In the first episode of Baggage Claim, I spend about 60% of the episode’s run describing something that isn’t particularly interesting. It’s something I’ve done thousands of times in my life. It’s just a story of two people treading water. 

There’s an element of the story that - when I was actually living it - terrified me more than anything I could truly communicate in the episode. It’s that the whole world just didn’t give a shit that two people were about to die. Waves were lapping gently. Faroff seabirds were cawing. Trees were rustling in the wind. The day was just being a day the way days always do.

In future episodes, I’ll nearly die again. People near me will actually die. And the thing that blew me away, in every one of those real-life moments, was that absolutely nothing happened.

Very fortunately, nearly all the approximations of death to which I have borne witness have occurred through the act of storytelling. Movies, shows, books, podcasts. It’s the tale of death. It’s not death itself. The tale of death comes with rising action and climax. It comes with musical crescendos and visceral screams. It comes with drawn-out pain and suffering culminating in the end of a human life. And so too, I supposed, would real-life death come with some amount of drama. Some rising action.

Recently, I read this harrowing story of a guy who fends off a grizzly bear with a pocketknife. This guy is walking down a trail, the way people do when they’re hiking. It’s just a trail. And then it’s a trail with a bear. Just like that. That’s fucking it.

So few factors in an environment have to change for an environment to become dangerous. A murderous lunatic with an AK-47 rampaging through a CVS is still in a CVS. There’s still a toiletry aisle with toothpaste for $2.99. There’s still a sale on wrapping paper. There’s still a Mariah Carey song blaring. There’s still linoleum flooring and a seasonal section and a pharmacy. It’s basically exactly the same as a safe CVS. Except for this one dude with a gun.

There’s risk in that, I think. Human minds haven’t come equipped to process the reality of their surroundings. They see the sun in the sky and waves lapping and birds cawing, and it feels like a day like any other. But the reality is this: danger has no cadence. It’s an element, not a plot device. It just happens when one factor twists sideways. 

I think I spent half an hour treading water with no way out before I even realized, well, maybe this is bad. You’re just going to have to find out for yourself. Click here to listen to Treading Water.

Will Conway


Former political software guy. Now a traveler and adventurer, which isn't a job, and host of the @heybaggageclaim podcast, which really isn't either. Travel stories no one tells.