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Wednesday, July 3, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

There’s a lot of ways to be lucky

May 31, 2024

Think you’ve got it hard? Think the government is conspiring against you? Think again.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Many moons ago I was engaged to be married to a smart and lovely young attorney, who broke it off in a late-night email accusing me of — my goodness! — things foreign to my nature.

I called up an old friend, her former supervisor in a law office, expecting commiseration. But no.

“You are so lucky,” he said.

Not as lucky as Willie Nelson, a young backup guitar player who was squeezed out of a seat on a private plane in Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959, so the stars could get in: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.

There’s so many ways to be lucky.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast fate, I remember moments when my life could have ended but did not.

Forty years ago, on summer vacation as a high school teacher, I puttered around Mexico on a motorcycle. Back then, the best musicians in Mérida, Yucatán, lined up one night a week to play a free concert in a little square off the Plaza Central. The whole town showed up.

As the evening wore on, bopping along with three Mexican dudes, I asked if they knew where I could buy some pot.

Smart, right? 1983, long-haired Gringo alone in Mexico.

"Sure," they said.

They led me down a side street to a school bounded by fat, 3-foot-high concrete pillars supporting a concrete fence. We hopped it and hid in a little alley and smoked a joint.


How much? I asked.

One guy drew a torn newspaper from a pocket and unfolded a dime bag.

How much? I asked. "No," he said, "meet me tomorrow; I’ll bring you a cigar box full."

"I don’t want a cigar box. Just this. Five dollars? Ten?" My pals shared a look. Each took a pinch. I got the rest for five bucks.

Giggling like morons, we sleazed out to the concrete fence, as a police car pulled up and three cops jumped out, motor running.

O, great, I thought. I’ve been set up.

But no, my three pals crouched behind pillars, too: giggling.

I am so dead, I thought. You moron. Looking at years in a Mexican prison.

Suddenly a police radio crackled. The cops ran back to their cruiser, hopped in and took off.

The four of us jumped the fence, strolled back to the concert and went our separate ways.

Did I deserve that luck? No.

Was I thankful for it? Yes.

Will I ever find out how or why I lucked out?

Nope. Pure luck.

Here’s another one. In my early years teaching music on an Indian reservation, I did not go to Mexico on summer vacation. I rode my Honda 360 north, from Arizona to Berkeley, California, to browse used bookstores on Telegraph Avenue and scribble in coffee shops.

Then in year three, tired of frying in the Mojave Desert, I headed north, past Flagstaff, then west over the Sierras, and its lakes and trout streams. In year four, I brought along a little Daiwa pack-rod, and trout lures.

Now, to fish legally in most states, you need a license. Did I buy one in California back then? Me, who sententiously lectured my high school students about their responsibilities as citizens? No I did not. I trusted to luck.

For three summers I camped by many trout lakes high in the Sierras. I extended my annual round-trip from four days to two weeks, to slip in five weekdays of trout fishing each way — out and back.

On year five I made up a game: No dinner unless you eat what you catch.

I needed only two trout a day for that, and California seeds its lakes with trout. So that was easy.

Then a map disclosed to me a little lake at 8,000 feet. I drove to it on winding gravel roads, up, up on God’s Green Earth — Wow — parked my bike under a pine tree and went fishing.

Didn’t take me but 20 minutes to catch two trout. I brained them, took them back to my little camp-stove and cooked ‘em up and ate ‘em.

Clouds had set in right heavy, so I peeled the tent flap off the tent on the back of my bike and made a lean-to. Tarp was big enough to stretch over the stove and my rod and tackle. Then came the storm.

Well, sir, as the storm eased up, what do I see but eager young deputies descending from a California Department of Forestry van, asking each and every fisherman for their fishing license. Except me. Anyone who didn’t have a license was fined about $900, if I remember aright.

I must have looked pathetic, crouched by my little Honda 360 under a nylon lean-to, head hangin’ down, no tackle or fish in sight.

So. Lucky again.

It was unfair, I admit it. If you think the job of the universe is to catch us at something.

OK: I hear you saying, “That’s great, Bob, but why are you telling us these boring and stupid tales from your life?”

It’s because the Republican Party’s “appeal,” these days, is to their white, racist, rich, aging supporters: They tell you that they, and you, have had hard luck in so many ways because of those damn Democrats…

We’re all so unlucky!

When in truth, they, and you, and me, are the luckiest people in the world.

So quit whining, billionaires.

Vote however you want, but quit whining.

Categories / Op-Ed, Politics

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