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Bad Luck Comes in Threes

​Business is Business     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

I’ve always heard bad luck comes in threes. It can appear as a warning to change one’s course or it can take the form of immediate catastrophic collapse of one’s world. Either way, bad luck is an omen to take seriously.

I took a wrong turn out of Seattle one day in 1992 and ended up four hours north of the lower 48 states. The airplane landed in Anchorage at the height of their one week of summer in late July. Alaska was a strange environment where people cut their grass at 3 am, television was trucked in exactly a week after airing down south, and Presidential hopeful Ross Perot was swishing his voodoo chicken stick around PowerPoint slides that made no sense. It felt like I had just stepped into an outpost on the moon.

The next morning, I jumped out of the shower at the Sheraton Hotel and began examining my naked brain, trying to find fractures in the parallel universe I had obviously walked through. Suddenly, I heard a calm but strong voice behind me.

“Please exit your room immediately, as you are. The hotel is on fire.”

I didn’t remember letting anyone into my room. Anchorage must be a friendly town. I looked around for the owner of the voice. Nobody. Then I heard the warning again, coming from an intercom above the door. OK, if I’m going to burn to death, I’m going to burn to death with clothes on. I dressed and headed for the stairs. Not everyone had my foresight, as it turned out. People were coming down the steps wearing pajamas, robes, underwear, and see-through nighties. A friendly town indeed.

I determined what was thought to be a normal work schedule in Alaska when Mount Spurr erupted in August. I heard the rumble from my apartment, thinking it might be distant thunder though the sky that evening was a brilliant crystal blue. Outside, I watched an unending black cloud slowly move over the city, first blocking the sun and turning Alaska’s perpetual summer daylight to total darkness. Then the sky began to snow. And snow. And snow. But it wasn’t snow; it was volcanic ash silently drifting to Earth. One inch, two inches, maybe three in the end.

It settled everywhere. I mean everywhere, like sand after a day at the beach. Inside locked cars and closed apartment buildings. Everything I ate had ash in it – for days. Water from the faucet was tinged gray. On the street, there was no demarcation of where to drive even if you thought you had somewhere to go.

By December, daylight savings had kicked in, with the sun rising at 11 am and setting a little past 2 pm. It was then someone had the bright idea of sending me to Prudhoe Bay, where the Alaskan pipeline began. I suited up in head-to-toe foul-weather gear, hopped on a helicopter, and sat back for the trip.

The helicopter landed about 20 yards from the building. I pushed the goggles on the crown of my head and checked my gear. I was ready and reached for the door handle.

“Hold on there, Flatlander,” the pilot said. “Pull your goggles down.”

“The entrance is right there. I’ll be all right,” I protested.

“It’s 75 below out there. The fluid in your eyeballs will freeze as soon as that door opens,” he said.

What’s the moral of this story?

I was chatting with a beautiful secretary near the end of my assignment.

I asked, “I’ve heard there are ten men for every woman us here. Is that true?”

“True,” she replied. “But nine and a half of them, you don’t want.”

I knew it was time to travel back to planet earth.