Playing It Safe
In defense of cowardice
My job consistently leads me toward activities that I wouldn’t ordinarily undertake. Getting kicked in the throat by a black belt, dancing onstage with the Flaming Lips, invading my wife’s workplace and sexually harassing her while hidden inside a giant bean costume—these are endeavors that I can rationalize with the ol’, “Well, that’ll be something to write about.” Without the pressure to produce this column, there’s very little chance that I would’ve ever been the lone guy hanging out at a sex-toy sales party. I’m not saying there’s no chance. But probably very little, unless the hors d’oeuvres were really good.
However, despite my healthy appetite for uncomfortable situations, there are a great many stories that you’ll never get to read simply because I’m too much of a ’fraidy cat to attempt the experience in the first place. For instance, you won’t read my account of the Sturgis motorcycle rally because immediately upon receipt of the invitation, I began imagining all the horrible things that would happen to me there. If I didn’t skid off a cliff somewhere along the way, then I’d probably be conscripted into a biker gang and forced to become a nomadic outlaw living on the fringes of society with nothing to my name but my bike and my reputation. Honestly, like I have time for that?
Not long after I nixed the Sturgis idea, I got an invite to go skydiving with elite military paratroopers. I initially agreed, but as the deadline drew near, I remembered a whole litany of important tasks that demanded attention. Cataloging my collection of can cozies. Preventative food-processor maintenance. My taxes. For 2013.
I mean, as great as it sounds to tumble out of an airplane with a dude strapped to your back, my mind kept returning to a disturbing term I’d heard a few weeks before. A friend who’s apparently tight with paratroopers received a massive speeding ticket after he came zipping around a corner just as cops were attending to the scene of a skydiving accident. “This guy dirt-darted,” he said. “So then all these cops were there…” I interrupted his story to ask if “dirt-dart” meant what I thought it meant. “Yeah,” he replied. “The guy’s chute didn’t open.”
Here’s my logic: If a parachute failing to open is a common enough occurrence that there’s a jocular term for it, then I’m fine with never, ever leaping from an airplane. That’s despite the fact that at my in-laws’ house, there’s a proudly displayed photo of my wife skydiving. Maybe she’s braver than I am, but I’ll bet she’s never heard of dirt-darts.
Hitchhiking is another topic with which I wrestle. I’m sure that if I picked up a hitchhiker I’d have a great story, presuming I didn’t end up dismembered in a reservoir. Every time I see a hitchhiker, I feel the urge to stop. But I never do, which is hypocritical since I was on the pedestrian side of that equation one night not too long ago.
My friend Dave and I had walked two miles to the Beachcomber in Wellfleet. As it was raining, we made this trek beneath a patio umbrella. That’s fine when you’re running on beer-fueled enthusiasm, but the prospect of the walk home at 1 am was much less palatable, and taxis were nowhere to be seen. So Dave set up a roadblock.
Literally, he found sawhorses in the woods and began placing them across the top of the access road. I stood nearby opining that this strategy would never work because people don’t pick up hitchhikers anymore, and they especially don’t pick up two hitchhikers who are carrying a patio umbrella on a dark country road in the middle of the night. And yet, once Dave completely blocked off the road, a car was forced to stop. A girl stepped out to see what was going on, and Dave chivalrously declared, “Here, let me get that out of your way,” moving the obstacle that he himself had placed there 30 seconds earlier. He then petitioned her to give us a lift, and—much to my amazement—she agreed. Two guys and a giant umbrella thus piled into a Pontiac Sunbird with a girl named Mary. When we got home, Dave handed her the money we would’ve spent on cab fare and bid Mary farewell, saying, “Thanks for the ride. Now don’t ever do that again.”
See, you don’t about hear the happy outcomes like that on the nightly news. So, now that I’ve walked two miles in a hitcher’s shoes, what did I do the night that I was driving through Hingham and saw a guy plodding along with his thumb out? That’s right. I kept driving. I’ve got to play it safe. Someday I might want to see Sturgis.