Suppose you are driving across the country—as, at the moment, we are. At some point each day, you reserve a motel room for the night. The earlier you reserve it, the more likely it is that you can get the room you want. Also the more likely it is that something that happens during the day, slow traffic due to construction, a long stop at some interesting place you didn't know existed, will change your schedule, leaving you with a room reservation an hour or two too far down the road.
Most of the time, the first half of the problem is imaginary; most motels, most nights, have empty rooms, so if you put off your reservation until you arrive at the motel the odds are pretty good that you will still have a bed for the night.
Most of the time, but not all the time—a fact of which we were rudely reminded this evening. We were leaving Laramie Wyoming, heading east, planning to spend the night in Cheyenne, when I checked online for rooms. And discovered that Frontier Days, a major Cheyenne event, had filled every motel room in town.
Which is why I am writing this in a motel room in Laramie.
It would be nice to have an easy way of spotting problems like the one we just encountered in advance. It might take the form of an online web page, perhaps a map, showing where in the country today's motel occupancy rate was close to 100%. If such a map existed, Cheyenne this morning would have shown as a bright red dot, Laramie--where it took two tries to find a motel with space, Laramie being a mere fifty miles from Cheyenne and Frontier Days--a pink one. We would have called ahead this morning and either planned in advance to stay in Laramie or changed our plans to push on to the next town after Cheyenne, about two hours further east.
The funny thing about this post is that I composed it, in my head, a day or so ago—before my theoretical problem turned out to be real.