A Murphy’s Law Birthday

By Vic Fleming

“Turn right in four-tenths of a mile,” Susan said. “I’m looking forward to some light, warmth, TV and Internet access.”

It was Dec. 26, 2012, my 61st birthday. Mother Nature had doused us with a wet, yucky snowfall the night before. The familiar pop of transformers had punctuated the cold winter evening as we watched blue bursts of energy in the distance.

Midnight came. The kids and their spouses retired for the night. Susan opened a book, and I took to the computer. Then – “Pop!” Darkness!

And so to bed. Happy birthday!

When daylight arrived, as a strategy against the weather, son and daughter-in-law opted to leave a day earlier than planned, bowing out of a planned birthday lunch. The remaining four of us made it downtown at noon, dodging fallen trees, power lines and other idiot drivers. After lunch, daughter and son-in-law departed.

Back home at 4:30, we decided not to spend the rest of my birthday in a cold, dark house. The reservation service confirmed a reservation at a new property on the west side of town. An hour later, we cautiously traversed the five-mile distance to the hotel, the road freezing around us as we drove.

“… four-tenths of a mile …”

A minute later, I marveled at how dark an image is cast by a hotel without electricity. We suddenly found ourselves in a crowded parking lot, calling for reservations elsewhere – as was everyone else. Happy birthday!

We were able to book a room at a property 10 miles away, in the next town. Ooching along at 20 mph on the ice-glazed highway, we arrived around 7:30, tried to check in, and our credit card was declined. I could only assume that a computer somewhere was programmed not to let us reserve hotel rooms in different cities on the same night. Happy birthday!

I had cash enough to cover a night’s lodging, I said. Then the clerk told me a $50 deposit was required from cash customers.

Why’s that?” I asked.

“In case you have a wild party and trash the place,” she replied, winking at me. I coughed up the 50. At last, two hours after leaving the house, we walked into a nice, warm, well-lit room.

I grabbed the remote and clicked the power button. The message on the screen seemed more than a tad ironic: “We’ve detected an interruption in your service.” I called the front desk to ask what that meant.

“Sorry,” said the young woman who’d taken my 50 bucks moments before, “our cable is out. The weather, you know.”

“Hmm,” I said pensively, “you took that deposit, thinking I’d bash the TV in, didn’t you? Well, what’s the user code for the Internet? I need to post an e-vite to the wild party we’re planning.”

She laughed, gave me a 4-digit number, and then added sheepishly, “Uh, we’re having some problems with our Internet, too.”

“Well,” I said, “at least the lights are on and the heater’s working. Happy birthday!”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.