Going Sideways in Denver

The 2004 movie, Sideways, is one of my favorites. Two former college roommates in their 40’s embark on a one-week road trip the week before one of the men is getting married. Miles Raymond (played by the brilliant Paul Giamatti) is a depressed teacher, aspiring screenwriter, and wine expert. Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) is an over-the-hill actor about to settle down, but who is restless and unsettled.

During the trip, Miles meets Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress and fellow wine lover, and Jack meets Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a local wine pourer. Smitten by Stephanie, Jack arranges a double date with Miles and Maya. Things start out promising and then, well, go sideways.

The lesson of that movie for me is that life doesn’t always happen as planned. I couldn’t help but think of the movie, Sideways, during a recent trip that turned into a travel adventure.

It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon and I was flying home to Hartford after seven days in Phoenix, with a stop in Denver. We were in the air about three hours when things started to go sideways. First there was a medical emergency on the plane, which turned out to be minor. Then as we approached Denver, the pilot announced that the airport was closed due to storms and microbursts. We headed south for Amarillo, TX, to refuel. One hour later, we landed in Amarillo and sat on the plane for an hour while the plane got fuel. Then it was due north for Denver again. As we got close, the pilot announced that once again the airport was closed. We were diverted this time to Albuquerque, NM. The pilot let us off the plane and the great ground crew at Southwest Airlines bought pizza for us. We descended on the pizza like a swarm of bees. We hadn’t eaten in hours. Then we were herded back on the plane before I had time to explore the terminal in Albuquerque, so I didn’t find out whether it had a Walter White gift shop.

Headed to Denver for a third time, I checked my SWA app and found out my plane to Hartford had just departed. We finally arrived in Denver just before midnight. The crew instructed us to go to the ticket window to get re-booked as all of our departing flights had left. It took four and a half hours to reach the front of the line. It was 4:40 a.m. by the time I got rebooked. That axiom about people being at their best in a crisis rang true. I met some folks from Connecticut and California on the line and we became fast friends. People could have been grumpy, but everyone remained in good spirits.

Unfortunately, SWA couldn’t get me out of Denver until the following day. So I booked a room in a downtown Denver hotel and took the light rail into the city. Sitting on the train, exhaustion overtook me. I was loopy and could think of nothing but food and sleep.

Wondering what I would do all day (besides eat and sleep) I discovered that the Colorado Rockies were playing the Toronto Blue Jays that afternoon at Coors Field, near the hotel. One of my bucket list items is to visit every Major League Baseball stadium and I had a great time that afternoon at Coors Field. Then I treated myself to a nice dinner and went to bed, knowing I’d be up in a few hours to catch a predawn flight to Tampa, through Dallas, and then to Hartford.

I finally arrived home just before midnight on Thursday evening, exhausted but happy.

So what is the lesson here for writers? The lesson is that sometimes life goes sideways. Obstacles get thrown in your path. You have to make the best of it. I discovered that Denver isn’t a bad place to spend 30 hours. I walked around the 16th Street area (a pedestrian street teeming with people, restaurants and shopping), took in a ballgame, and had a good time.

Life goes sideways with no warning. It’s up to us to deal with it. And if you can get some writing done while you get back on track, all the better.



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2 responses to “Going Sideways in Denver

  1. Ha! A great story, great analogy. I’m reading Writing Down the Bones for the first time, and I’m sure author Nathalie Goldberg would say that the reason you had such a good time was because you allowed yourself to be present to the moment, place, situation, instead of worrying about what was supposed to have happened. And then got some awesome writing mileage out of the experience. Kudos!

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