Dumb Luck

People in the skyways, myself included, are feeling lucky today. There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of energetic striding, a lot of animated conversation. I’ve heard people talking about golf, about elegant solutions to nagging firewall issues, about a farmers’-market stand on Nicollet Mall that has the most awesome cantaloupes in the history of the world. Food is a big deal today. People are carrying burritos, slices of pizza, cups of soup, big green salads in plastic tubs. Every other person I pass seems to be eating an ice cream cone.

Nobody’s talking about luck, but it’s September 1 and we don’t live in New Orleans or on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, so we’re feeling it. The TVs at Taco Bell and in the discount brokerage offices and food courts are all tuned to CNN, which is running wall-to-wall Hurricane Katrina aftermath coverage, and we’re watching, but we’re not talking about it much. Two guys in the elevator this morning were discussing water quality. “You got all those bodies in there, and decomposition and gases and stuff,” one said. “I’d think if some of that water just, like, splashed in your mouth, you’d be in a bad way.” The other guy said, “That’s what I’m thinkin’,” and they both made sounds that I guess you’d have to describe as laughter. But it wasn’t mirthful or callous—it was laughter that meant We don’t know what to say about this, except…we’re lucky! We’re so freakin’ lucky we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Last week, at the state fair, my son and I went on a ride that scared the daylights out of us. He spotted it as we walked along the Midway and said, “Look, Dad, a giant Frog Hopper”—an ordinary Frog Hopper being a kiddie ride he’s enjoyed at Camp Snoopy. You get strapped into one of a row of seats, and you’re lifted about 12 feet in the air, and then you jog downward in little incremental drops. It’s very tame stuff. The ride at the fair, whose name I can’t remember (The Widowmaker? The Terror Tower? The Emasculator?), looked similar, except that it stood about three stories tall. I wasn’t paying enough attention; I figured Gus knew rides better than his old man did. So we handed over our tickets, and up we went.

And up we went, to treetop level. Then we sat there for a moment. Then there was an extremely definitive metallic chunk, and our delightful downward hippity-hopping began.

Only it wasn’t incremental. It was a single instantaneous drop with a flesh-yanking g-force ending.

I wish I could describe the look on Gus’s face. Earlier that afternoon, as we were going up the first big hill on the Crazy Mouse roller coaster, he’d joked, “It’s been nice knowing you, Dad.” Now he must have thought he’d jinxed himself. But as he slowly realized that he hadn’t, that he was still a living boy, his shock and awe turned to a quavery grin: I’m lucky!

This afternoon I saw a man in a kilt standing on a downtown corner. He was wearing the tasseled knee-high socks, too, and a T-shirt. Scout’s honor. He was talking on a cell phone in the sunshine.

I am so lucky. A person could live his whole life and never see something like that.