A few weeks ago, I thought I was doing my husband a favor by pulling Betty into a different stall under the breezeway so that his work vehicle could fit in one of the bays. But when I shut off the engine, I heard an ominous hiss. Thinking something was wrong with the motor, I re-started the Jeep, moved forward a tad, and shut it off. And again: hisssss. Louder.
Did I mention that I suck under pressure? (Don’t ask about the time I caught the microwave on fire). So I ran to the house, grabbed my phone and called dearest husband: “I think the engine’s blowing! What do I do? Should I move Betty down by the wash so the house doesn’t catch fire?”
He says, calmly, “Go out and see if it’s still making the noise.” Of course I’m afraid to go near it because I just KNOW it will blow up in my face. Phone in hand, I walk tentatively toward Betty, then start to laugh. Then frown. Then whisper a few expletives. The hissss, was this:
Within mere minutes, the tire – with its blown sidewall – was flat, and Betty was lopsided… and disabled.
The irony of this story is that Betty hadn’t moved an inch since the holidays, when I’d last parked her (following a trip with an adventurous 70-something year-old friend from Chicago, along the remote San Pedro):
This is one of my favorite vistas in the desert. Click to enlarge.
That tiny patch of dirt at the right is the road my friend and I had driven during the holidays. Click to enlarge.
So, yes, when I realized I’d been driving on dried-out tires – hoping to get just a little more life from them – I was struck by reality: things could have been worse. The tire could have blown along the San Pedro River (where, mind you, we passed only a few cars). This was pretty much all we saw:
Three horses grazing (one is off camera). Click to enlarge.
I have wanted to photograph this trailer for years. Its tired sag, its rusty walls, and the vast expanse of desert mountains in the background give some indication of how far off the beaten path we were. Click to enlarge.
The geologic formations in this area are breathtaking. Click to enlarge.
Yeah … I’ll take luck any day – especially since the spare tire isn’t a correct fit and I haven’t changed a tire since I was 21. Oh yeah, and paying for the new shoes wasn’t much of a picnic either. But still…
For Writers & Readers: Happenstance. Luck. Serendipity. Those moments happen to us in real life. We may forget about them moments after they occur, shrug them off as coincidence. In fact, we won’t remember all of those incidents in our lifetimes, but we do accept them.
Yet in fiction, we’re less accepting of Lady Luck. Consider the movies you’ve watched and the books you’ve read – how, when luck intervenes, your first response is: How convenient. How predictable. How boring.
The best fiction transcends life. Just because “it really happened that way” (you argue to your critique group), doesn’t mean it makes for good fiction. Just ask a reader. Characters are most appealing when luck isn’t on their side, when they’re bumbling, stumbling and grasping.
So if I’d been writing the script of Betty’s blown tire, you can bet it would have been more calamitous than what really happened. In this case, however, thank goodness for real life … because, on the trek home from the San Pedro drive, we were on a winding, mountainous, guardrail-less highway, traveling at 60 MPH.
Can you think of an instance in your life when happenstance – luck – protected you or even led to something great and unexpected? Do you recall a particular book or movie that failed to wow you because of lucky circumstances that seemed too contrived?