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Consider This

By LC Van Savage

Mazes, Aisles And Visual Interest

Truly I do not spend my days searching for things to whine about although let’s face it, creative whining is definitely an art, and I’m an art lover.

Happens I do have a big whine in me dying to get out so here goes. Can anyone tell me please whose idea it was to change simple, straight north/south/east/west aisles in stores, in particular supermarkets, into these annoying, awful winding pathways around islands of “visual interest” or whatever it is they’re called?

There’s one large food store around here in which I occasionally try to shop and absolutely every time, I abandon my cart and stomp out because I just can’t maneuver around all those “charming” something or other centers to find what I came in for. I keep giving the place another chance and am always disappointed.

And oddly while these product displays are artfully arranged on all these islands of confusion, they’re not consistent. I went into that cavernous store last month because I was in a hurry and it was handy, and because I needed a certain product. Finally, after walking and walking and walking (yes I know, I know, walking is very good exercise but exhausting when you’re not getting anywhere and there seems to be no end to it all) I began to give up. You see, for a person with map dyslexia from which I suffer, those infuriating but oh so enchanting winding pathways around those crazy islands stacked with beautiful products only result in my getting completely lost. I do not drop pebbles or crumbs so I may find my way back; I make tiny pencil marks. You’ll see them on the walls in many hotel hallways, schools, TV stations and big stores if you look carefully.

Finally I saw part of what I wanted in that huge emporium. It was hanging tantalizingly from one end of a visually perfect product peninsula. Eureka! I ran for it. It was a nice little display but I actually wanted the bigger version. When I finally found a person with a name tag, I asked him where I could find the larger version, and he announced with some glee I thought, that it was clear across the store. Another long hike loomed before me, down winding paths around many little islands stocked with more stuff. I asked him why the small version of the product I coveted wasn’t in the same area as the large one since it was the exact same product, and he smiled, shrugged, sauntered off and did not answer me. The illogicness of store layouts and displays was obviously a mystery to him also. I suppose that someone in the industry has decided that people love to be confused and lost, and those feelings will make them buy more, for comfort or security or something.

These winsome crooked pathways aren’t always in stores. They are on sidewalks too. In midsummer when one looks down a public brick sidewalk and sees it meandering charmingly in a serpentine pathway downtown and there’s this big sort of tumor like bulge sticking out suddenly at a corner into the street, it looks weirdly sort of OK. It all attracts the eye. But then winter comes and one cannot help but wonder how snowplows manage to maneuver around all that. And forget about shoveling; one’s shovel rams hard against bricks that have risen up from their brickmates because of tree roots or frost heave, and that just plain hurts the cold hands, right? A lot. I do miss smooth sidewalks that went straight along the sides of the main streets, sided by low curbs that your car door didn’t slam and scrape into when you opened it.

It’s kind of a maze thing. Are we yearning to go back to those days of yesteryear when people thought it was hilariously funny to get lost in the paths wound between huge hedges, getting scared because they couldn’t find their ways out? Ever? I have never been amused at getting lost in mazes, and Hollywood has made millions on horror films with that as the main theme. The ones in films, like the mazes in stores these days, are just outright nightmares, the stuff of Freud.

A little history of the maze. It’s the English word for a labyrinth and it all began maybe 3500 years ago, give or take. Labyrinth was the name given to this peculiar sort of pastime by the Ancient Romans. For them it was a special type of pattern made by one path that wound all over the place, in and out making sort of a trick which made thousands of more patterns, all measured out exactly or they wouldn’t work. All of this stuff became a maze and there are some who say that labyrinth mysteries were solved with a “clewe of twine” which is Old English for a “ball of string.” So you see, and I know you’re following all this, a maze is the solution to a pattern-making puzzle which was solved by geometry, and of course the origin of the word “clue.” And also by someone really smart back then who had the brains to carry a huge clewe of twine, one end tied to the entrance of the maze so he/she could find h/h way back and get home, unless some hard-hearted wag untied the end of that clewe and left it lying on a pathway.

You got all that? No? Well, me either. But the more I read about mazes, ancient or modern, I wonder if they are in the minds of those store/sidewalk/room/etc. designers, engineers and architects when they force us to weave around in odd patterns and pathways just to get to where we want to go. You know, life is a huge maze in and of itself. Can’t we just keep the places we walk simple, logical, and straight? Sure, maybe that’s not as visually interesting, but one does at least quickly get to one’s destinations.

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