In the summer of 1990, before heading off to business school at Yale, I decided to set out on a meandering journey around the country in my car. I packed my tent, a CB radio and some other essentials, hooked my bicycle up to the back, and hit the accelerator.
En route between Baton Rouge, where I had stopped for a couple of days to visit my friend John, and Galveston, I somehow flagged down a young woman in another car and instructed her to turn her CB radio to channel 3. Over the course of the next couple of hours she told me the horrific story of how she was fleeing her abusive boyfriend in Florida. She had slept in the back of a trucker’s rig, and didn’t really know where she was headed. Of course, neither did I.
A couple of days later I checked a map and decided to camp for the night at a lakeside spot near Huntsville, TX. I got there well before sundown, parked my car and pitched my tent at a campsite in the woods on a narrow peninsula. It was really hot, so I decided to jump in the water off to my right and go for a swim, over to the next peninsula, where there was a beachfront and a water volleyball game going on. I swam back, returned to my campsite, and then walked off to the water on the left. There I saw signs that said, “Danger! Do not enter water. Alligators.” Duly noted.
When I went back to the campsite, I noticed that a car had pulled in nearby, and it had New York plates. I wandered over, and soon found myself talking to two young guys. They had just graduated from Columbia University, and were doing the cross-country thing as well. But theirs had been a rather turbulent journey – maybe even more so than the girl on the CB. In Vicksburg, MS they had been busted for possession and thrown into jail. The mother of a friend was a local attorney, and managed to bail them out after a day. Then they drove down to New Orleans, and while they were out partying on Bourbon Street their car was broken into. They lost all of their cash and their bail paperwork, too.
Then one of the guys said, “My mother always warned me that bad things come in threes, so I’m just waiting to see what is going to happen next.”
I laughed and told them: “Just don’t go swimming.”