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Just do it, says the Nike ad. A great ad; only in truth, few of us do.

It's a theme in our literature: America, nation of Babbitts, a content people who nevertheless yearn for more, yearn to just do it, but don't because not doing it is safer.Which brings up the case of Pat Fry of Los Angeles.

It should not have been that big a story, this 68-year-old woman who got in a cab one day for a trip across town, and ended up going to British Columbia. By the time she returned home, the meter showed a fare of $4,100 and a round trip of 3,128 miles.

A good story, yes, but front pages all over the country? The evening news on the major networks? All for a "bright" - a light little feature? That's how it was presented: Here's an amusing one you won't believe.

But perhaps there was more to it. That "lives-of-quiet-desperation" theme in American literature has a flip side, and Pat Fry's story belongs to it. It's the theme of lighting out for the territory, as Huck Finn did.

Most of us like to think we were there once, Huck Finns ourselves during some youthful phase when we still felt free enough to be irresponsible. Soon, though, we begin to build a life, and safety becomes more important.

Even so, we celebrate those who seek adventure. Ever see that Norman Rockwell painting of the aging fast-order chef smiling en-viously at the young boy at his counter who's decided to run away from home? Like that. "Too bad," that chef seems to be thinking, "that I'm old enough to know better."

Pat did it any way, ran away, lit out for the territory.

"I had cabin fever," she explained. So she called a Yellow Cab and asked the driver to take her to the ocean in Santa Monica. When she got there, she decided she wasn't ready to stop. And kept on deciding the same thing until she was deep into Canada. Her afternoon cab ride ended nine days later.

Whether it's a cab ride or a career, most of us wouldn't dare.

How many have been in jobs 5, 10, even 20 years more than they planned, because it was safe? Because there was no guarantee that if they lit out for the territory, they'd find what they wanted?

It's the American condition: clinging to safety, longing for adventure.

I'm not saying such people lack the nerve to go after what they want. The problem is that most happen to have most of what they want. Which is far more a trap than having little of it.

Remember how Janis Joplin defined freedom? Just another word, she said, for nothing left to lose. One day, we wake up blessed with plenty to lose, which is when it becomes harder to just do it. Not that we always should. It's too dramatic to say the blessing of plenty-to-lose is also a curse. Far from it. It's simply a trade. Most of the time.

Of course, even as we cheer her on, some probably think Pat Fry's a bit off. Four thousand dollars - for a cab ride? Pretty high price to pay for impulsiveness. Can you justify it as well spent?

Not easily. On the other hand, one measure of value is whether your money's buying a thing you'll carry with you.

How many weeks do any of us remember in our lives? Pat Fry bought herself one she won't likely forget.

Not a bad deal.

Not a bad example.

Old enough to know better. Young enough to just do it anyway.