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road trip

Be open to the unexpected on the road ahead. Photo by Julie Seyler.


I believe in the power of serendipity.

The dictionary defines serendipity as, “the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” Probably the most common form of serendipity these days is using an Internet search engine, and finding something great that was not what you were looking for. This is part of the attraction of “surfing the web” for many people.

But serendipity is not a new phenomenon. I first noticed its power back in the 1970s when I got my driver’s license. I would set out on a Sunday afternoon in a random direction from my house seeking an adventure. I would make turns on a whim. Sometimes, the reason for a turn would be simply to follow an interesting car like a Corvette or an Alfa Romeo. Sometimes, after the law allowing right on red was passed, it was simply a matter of making a right to keep moving. Most often, the turn was just a feeling drawing me off in that direction.

These trips (long before GPS) invariably ended in an intriguing new place. In addition to adventure, these trips served to familiarize a new driver with all the roads in a 50-mile radius of his home because I always had to find my way home. Then in college, I found serendipity in choosing college courses. My school had a system of registering for courses back then that was based on seniority. Juniors and seniors got first choice of their electives over sophomores and freshmen. I remember one year trying to get into a popular professor’s history course that was filled, and having to settle instead for a course with a professor I did not know. The course proved to be fascinating, and I went on to take two more courses with the professor.

And then there’s serendipity television. That’s when you turn on the television, and a great movie you’ve never seen is on the channel that the television happens to be tuned to. Back about 30 years ago, my wife and I turned on our television on a Saturday morning just to have something to watch while we woke up and ate our breakfast. Three hours later we finished watching “The Best Years of Our Lives.” The film pulled us in and never let go. We later found out that it was an Academy Award winner in 1947, but neither of us had ever heard of it, and probably would not have seen it for many years, if not for serendipity.

The Internet has increased exponentially the possibility of serendipity. Just about every time I go to Netflix to have a particular movie loaded into my queue, I come across another movie or two that I have never heard of that goes on to be a favorite. Companies like Netflix and Amazon have raised “we thought you also might like” to an art form. This is manufactured serendipity, but it still works if you go along with it.

And of course, that’s the secret to serendipity. You have to have a mindset that allows you to go off in an unexpected direction. I know people who have never had a serendipitous experience in their lives, because they simply opt not to. I feel sorry for them. Serendipity adds wonder to life.

A few years ago, my wife and I planned a trip to Colorado and nearby states. We had plotted a complete course for the 4,500-mile drive. Then, two days before we left, I happened upon a picture online that was just breathtaking. I found out that it was taken in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. As a man who knows serendipity when he sees it, I knew that I had to re-plot my entire trip (including changing motel reservations) to fit in a swing into neighboring Utah. I did that, and the Utah detour proved to be one of the most enjoyable parts of our road trip.

So I am sold on serendipity. I think it adds spice to life in wondrous ways. It’s not knowing what’s around the next bend that makes life interesting. The great sage Yogi Berra would agree. After all, it was Yogi who said, “When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.” That’s serendipity.