The crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo on February 11, 19 days after ending my traveling is a strange reminder of the unpredictability of, well, your fate. I spent 159 days on ferries that had a history of sinking, airlines that had a history of crashing, buses that had a history of plunging off of cliffs and trains that were just plain slow and dirty. Yet I never really felt like I had a close call, never felt genuinely scared or nervous, and never even got a cold or even sick to my stomach – except after a chichi dinner party in New Delhi. An Indonesian ferry sank two months after I was on one; a bus in Ecuador killed five British students a week after I passed through on the very same route. And the worst plane crash of all occurred here in America, the first fatalities on a major US airline in more than two years. You can say I tempted fate. Yet in the end, as my experience brings home, it’s all a random throw of the dice. We Americans love the idea of control in our lives, but it’s all an illusion. Fate intervenes when we least expect it. A drunken driver runs a red light even when our seat belt is buckled tight and we’re as sober as a first grader.
I’m not sure if that’s disturbing or comforting. But I’m going to go with the latter. After all, good things happen suddenly and unexpectedly, too, and probably more good things happen than bad. You walk into a bar or a party and there she is, someone who stops time and sweeps you off your feet. Your life is changed forever as surely as the plane crash. You wake up in the middle of the night with a random idea that changes your life. You just happen to look up in the sky and see a glowing full moon in the night that makes you feel big and small and connected to the big forces and magic of the universe.
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Carl Hoffman is traveling for The Lunatic Express, to be published by Broadway Books in 2009. He is a contributing editor at Na…
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