A while back we rented this old BBC TV show from Netflix called “Connections.” The conceit was charming, though tenuous: particular historical events may seem distant and disparate happenings, but in fact one had a direct influence on the other. “Did you know that Hindenburg disaster can be causally traced back to the invention of grout?” Or something.
It didn’t grab us, so we stopped watching. But the central premise is something I often think back to. How one event, seemingly meaningless, will have a direct influence on a later, positive outcome. It comes up often in Scrabble. I’ll curse a particularly bad rack, but the letters I play from it will end up being just the hook I need to lay down a bingo on the next turn. It’s not planned, but the second couldn’t have happened without the first.
It’s been fun to see the same dynamic arise from time to time on this trip. There was the low gas tank in Iowa, leading to the Elkader gas station, leading to the cheeseburger, keeping us from leaving town for a half-hour, allowing us to find the motocross jumpers just as they were arriving. There was the advice from mini-golf attendant in Minneapolis, leading us to a crappy art exhibit, leading us to a couple strangers on a bridge, tipping us off to the World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band. I watch these things unfold, and it sends a little shot of geeky endorphins through my bloodstream.
Yesterday’s episode unfolded similarly, beginning with advice from strangers. While at a wine tasting at Red Newt winery in the Finger Lakes, we asked the pourer if she had advice about lake swimming. She mentioned a small beach, Smith State Park, at the end of a side road. We wrote it down. A couple hours later, after a few more tastings and a tour, we found the road and drove town in search of the beach. We couldn’t find it. We stopped and asked a resident for directions. We doubled back, found the road and the path to the beach, and parked. Just then a family of three was walking out. We asked, “Is this the way to the beach?”
Them: “Yeah, but they’re closing it for a half-hour because of the thunderstorm rolling in.”
Us: “Oh. Crap.”
Them: “You from out of town?”
Us: “Yeah, Chicago.”
Them: “Welcome to the Finger Lakes! You know about the gorge?”
We did not. They explained that it was private property, so we could swim anytime. We did not ask whose property it was. They volunteered to lead us there. Three minutes later, they were walking us down a wooded path, into an absolutely deserted gorge, with deep shale walls and a shallow creek running through it. Fucking gorgeous. A ten minute walk and were at the natural pool and waterfall. On the way we learned about our angel hosts — Tim, Luann and John — busting our stereotypes about the congeniality of people who make a living manufacturing gun parts from home. Then we (well, I) changed and dove in. I got all of five minutes swimming and exploring the gorge before it started to rain. But it was worth it.
So many things lined up to lead us there. Asking the right wine clerk. Taking our time with tastings and tours. Getting lost. Finding this family leaving just as we were entering. I’m not saying it’s fate, nor am I pretending we wouldn’t have had a great time had our plans bounced a different way. In fact that’s precisely the point: I map out these chains of events to remind me that it’s always better to leave our plans open, and let the Plinko Ball of Destiny carom in whatever way it desires.