Caution seems to come to those of us who survive our youthful indiscretions and make it into our dotage. Indeed, our risk-taking these days seems to boil down to decisions like: “Low-fat milk? Or jump without a parachute and use Whole?”
For us, swashbuckling adventurers to the end, it’s “Whole,” because what’s life without a little risk, right?
Sure, these kitchen decisions are a far cry from our days looking down the business end of an FN assault rifle in Belfast, dangling out of any number of aircraft types with a camera for that ever-elusive “one last shot” or standing in the middle of a full-blown riot while the ammunition in a burning CHP cruiser began to cook off within uncomfortably close proximity.
We’ll admit to a minor addiction to adrenaline back in our younger days, preferring a dose of chaos to the sedate mortality of a boardroom, and we were lucky to have had a job that supplied us with ample opportunities to satisfy that urge.
The gig entailed taking measured risks from time to time, and also taught us the value of having a “way out” at all times. Fortunately we were able to get through those years without incurring too much structural damage.
But we always wondered what pushed us as humans to want to “tease the tiger,” to tiptoe up to something that could kill us with a single blow and say: “Naw naw, nan-na naw.“
Today, folks clamber up impossibly high steeples for dramatic – and illegal for a reason – selfie shots, or they clamber over rope barriers to stand on the spray-slickened rocks adjacent to a roaring waterfall, inch closer to an obviously irritated park bison, or stand on the lip of a seething, spurting very-much-active volcano.
This predilection to push past the barriers and tap the shoulder of whatever monster scares us most may be understandable as various safety organizations and underwriter’s labs wrap us in all sorts of devices to keep us from harm. Many of the readily available thrills (if you can call them that) experienced by early Mankind have been removed from the playing field – most of us will never see combat (thankfully), or be able to test our mettle in any of the arenas available to our battle-scarred predecessors.
This may be why we’re seeing increasing interest in action sports, adventure tourism, and – in its rawest form – bareknuckle cage fighting. Many of us want to know what we’re made of. If we can cut it. And a broken nose or two seems like a small price to pay to find out.
This style of Russian Roulette Without Bullets may have caught up with a party of adventure seekers touring New Zealand’s White Island – an active volcano accessible only by boat or helicopter which has seen a steady number of adventurists arrive to approach its caldera and say: “Okay, what have you got?” with apparently fatal results just yesterday.
Amateur vulcanologists since childhood we’ve always had a fascination for the makeup of our very active earth, peppering a park ranger with youthful but apparently prescient questions as we walked the duckboards built over the burbling Yellowstone Caldera – specifically: “What would happen to us if it went off right now?”
That line of questioning didn’t go down very well, we remember, earning us a side-eye from the Smokey and a quick trip to the family station wagon under maternal escort but what the hey, it was a legitimate question, right?
The upshot to all this is there’s a bit of the Thrill Seeker in many of us, perhaps tired of our hum-drum existence and looking for a way to slip the confines of those industries and regulations constructed to “keep us safe.”
So we drive faster than we should, secretly longing for the moment our car tires lose contact with asphalt and we’re spinning free – for the next few giddy seconds subject only to our own driving abilities and the Laws of Gravity and Inertia.
Much of our curiosity about these things, we feel, may also be fueled by popular culture, where we are asked to suspend our disbelief long enough to believe you really can fly a car through a semi-tractor trailer or dangle from a chopper hovering over a quake-shattered skyscraper whilst in “auto-pilot hover” mode.
Most of the pilots we know are too prudent and have far too deep an appreciation of aerodynamics to try such stunt flying, but our roadways have seen all-too-frequent examples of folks using the death-defying tools available to us – our cars – in maneuvers that would leave a Bob Bondurant driver shaking his head in disbelief.
We don’t see an end to the thrill-seeking circuitry in many of us ending anytime soon, with future exploits perhaps confined to carefully controlled “West World” environments where the risks are pre-calculated and the tourists don’t get hurt – until the ‘bots get tired of getting gunned down in saloons all the time, that is.
So, we muddle along, trying to find meaning in our existence, asking questions of ourselves and caving in to hedonistic desires to experience something that explains our worth – inching closer to the caldera, that bison, or the rhino in search of our next buzz.
Where will this approach take us? It remains to be seen, but we’re going to have a coffee and think about it – and we’re using the Whole Milk ’cause that’s just the way we roll. Naw naw, nan-na naw.