Editor's notebook: Running into the ‘what-if motif’ and trying not to nickel-and-dime the odds

A recent visit to Eugene took me to some interesting intersections, figuratively and literally.

I drove to the University of Oregon to see my first Ducks basketball game with son Delaney and take him to dinner. I had a little time to spare so I had decided on a whim to detour from I-5 over to Corvallis to see my brother; that led me down Highway 99W and a different route to UO than if I had taken the direct route to Eugene via the freeway.

It was one of the day’s detours that by early evening, led me to wonder:

  • What if I had not gone that way, and not happened into our friends Mark and Sophie from Hood River, who had just parked their car a block or so away?
  • What if I had left my coat in the car? It was a warm day and would be warm in the arena but I wore it anyway.

I got to Delaney’s residence hall and we talked awhile in his room. (“How are classes going?”) It would be my first time at Matthew Knight Arena, and not knowing the lay of the land, one thing I wondered was the likelihood of my sitting with him in the student section. Should I just buy two seats or take a chance since he got in free? We decided to just get the one ticket.

  • Did something cause us to pause a few more minutes before heading to the arena? It’s just a block from his building, so no rush.
  • Once we left, did something make us run into Mark and Sophie again, and stop and talk for a few minutes — “How are classes going? — before heading to the ticket booth?

Somehow we were in the right place at the right time when, a moment after arriving at the window, a stranger approached Delaney and said, “I have a ticket I don’t need — you want it?”

It saved me buying a ticket. Weirdly I had even taken a slight detour when I thought I saw a gate employee beckon me. Total fake-out. Had I not taken that detour or had any of these pauses taken longer, either way, the free ticket would have gone to someone else.

We get inside the arena and the 13th and Olive student housing complex is handing out “Go Ducks” towels, and we each take one. Thousands of people ended up with those towels; more on them later.

We watched the game and left the arena and immediately decided that even though it’s not quite 4, since we were both hungry we would head downtown for dinner. We come to a stoplight at Oak and I decide to take the right. I signal. The light turns green and — bam!

A cyclist runs into my right front panel, and hits the pavement hard. We jump out to see about the guy, along with four passersby: one 40-something and a trio of college students heading to party with a couple of six-packs. Medics and police arrive a few minutes later. Guy is bleeding but alert.

Someone gives the bicyclist their 13th and Olive towel, and it comes in very handy. Without it, we would have figured something out, but how lucky were we that we had these towels, and the one guy had the presence of mind to hand his to the cyclist? There was a fair amount of blood, but his helmet probably saved him from serious head injury. It rattled me, and I have to say I was glad Delaney was there to calm me. (The bicyclist walked away, pushing his undamaged bike, after medics turned him loose.)

I can doodle all month in the “what if?” motif: Would it be different had I done this or not that done that, or done this at a certain time, as opposed to “what if” I had done that in a certain other place five minutes earlier, or had done so later.

On that Saturday afternoon, I wondered what if: would I have collided with that cyclist if Delaney hadn’t had to go up to his room to retrieve the coat I never needed, or if we had chosen to go another direction to dinner. Of course, the loosey-goosey sci-fi premise naturally suggests, well, something ELSE might have gone wrong — or right. Like, say, encountering Marcus Mariota who’d run out of gas and needed a ride to practice ...

These kind of space and time associations are the stuff of Roddenberry and myriad time travel movies and TV shows. Moments as they match up with experiences are not like players-to-be-named-later in some great trading game. You take them as they come and don’t concern yourself with some parallel universe.

Does everything happen for a reason? We are not talking about coincidence here (oh, I’ve had my share of those), but it’s like a cousin to coincidence. And it’s probably about as worth my time as comparing the weight of 10 dimes against 20 nickels. They amount to the same thing and get you just as much in the end. No matter what way you go in life, Buckaroo Banzai, well, there you are. It’s all how we respond to the moment, no matter what way the coin flips. And sometimes fate throws in a towel.

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