Although the 2000 Summer Olympics now seem as ancient as the original Greek games, I will always feel a close personal connection with David O'Connor, an American rider who won the individual 3-day equestrian event.
I know absolutely nothing about horsemanship, but I happened to be watching TV coverage of Mr. O'Connor during the final portion of the event, which was show jumping. After taking his horse, Custom Made, over fence No. 6, O'Connor looked one way, then quickly turned his head around and appeared somewhat confused. The TV announcer exclaimed, "Oh my! He almost got lost out there!"
Yes, as O'Connor explained during post-ride interviews, he did indeed become briefly disoriented trying to locate fence No. 7, and boy do I know that feeling. It usually comes upon me while I'm behind the steering wheel, driving in broad daylight, and suddenly I look around and think, "Where AM I? Did I just MISS the turn I was looking for?" As someone who was born with no sense of direction and no navigational skills, I was extremely gratified to know that even talented professionals operating in tightly controlled circumstances sometimes have trouble finding their way around.
The history of guys getting lost is filled with chilling events that are never far from my thoughts anytime I venture beyond the front door. One of the most famous episodes happened in December of 1945, when five Navy planes took off from a base in Florida and vanished over the Atlantic Ocean. This incident, known as The Lost Patrol, has achieved near-mythic status among the UFO crowd and Bermuda Triangle enthusiasts.
As you might expect, many of the facts are in dispute. Much of my early information on The Lost Patrol came from a book about weird happenings that I read in elementary school. What stood out in that account were alleged conversations among the pilots that were overheard by radio operators in Florida. Supposedly the fliers kept talking about how nothing looked familiar, and finally one of them blurted out, "Even the ocean looks different!" Then they disappeared forever.
My wife, who doesn't share my appreciation for unsolved mysteries, finds this story laughable. And whenever she looks over from the passenger seat of the car and notices that my face is blank and my lower jaw has gone slack, she likes to break the tension by asking, "Oh my--does the ocean look different?"
So whenever I'm out on the road, I give a mental salute to David O'Connor, who regained his bearings and won a gold medal. In that brief moment of anxiety on the equestrian course, he connected with all men who, like me, sometimes find themselves utterly lost in perfectly familiar surroundings. And he proved that we CAN, occasionally, solve these dilemmas on our own, without having to stop and ask for directions.