Searching for The Learning Annex

I’ve delayed, tying my shoes three times, and yet the sidewalk continues to be quite crowded. Tourists by the dozen block the way, holding maps upside-down, oblivious of an old woman trying to get by with a push cart filled with groceries. A server from the restaurant on the corner is taking his smoke break, pacing along the edge of the curb as
if walking a tightrope across lava. “I can’t take this shit anymore,” he says into a cell phone.

I stare at a long double stack of newspaper boxes on the street corner.  LGBT weeklies, Hispanic monthlies, Afro-American dailies, an auto magazine; it has to be there. The clue said, “the learning annex”. Newspapers are “learning”, right?

It’s been a while since I’ve tied my shoes and the restaurant server is following his back-and-forth course away from me. Casually looking around, I kneel without actually looking at my feet. I slowly loosen the strings so that I can retie them. There are too many people here to keep track of, but now seems like my moment. I haven’t yet checked this side of the newspaper boxes. Their bottoms are only a few inches from the ground so I have to reach low and grope around.

Ugh, that was sticky. I put my hand right into what feels like a mass of gooey spiders’ webs. Damn. Nothing–I felt along the whole edge of the boxes and touched nothing that seemed out of place.

I glance at my GPS again. The signal here is bouncy due to the tall office buildings, but I’m certain this is the spot. I’ve already checked inside the boxes, opening each, but I was nervous. A couple of fat children were watching me while their parents argued over directions. Perhaps I didn’t take enough time to really feel around.

I decide to systematically try the boxes again, starting with the newspaper on the top right. While opening its door I sense a change of air. A man walked up behind me, waiting to grab a copy of the same paper. Flustered, I quickly grab one and step away. I open the paper, hanging around, pretending to read, waiting for him to move on. Dudes in skimpy underwear and provocative poses smile at me from the inner pages. Good

Then I see it. A paper called “Get Your Degree in 90 Days”. I’ve gotten desperate. Sounds like “learning” to me!

Forget systematically checking, I’ve got my target. It’s the box closest to the corner, right next to the curb-cut. I must have glazed over it the first time since it was the most exposed of the bunch. I bend over, open the door, and feel along the inside.

My hand lands on a thick disc attached  to the top of the box. That old rush returns, a feeling I’ve come to know and enjoy: I’ve found the cache. It’s a nice one too, sometimes they’re just magnetic keyholders or pill jars wrapped in black tape, but this one is fancy. A hefty magnetic disc with a screw-on lid; you don’t see a lot of caches of this size in the city.

I unscrew the lid, fish out a small notebook, and sign my name along with today’s date. Dozens have signed the log before me. I flick my finger through the bits and bobs in the cache. My eye rests on a slightly bent plastic army man—no, I’ll leave it. I drop in my customary token, a 20-sided die. Relieved, I’m ready to move on, but sometimes, returning a cache unnoticed is harder than finding it.