Maker’s Marks

In the 1993 thriller Cliffhanger, the opening scene is truly disturbing. Having summited a mountaintop for a little adventure, young climbers suspend a cable across a deep chasm to a nearby peak, then cross the open space one by one in zip-line fashion. One climber, terrified to cross the void, gets caught in the middle of the fraying cable, holding on by her fingers for dear life. Despite Sylvester Stallone’s valiant efforts, she shockingly loses her grip, plunging untold feet into the abyss. I remember envisioning myself as her and thinking, “I’m going to die”.

Almost sixty years into life as I know it, I have three unforgettable, take-it-to-the-grave moments where I thought, “I’m going to die”.  One of them happened two nights ago.

Returning from a Rockies baseball game in downtown Denver, I drove myself and a friend through a long stretch of interstate road construction.  We chatted about nothing and everything as we eyed the late-night traffic around us.  I’ve driven this stretch countless times, so much so my brain moves to a certain degree of autopilot.  However, I was not prepared for one unexpected moment.  As we ascended a rise in the divided two-lane highway, the lane to our right began to disappear without warning.  Orange cones cut across its width too quickly, with no signage or blinking lights to grab our attention.

All would’ve been fine were it not for the well-lit semi-trailer truck already occupying the disappearing lane.  He was just enough ahead of me he wasn’t going to back off.  I don’t think he could even see my car was occupying the lane into which he was about to merge.  Instinctively, I pressed the brake pedal, but not before realizing how much of his trailer was still trailing my car.  How the back of his trailer didn’t merge directly with the hood of my car is beyond me.  As he swung over into my lane there couldn’t have been two inches between his bumper and mine.

This miracle of a no-accident is an example of a “shoulda died” moment.  The semi was at least four times the length of my car (and three times as high).  It’s safe to say he and his truck would’ve survived the collision (me, not so much).  It’s also safe to say providence of a higher being was present at that very moment.

The two other “shoulda” moments in my life are etched into my brain as clear as crystal.  When I was a kid, I once hit a tennis ball over my neighbor’s fence and into their backyard.  It was easy enough to sneak through their side gate and down the side of their house.  Then I ran into their tall grass to the approximate location of the ball.  Just short of it, I leaped instinctively over a fully coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.  No question, the most terrifying moment of my young life.  I remember yelling and screaming until our neighbor came out and killed the snake.  “Shoulda died?”  Maybe not, but tell that to a ten-year-old who was sure he’d be bitten by a poisonous snake.  To this day I’m convinced there was an angel nearby telling me to “JUMP!” at just the right moment.

My one other “shoulda” happened in my twenties.  Driving back to my college after a road trip, I fell asleep at the wheel in the early-morning hours of an almost deserted divided highway.  My car drove itself into the road’s grass median at 60 mph, where I awoke to the horrifying realization I was completely out of control.  Struggling to get the car in hand, I swerved this way and that until finally crossing three lanes of oncoming traffic, plunging into a ditch, completely rolling the car, and finally skidding to a stop, adding the flourish of a 180° spin.  How was the hospital?  Never saw it.  I walked away from my totaled car with just cuts and bruises, in an understandable state of shock.  Why wasn’t I hit by oncoming traffic?  Why didn’t I perish in the remains of my car?  Another dose of providence, I think.

We all have one or two of these “shoulda” moments in our lives.  They leave an indelible stamp on our memory as if to say, “Nope, not done with this life just yet.”  Now let’s add “coulda” and “woulda” moments.

“Coulda died” moments are all over the map:

I coulda died if I didn’t catch my balance on the edge of that cliff.

I coulda died if I hadn’t been strong enough to swim out of that riptide.

I coulda died if I rode my bicycle on that busy highway.

And so on.

Woulda died” moments are even worse because you know the life-or-death consequences beforehand.  “Woulda’s” are typically fraught with ignorance.  Choosing to drag race down a busy city street.  Choosing to scale the steep roof of your house in shorts and sandals.  Choosing to act on your road rage.  Have I done any of these “woulda’s” myself?  No. I choose to live instead.

Maker’s Mark is a small-batch bourbon whiskey produced in Loretto, Kentucky by the company Beam Suntory. Maker’s marks, by my definition, are those “shoulda” moments where we emerge on the other side, a sweating bundle of nerves, thankful to be alive.

That semi and I had a “shoulda” moment the other night, but divine providence chose to play a part.

Thanks be to God.

Tryst With a Twist

I’m leaving my wife for another woman. There, I said it.

I never thought it would come to this; I really didn’t. My wife and I have been together for thirty-one bliss-filled years – as smooth and as satisfying a marriage as one could hope for. And yet, tomorrow afternoon, I’ll catch a ride to the airport, kiss my beloved goodbye, and board a one-way flight to Las Vegas. All my worldly possessions stay behind, save for the overnight bag in my hand and the wad of cash in my pocket. When I get there, I’ll dress up, head over to one of the finer restaurants on the Strip and reunite with a woman over thirty years my junior. We’ll smile at each other and raise our glasses in anticipation. A new adventure will commence.

Now then, let’s shed a little more light on my tryst, shall we? Yes, I’m leaving my wife (but only for a day and half). Yes, I’m going to Sin City on a one-way ticket (but then I’ll turn around and drive back home the next day). And yes, I’m meeting up with a woman thirty years my junior. She also just happens to be my daughter.

Here’s the detail. After a year of living and working in Los Angeles, our youngest has decided to return to Colorado to give Denver a try (the “new adventure” I refer to above). The drive between those cities – if you’ve ever done it – is Las Vegas and a whole lot of nothing else. Imagine a twenty-hour jaunt in a lunar rover on the moon, only somewhere along the way you get thirty minutes in Disneyland. That’s LA to Denver: no people (at least, no sane ones) and a whole lot of cactus, dotted with a single oasis of slot machines and casino-hotels. Come to think of it, I’d wager big money the moon is more interesting than LA-Denver, especially the never-ending portion of the drive known as southern Utah.

Anyhoo, (to use a word from my daughter’s unique vocabulary), I’m sharing the Vegas-to-Denver drive with her – responsible father that I am – fully fourteen of the twenty hours it takes from Los Angeles. Somehow the idea of my daughter and her cat all alone in the desert doesn’t sit well with me.

The more I ponder this little adventure, the more I wonder if I shouldn’t be worried more about my time in Vegas. Think about it. I’ll show up at the hotel, and the front desk will undoubtedly eye my much-younger companion from head-to-toe. “Oh!”, I’ll say with a sheepish grin, “she’s my daughter.” Yeah, right pal, your ‘daughter’. When I arrive at the restaurant for dinner, the maitre d’ will say, “Sir, if you and your – uh – ‘niece’ will follow me, I’ll show you to your table.” Or let’s say I get my daughter to blow on the crap table dice for luck. Stink eyes all the way around. Hey big spender; who’s your prom date?

This is a no-win situation. Short of a blood test and a doctor’s proclamation, “Holy cow, they’re actually related!”, I’m destined to a jackpot’s worth of dirty-old-man looks in the next few days. At least I won’t be mistaken for a gigolo.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Sorry, I beg to differ. I’ll be pleased as punch to share the intimate details of my time with my “other woman” in Sin City. Heck, maybe I’ll even make it my next blog post. We checked into the hotel. We went to dinner. Dropped a few quarters into the slots. Went to bed early so we’d be rested up for the long drive head. Riveting reading, huh?

Winning the Big One

U.S. News & World Report just ranked Denver and Colorado Springs high on its list of “best places to live” in America.  Apparently the job market, cost of living, and quality of life in the Rocky Mountains leaves little to be desired.  To add to the accolades, the Broncos just won the Super Bowl.

sequestered

Before you say “Honey – pack up the kids!  We’re moving to Colorado!”, you must pause if you’re a sports fan.  Sure, that Lombardi Trophy is shiny and new and will feed Denver’s ego for the rest of the year.  But it sure is lacking for company.  If the State of Colorado had a trophy case for professional sports, the Lombardi would almost find itself in solitary confinement.  Sequestered.  You might even feel bad for it.

Denver wasn’t even supposed to win this Super Bowl.  Fans from North Carolina (and frankly, anywhere outside of Colorado) never gave us a chance.  But we’re used to it out here.  Denver and Colorado are perpetual underdogs when it comes to sports championships.

The Super Bowl win got me curious, so I spent a few hours researching Colorado’s professional sports franchises (Wikipedia is my new best friend).  I desperately wanted to use the phrase “a list of championships a mile high“.  Far from it.  To be honest I had to dig deep to find any noteworthy performances.

To spin it positive, Colorado might earn your envy for being one of only thirteen states where the four major professional sports are represented.  whoop-dee-doo.  The last time the Broncos won the Super Bowl was last century.  The one and only time the Avalanche (hockey) won the Stanley Cup was 2001.  The last time the Rockies (baseball) won the World Series was never.  But at least the Rockies made it to the World Series .  The Nuggets (basketball) started play in 1967 and fifty years later we’re still waiting for a spot in the Finals, let alone an NBA Championship.

To add a miserable exclamation point to Colorado’s track record, the Nuggets will once again miss the playoffs this year (it’s a tradition), the Avalanche are battling a half-dozen teams for the very last playoff slot in the Western Conference, and the Rockies… well, the Rockies haven’t even begun the new season yet they’re projected to finish in last place in the National League.  Go COLORADO!

My Wikipedia search – ever more desperate – moved on to college championships.  Colorado’s six D1 schools have accounted for a grand total of one football championship in their entire un-storied histories (Univ. of Colorado, 1990).  None of these schools have come anywhere close to tasting college basketball or baseball glory.  But then, mercifully, we have hockey.  On the college ice the Centennial State shines.  Denver University and Colorado College have combined for nine hockey championships; the most recent in 2005.  I need to become a better fan of the puck.

If you’re reading from California, Massachusetts, Texas, or Florida, you feel none of my pain.  Each of you can account for five, ten, even twenty professional or college sports championships in the last fifteen years alone.  But if you’re reading from Georgia or Washington D.C., you’re pitching the proverbial championship shutout.  You have my sympathies.

On the heels (hooves?) of the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory, Peyton Manning hung up his cleats for good – a justified decision.  But Peyton’s backup just signed with the Houston Texans.  In fact, several marquee Broncos have already left the state for other (better?) teams and higher salaries.  Sigh.  Back up the truck boys; the Lombardi Trophy is heading to another state soon.  Let Colorado’s next sports championship drought commence.

So go ahead sports fans – move to Colorado.  But I suggest you follow soccer.  The Colorado Rapids have only been kicking for twenty years and they’ve already made the finals twice and won the whole thing once.  Go RAPIDS!