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Post details: Roller Coaster of Life

Roller Coaster of Life

When I was a kid, one of the most popular evergreens played on the radio was a song written in the 1930s by a talented jazz musician Jaroslav Jezek. Its lyrics came from the intellectual workshop of a famous duo of comedians, Jan Werich and Jiri Voskovec (Voskovec later emigrated to the US and played one of the jurors in Twelve Angry Men). The song's refrain reveals an important truth about waging life in this part of the Universe - the truth which would take years of concerted experimentation were you to discover it empirically: "Life is but a chance, sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down". It is just a simple line, but those few words speak of the thin border between success and failure, of random maelstroms and undertows that our personal boats are exposed to and of the appalling lack of control that we seem to have over their directions. When we were wending our way through the Rockies this summer, we were reminded of its message several times.

Exhibit 1: Dulles International Airport, Washington, DC

The United Airlines overbooked our flight. Although we arrived 3 hours early, our names were just appended to a waiting list and we were made to hold our breath on a little death row in front of the gate counter. Time was slowly dragging on, but the governor wasn't calling. While the other travelers slurped spiritual fast food from glossy magazines, we were tapping the drab terminal carpet with our shoes wondering if Santa Claus had the power of attorney over the United Airlines. It didn't seem so - an hour before the take-off we were still stranded and crestfallen. As our hope was gradually decomposing, we compensated for it by composing a plan B. We had booked our first night rather ambitiously at Thermopolis, WY, so arriving in Denver with a five hour delay would throw a monkey wrench into our tightly packed timetable. Boarding started and our names were still floundering at the bottom of the passenger list. I could feel the stomach floating inside me as the roller coaster of life kept plunging with no bottom in sight. With 15 minutes to spare, the Sun finally peeked through the clouds. Fortuna's magic wand danced in the air and the the next thing we felt was the rush of freedom that only driving in the West can give you. We were coasting on I-25, well on our way to Wyoming. All bad memories forgotten, all questionable booking practices forgiven, all the baleful curses we saddled the United with generously revoked.

Exhibit 2. The road from Canyon Village to Fisher Bridge, Yellowstone

On our first day in Yellowstone, two things got between us and our happiness: a lost bridge and a herd of finicky ungulates. We were scheduled to stay in a motel in West Yellowstone, but when we arrived at the park, we learned that the road from Norris to Madison was closed because of a collapsed bridge. That added about 80 miles to our itinerary - eighty miles to be traversed at a strictly enforced 35/45 miles per hour. To make matters worse, as we were coming back from the Yellowstone River waterfalls, we discovered that the road was blocked by a large group of buffalos. The bovine beasts apparently thought that ruminating in the middle of the road was the coolest thing since the "buffalo nickel". The dreary weather turned our spirits into a damp heap of sausage casings. There was no cell phone reception so we could call hotel, confirm reservation and let them know that we would be coming very late. But this loop of the roller coaster of life did not take us back to the dizzying heights in one fell swoop. Instead, we got a personal tour of one of Yellowstone's infamous traffic jams. The caravan trickled on through the herd one car at a time and the drizzling rain was not helping either. But the congestion eventually thinned out a bit and when we arrived at the hotel late that night, it was still open and our room available.

Exhibit 3. Los Alamos, New Mexico

We planned to spend our last night somewhere near Los Alamos. Since the extension of our trip to New Mexico was a bit improvised, we didn't bring any guides or accommodation listings. When we left Chama, about 120 miles to the north, the daylight was fading fast. On our way south we stopped at a motel near Espanola for dinner. They had one last available room, but the asking price was a bit overinflated. Not wanting to be strong-armed, we took our chances and drove on hoping we'd fare better closer to Los Alamos - a rather foolish premise considering how expensive Los Alamos is. We pushed forth through the yawning darkness and looked for vacancy signs from the road not knowing where we'd end up. It was a wild goose chase. The motels were few and far between and those that existed were either pricey or situated in dangerous looking neighborhoods. But when we climbed to the Los Alamos mesa our luck changed. The very first motel (Best Western) was very affordable, and to boot, the kindly receptionist informed us there was an open air concert in progress at a public park just a few blocks away. We filled the form in a hurry and darted out into the warm summer night. Soon we were camping out near the Town Square fountain and listening to a buoyant rock band from somewhere in Oklahoma. The roller coaster of life was lifting us to the stars - which at 7000 feet - seemed awfully within easy reach.

And as we were sitting there, after the long day and uncertain drive, I reflected on life in general - how inscrutable and unforgivingly colorful it can be. And I wished the band would play that old song that I remembered from Czechoslovakia: "Life is but a chance. Sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down."

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