It Seemed Like the Right Decision at the Time

So, I want to tell a sort of funny story (as with most funny stories, it wasn’t funny at the time, but is hilarious in retrospect) from my travels by way of making a larger point about life, politics, and the way things hardly ever work out in the best possible way.

As many of you probably already know, I am currently traveling in South America, and I brought my father, who underwrote many an adventure I took as a younger, broker man, along for the first week or so to wander Peru and see Macchu Pichu.  That part of the plan went swimmingly, and though we had to curb our ambitions somewhat so as to not overdo things, we had a wonderful time that we’ll both treasure for the rest of our lives.

Then, at the end, things got a bit squirrely.  Upon our return to Lima from the Andes, Dad opted to just hang out in the airport to catch his red-eye flight home, and since I was the one who spoke Spanish and Dad was loaning me his cell phone, which works down here, I opted to hang out in the airport with him and make sure he got on the plane before heading back to hang out with my friends living in San Isidro.

Thank your deity of choice that I did.

About three hours before his scheduled departure, Dad happened to look up and see that his flight’s status had changed from On Time to Cancelled.  Alarmed, Dad headed straight to the counter, where he was told that his only two options were to take the next available flight in a week, or be refunded half the fare and try his luck elsewhere (note to all: never fly Spirit Airlines).  Being that I’d bought the ticket, the decision was left to me.  I opted for the money, since I had to leave three days later to make the wedding in Ecuador and didn’t feel right asking my friends to put Dad up for that long.

Over the next few days we furiously searched the internet for another flight, and at one point I found myself on the phone with someone else I’d bought a ticket for and who’d opted (for reasons not worth going into) not to come to see if she could use the resultant credit to buy Dad a flight home.  That didn’t work, but did cost one evening’s worth of purchase window, as did another evening when we thought we’d found a possible solution but decided to grab a bite to eat and think it over.  Suffice to say, by dinner’s end the solution had evaporated.

In the end, the solution to the whole thing involved Dad getting on the bus to Ecuador with me, an epic 29-hour journey from Lima to Guayaquil, from whence he flew the next morning at the arse-crack of dawn, spending some 17 hours in transit, on a three-leg journey the first of which took him back to Lima, and which cost me over a thousand dollars.  Absolutely ridiculous, I know.

And that’s the thing.  The solution we arrived at, and implemented, was about as imperfect as could be while still, in the end, getting Dad home.  It cost more money, took a ridiculous amount of time and energy, and had the delightfully ironic twist of flying Dad back to Lima after spending 29 hours getting from there to the airport from which he was able to fly home.  But the thing is, the 20-20 hindsight thing only works in hindsight.  We made the decisions we made as best we could with the information and options available to us at the time.  And that’s just how life is most of the time.

Now the pivot to the larger point.

It’s easy, in retrospect, especially when you are uninvolved in the situation, to ask, “Well, why didn’t you just…” or say, “Well of course that went wrong, because…”  The fallacy here is that in hindsight you have all, or at least more of, the information, and the optimal path is clear.  Hindsight is 20-20, foresight is, at best, a guessing game, with too many moving parts to factor in to make any kind of definitive assessment unless you’re really smart, really experienced, and/or really lucky.  Usually you have to be all three, which most people, your humble author included, are not, most of the time.  And the retroactive judgement of people with no skin in the game is deeply annoying and disrespectful to those who were in the trenches making judgement calls with limited information.

I see this a lot in our political discourse (and in life), and in its worst incarnation you have purists and idealists taking their bat and ball and going home because the people in the trenches didn’t make it all come out the way they wanted.  But you never know how things are going to turn out til they do, much of the time, and I just wish that the recognition that life is complicated and that solutions to problems in the real world are almost never optimal would permeate not only our national political discourse but also the consciousnesses of the armchair generals and Monday-morning quarterbacks of the world, because frankly, they’re not helping, and they’re fcking it up for the rest of us.

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