By Jack Sparacino
Gosh, one gets all sorts of advice growing up and as an adult, and thankfully most of it is usually sound or at least well intended. One of my favorite pieces of wisdom is the deceptively simple, “timing is everything.” And while it is unassailably true when it comes to things like timing a major league fastball or getting a good place in line for an unbeatable sale, good timing can take a person pretty far in life. Add some old fashioned hard work, and the sky’s the limit.
I thought I knew the virtues of proper timing, but two events in my life make me wonder how well we always stick to the straight and narrow. Here are two true stories that illustrate both sides of the same coin, for worse or for better.
Starting with worst. Early in my United Technologies career, working at Sikorsky Aircraft’s main facility in Stratford, Connecticut, one winter morning, a snow storm quickly developed and threatened to make the roads treacherous. Noses to the grindstone, we were told to clear out early and go home while it was still safe. Still a young guy and immersed in something that seemed crucial at the time — plus really wanting to clean up some odds and ends — I kept working for two hours. One big sigh and a mental pat on the back later, I headed to my car and drove off down Route 8 toward Bridgeport on my way to beautiful Rowayton, some 20 miles away.
Right away it didn’t look good. Snow swirled thick as shag carpet on the road, visibility deteriorated and the traffic continued to build. Maintaining control of my hefty rear wheel drive Oldsmobile was becoming a challenge. Then “out of nowhere” a car appeared in my lane, at a full stop and facing me. I skidded around it, bumped another car, and pulled off the road. Heart starting to race, I looked for the other driver. “Out of nowhere” again came a subcompact car, slamming into the side of my car. Big crash. Stunned me. Couldn’t open my crushed door so I crawled out the passenger side and realized that the next driver to similarly lose control was likely to be driving a larger vehicle and was going to take me out like a bowler looking to pick up a spare by knocking off the 10 pin.
Things got a little blurry from there but after exchanging insurance information with the driver, I headed to an auto body shop, then got a ride home. When Jane drove me up to the shop and saw the totaled car the next day, she wondered how I got out alive. “I wondered that, too,” I muttered. And to think how hard I had tried to finish up at work before heading home the day before. Gee, I thought, I was just leaving … for TWO HOURS!
Fast forward 25 years to the Hunting Island pier. March 19, 2012. Gorgeous weather and scenery, lots of whiting around and plenty in the pail, time to go home. Started to pack up. Yeah, I was JUST LEAVING when one of my rods — the brand new Ugly Stick, badly in need of a good breaking in — jerked. I pulled back against whatever was down there and realized I had something big on this time. Out buzzed the line as the rod bent over to the task at hand. I checked my watch, 3:15. Recalled the line strength — only 15 pounds, then calmly proceeded to adjust the drag. And off we went!
Well, the fish took me from mid pier all the way to the far end and peeled off every last inch of my line. As I stared at the knot at the base of the reel, I figured this tussle was over and just stood there waiting for the final break. But it didn’t come, so I walked back 10-15 feet from the rail, then recovered a few feet of line as I walked back to the rail. Repeated the process another dozen or so times. Two old salts nearby — one visiting from Tennessee, the other from upstate N.Y. — offered to help get the now visible cow nosed ray up to where we could release it. Using heavy gloves, they hand lined the ray up from the water line where it was eagerly flapping its wings to where we could unhook it before releasing it unharmed. Which we did.
Checked my watch again … 4:00. Whew, that was fun! The ray was four feet across if it was an inch and weighed over 20 pounds. A picture would have been nice, though there was no way to get a clear shot between my two new buddies and the rail. But it’s in my mind.
So there you have it. I was just leaving when I hooked the most exciting fish of the young season. Makes you think about all the times in your life when but for a few seconds, a few minutes, maybe even an hour or two, things can take a pretty wild turn, for better or worse. Maybe just barely meet your future mate at a big gathering, or catch a home run ball, get hit by a car or by lightning but survive, or arrive at the hospital just in time to see your first child born.
I was just leaving. Just … leaving. Just …