Serendipity in News and Travel

By Adena Schutzberg

No, I still don't have a satellite navigation device in my car, nor on my phone. All my friends look puzzled when I state this fact since they know I'm involved with mapping technology. It's not that I don't think such devices and services are useful; they most certainly are. It's not that the prices are too high; they are becoming very reasonable. So, why would someone "in the industry" not be drawn to the tools used to better travel the local and distant byways of our country? One word: serendipity. It's my contention that if you follow a track too closely you are not open the wonders of what you may find along the way. It's the same argument, at least in part, made by those who favor a "front page" of a newspaper. They prefer a "world of news" over specially selected articles that match their known interests.

As an editor of electronic publications for eight years now, I'm very sensitive to the role of those who sift through the news and create those front pages. They decide what gets "top billing" and what doesn't appear at all. I'm frankly amazed at their instincts and ability to provide great serendipitous reading. Beyond the top news stories, there's always something of interest to me on the front pages of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and of my local paper, the Boston Globe. Oh, and on the front page of each section of USA Today. That's the sign of good editing. And, despite some initial and long-term teasing, USA Today has evolved into a great national paper, at least in part I'll suggest, by offering some great serendipity. US travelers, I challenge you: Do you read the "News from Every State," keying in on your own state and a few other favorites? I do. You never know what you will find!

That same sort of serendipitous "fun" in reading the paper exists in travel. Why track directly to the hotel or restaurant? Why not see the sights along the way? What sights? Whatever they happen to be. I know, I know. Details on how to reach the nearest gas station or next rest stop on the highway can reduce stress, especially for those traveling with children or on a tight schedule. And, of course, in these times with high gas prices, I realize a direct route can save pennies and dollars rather quickly. For me at least, long distance car travel is a rare treat, and I like to enjoy the serendipity.

I want to share a tale from this year's trek to the New York State Geospatial Summit. I was to hit the Finger Lakes region, then head on to visit family in Burlington, Vermont. I packed the car, loaded up the cooler, filled up the iPod and set out for the 1,000 mile trip. Things went as planned until I headed out of Utica, New York toward Lake George. The "check engine" light clicked on. Dad's always said that you don't ignore that, so I pulled off the New York Thruway at Herkimer. It was rainy and cold and I had to find a mechanic to ensure I could make it the rest of the way. I drove around town looking for a "mom and pop" type of gas station, figuring one of these would be more likely to have a mechanic on hand than the giant self-serve/convenience store options. I found a station and quizzed the woman in charge about a mechanic. No, they didn't have one, but she was quick to point me to Ramsey's, an auto shop down behind a residential neighborhood. My first thought: There's no way I'd have thought to travel down the route she offered to find a mechanic. But, as promised, I reached the large building with three bays and lots of cars in the huge lot. On duty was, of course, Mr. Ramsey. He patiently assured a woman on the phone that she had 10 days to drive her inspection-rejected car legally in the state before she had to have it fixed and re-tested. Once she calmed down, Mr. Ramsey set her up for an appointment the following week. I was immediately confident that whether my problem was big or small, this fellow could handle it.

I described my Subaru's problem. He nodded and explained his mom's car had the same problem and that it was probably a well-known issue. A quick check of the warning code and he confirmed I had a bad NOX sensor. He explained there would be no harm in finishing the trip before I got it replaced. And, despite my protestations, Mr. Ramsey would not let me pay him for his time.

Sure, sometimes serendipity doesn't turn out this well, but I'm willing to chance it. I'm willing to get lost. I'm willing to eat whatever food is available. And, most of all, I'm interested in interacting with the people on the local and distant byways of this country.

Published Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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