show up to avoid the extra paperwork. And I take action on it. Now I feel like a fugitive on the run. 

Once I've cleared the building and I have a full signal and my phone STILL can't do what it's designed to do I finally clue in and restart my phone. Wow, look at that. I can text, call, and play Angry Birds if I want. Isn't that special? Have I mentioned I hate cell phones?

This story has left me fully convinced that I need a graphic Tee or business card that simplifies my life. Something that says:

"Please don't entrust me with your kids. I won't be held responsible for losing them or failing to know how to operate a cell phone." 

Phones worked, children were found, and all was well in the world once again. But the worst part of it all? I didn't even get to shop in a single store before I left. 



  1. gosh! You'd think that by now, there shouldn't be signal problems anymore, especially with newer phones! The lesson here really is DON'T GO SHOPPING ON THE WEEKENDS. And I am gonna use that camera trick. Oh yes, I will.

  2. bahaha! I mean, it's totally not funny...Did you at least get to enjoy your food? Great writing!

  3. I only ate half of it. I truly didn't even know what it was. I think it was a "pastie" whatever that is or means is beyond my scope. It was warm, didn't taste like dirt and it filled me up fairly quickly. And it was totally comical. Even though I was totally sweating bullets like a hog on a chopping block there was a funny factor to the whole thing for me. Trying to wrap my brain around the fact that this place didn't have any cell signal, a massage place of any kind, or a beauty salon with 50K-70K ppl in it was mind melting. The fact that I was in a building were so many people we were standing shoulder to shoulder and I was wildly swinging around a camera and a cell phone which made them scatter like gremlins exposed to light had a whole new ha ha factor for me. I failed to point out a few key things as well. A) This is a typical type of day for me. B) I'd already wrestled old people for my groceries that morning. C) I'd had to break into my own gas tank in front of a gas station filled with enough cars it looked like a used car lot. D) I thought I'd discovered one of my front tires looked low, panicked, raced to get the tire pressure checked and added too, but it was fine so the person helping me may have looked at me like I was a bit unstable. I'd totally love to know there are other people who's lives are like this but I don't even think it's possible.

  4. Totally use it. And if there is an oblivious person who manages to still be in your way, press the button half way down so the flash does a little blip on them. That'll get their attention and they'll run like a lemming. Yeah - I got that mean with it. ;D

  5. Hahaha, you really have a knack for story-telling. I really can't stand malls, as much as I like shopping. Boston is nice because there are so many shopping options outside of the traditional mall environment.

  6. What a hideous day - i now know exactly why i detest shopping centres xx

  7. Haha I'm so glad I found your blog, this was entertaining because it has totally happened to me before at a county fair, except I was the teenager who couldn't call her mother. Haha