A.J. Jacobs reportedly is the smartest man alive. Actually I made that up, but he is really smart and funny. He has the distinction of having read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover. Reportedly, that is 128 pounds of reading. Can you imagine? He then methodically identified what he considered the most interesting and memorable parts, chronicled his thoughts and subsequently emerged with a best selling novel. “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” was on the New York Best Seller List for two months. Obviously, Jacobs must be really smart. In fact, I’d say he is brilliant. He has now written four books that all appeared on the New York Best Seller List.
Given the same assignment, I’d have gotten bogged down in details before I completed reading three pages. In an effort to cognitively sort out and process the information, I’d have probably read and re-read the same three pages over and over and still been unsure of the author’s intent. In the process, I might have been ingenuous enough to look online for a Cliff Notes version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Leave it to me to want to keep it simple. After all, I read somewhere that most people read on a fifth grade level. Who knows, I might have written about the experience and chosen the title, “I Don’t Know” to highlight my thoughts. The only list it would have made is the “junk list”. Isn’t that the story of my life?
The General would probably tell you that I’m on the fast track to disaster and that instead of getting smarter, I’m going the other direction. I don’t think she’d categorize me as “dumb and dumber” out of respect, but she isn’t going to attempt to pass me off as “smart” either. She’ll probably wisely keep her thoughts to herself and let others make their on assessments. Yet she secretly knows I could have learned everything I needed to know in kindergarten. Sadly I missed that track. I guess I was born ahead of my time and school started with the first grade instead of kindergarten.
Under the concept of transparency and full disclosure, at times I find that I have less confidence in things I previously thought were undisputable. For example, yesterday when I stepped onto the escalator carrying hoards of people in a steep decline toward the abyss of what appeared to an under-ground tunnel, I experienced a very real sense of panic. The sensation came out of nowhere and took me by surprise. I didn’t see it coming and I would have predicted something like that would never happen to me. Yet, the sensation was one of mild panic (how’s that for an oxymoron). There was no denying it. I sensed my heart racing and I intuitively reached out with my right hand to steady myself on the moving handrail. I was afraid of falling.
As I think back, yesterday’s fear was totally unfounded. That is probably true of most fears. There were so many people clustered together on the escalator that falling down would have been nearly impossible. I might have fallen against someone, but face-down-on-the-metal wasn’t going to happen. Yet, the absence of certainty related to safety was unsettling. I’ve never had a fear of escalators, but after the fall I took the last time I was in Washington, I’m less sure than I’ve ever been and intend to be more cautious.
There are other things for which I previously have had no doubts about that I have begun to question. For example, my birth certificate clearly states that I was born in Nocona, Texas. Yet, I’m wondering if that is really true. Isn’t it true that Missouri is the “show me” state”? “You can always tell a person from Missouri, but you can’t tell them much. They want to see it for themselves”. Isn’t that the way the expression goes? Whether I want to admit it or not, that is descriptive of my life. Maybe I’m from Missouri instead of Nocona because I have a long track record of having to experience something that contradicts my perceived concepts before I admit the error of my ways.
For example, I once ignored a hurricane warning. The hurricane was reportedly headed toward the Texas coast near Galveston and Houston. If memory serves me correctly, I think the storm’s name was Alicia. Talk about a gal with impulse control issues! She was deadly. I opted to ignore the warning. I chose to stay in Houston with friends since I was in Houston on business and my work wasn’t completed. Why let something like a hurricane get in the way? I didn’t, but Hurricane Alicia did. She struck Galveston and Houston directly. Twenty-one people were killed and the estimated damage was valued at $2.6 billion. In addition, Alicia was the first billion-dollar tropical cyclone in Texas history.
I guess they say, “Stupid is as stupid does”, because about half way through the process (the fury of Alicia), a light bulb came on in my head and I clearly understood my faulty thinking. Consequently, “throwing caution to the wind” (pardon the pun), I opted to drive out of Houston through the eye of the storm. What other course of action would have been appropriate after recognizing the error of my thinking? I should have done it differently, so I finally did.
The General was subtle in her questioning about my need to be in Washington this week. My explanation that “as president of the board of the Coalition of Residential Excellence, I needed to speak with Legislative staff” seemingly fell on deaf ears. I went on to explain that I didn’t initiate the meetings, I was just asked to attend.
She countered my explanation by asking: “Don’t you know a winter storm is predicted for Washington?” I assured her that time was of the essence and that the “winter blizzard” packing the potential of dumping a lot of snow on Washington wasn’t scheduled until late Friday night. I would be long gone via Southwest Airlines before then.
Besides that, I love Washington when it is covered with snow. I’ve been there during falling snow on several occasions and it’s never been a problem. If anything, the snow adds another layer of ambience on the city. For example, the Korean Monument with the bronze statues of soldiers looks even more authentic and picturesque under the blanket of snow. If you’ve not seen it under those conditions, I highly recommend it. I had absolutely no apprehension associated to being in Washington and in my ability to vacate the city before heavy snowfall.
I arrived in Washington Wednesday after a very long travel day. There is nothing like experiencing a five-hour flight delay to set the stage that all was not well. Wednesday evening, I was caught a little off-guard by the snow that settled over the city. Where did that come from? I don’t think it was in the forecast? I don’t really know. I seldom watch the weather. Okay, I never watch the weather.
As I said earlier, I like Washington in the snow. Wednesday evening, I left the hotel and went for a walk. Fortunately I had taken the right kind of clothing. Yet despite the appropriateness of the clothing, the wind and cold was brutal. In addition, the snowfall felt more like a heavy layer of sleet with snow mixed with it. Maybe that’s where the term, “wintery mix” originated? The sidewalks were slick. I found myself stepping very carefully.
Out of selfish interests, I watched the weather on Wednesday night. They weather forecasters in Washington were not painting a pretty picture of what the District had in store. In fact, all indications seemed to indicate that the snowfall would bring the District and surrounding States to a screeching halt.
Maybe it was out of the cloak of experiencing the bitter wind and slippery walking conditions from the night before, but yesterday morning I began to play “what if”. What if they were right? What if my 4:55 p.m. scheduled flight out of the Washington National on Friday afternoon was beyond the point of possibility? What would I do?
That was a really good question. What would I do if my flight home were cancelled? What if the District was at a snowbound stand still? Predictions indicated that it might be three or four days before things got back to normal.
What would I do if I could not get out of Washington on Friday afternoon? Every answer to that question wasn’t a good answer. I got online very early Thursday morning to see if I could move my flight up earlier on Friday. I’d have to cancel an appointment on the Hill, but according to the news, in all likelihood the District was preparing to cancel business as usual anyway.
I looked and relooked at the Southwest Airlines schedule of available flights for Friday morning in a state of disbelief. Most were filled. The inexpensive tickets were all gone. Six hundred plus dollars for a one-way ticket seemed steep. Who would be desperate enough to do that? Obviously, a lot of people would. After all, the expenses of three or four extra days in the District would break the bank, so to speak.
I could hear the General telling me, “I told you so”, in the event I didn’t get home. I probably should pay closer attention to her wise counsel. She really is pretty smart. However, I do okay on my own and I experience a lot more adventure than she does. I think it was the thought that three extra days in Washington would seem like solitary confinement that pushed me to find a plan “B”. I no longer was comfortable with taking the risk. The stakes were too high. I did not want to be stranded in Washington.
As it turned out, I was unable to make an online change to my flight schedule. I had to go through a SWA travel representative. The good news: “Since the area was under a travel advisory, I could change my ticket without extra expense. The bad news: “There were no available earlier flights on Friday.” The good news came as a take it or leave it. They had one seat available on only one plane late Thursday afternoon. I really didn’t have to give it much thought. I jumped at the chance.
So did I make a good call? I guess only time will tell. Of course, I could show up at work next Thursday and tell my boss I’d been snowed in for a week. On the other hand, I’ve just been in Washington where George Washington couldn’t tell a lie. He was responsible for cutting down the cherry tree. I’m not sure that “telling the truth”is still the industry standard in Washington. I’ve questioned that for as long as I can remember.
All My Best!