It was the day before Thanksgiving, and we were on our way to the house of some relatives. It was a long way, and we had hoped to get off early, but, as things usually happen, we weren’t able to leave until after noon. Thus it was late by the time we approached our destination.

We only had about 30 miles left to go when we saw the first detour sign. Then I saw the flashing lights of the highway department truck turn ahead of us and block the road. The truck had a big sign with an arrow that pointed in the direction of the detour. The road now closed ahead of us, we were the unlucky ones to be first turned down the detour route.

“If we would have just left 15 minutes earlier,” I grumbled, “we would have missed this.”

As I followed the signs that directed us into the middle of the city, there were headlights behind us as far as I could see as other cars followed our lead. The detour path was not well marked, and after we approached the main street of the city, the signs disappeared completely. I presumed there could be different reasons for this. It could be the highway department ran out of signs, or it might be they decided that if they led us to another main road that we could find our own way from there. Of course, I considered, it might be they wanted us to experience the adventure of getting lost.

I made the decision to keep following the main street and watch for signs showing a route back to the interstate. It was almost midnight, so the city traffic was almost nonexistent, but the cars kept pouring in from the interstate. We went for about a mile at the slow city street speed, wondering if we would ever see a sign to get us back. Just then, the stoplight ahead of us turned red. We stopped, and the string of cars piled up behind us. By the time it turned green, there were scores of them.

We started on our way again, and the cars continued to follow us. We traveled another five miles, hitting quite a few more stop lights, and I had just started to wonder if this detour was simply some evil plan to keep us lost in the middle of this city forever, when I spotted a sign indicating the way back to the interstate. At almost the same instant that I saw it, my wife saw a grocery store.

“That reminds me,” she said, “we were supposed to bring some salad for the dinner tomorrow, and I never did get the things I needed.”

I reluctantly turned onto the street by the store and then into the parking lot. That was when I realized I had an interesting situation. The cars behind me followed me onto the street and into the parking lot, too. As I parked, the driver of the first car behind me suddenly realized what I was doing and continued on out the other side of the parking lot, back onto main street, and disappeared in the direction of the interstate. All of the cars behind him followed his lead.

As I stepped from our van, I watched as car after car trailed its way through the parking lot. To get to the store, I had to dodge through them. I quickly made my way around the store, gathering the items on the list my wife had quickly scribbled out for me, then went to pay for it.

But there were no clerks at the checkout. They were all standing by the window. One of them finally saw me and came to help.

“Sorry,” he said. “There is something weird going on out in the parking lot. Hundreds of cars are driving through it.”

I smiled. “Really? I wonder why they would be doing that.”

When I went outside, the cars were still coming. I dodged between them again and climbed into my van. They were almost bumper to bumper, but, finally, I saw a short break and merged into the line of traffic, wondering about a very important question.

If I were to come back in the morning, would the line of cars still be driving through the grocery store parking lot?