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Everything Adds Up in Math of Chance Meetings

Posted: April 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: synchronicity | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Everything Adds Up in Math of Chance Meetings

Written by John Flynn

The man’s face was naggingly familiar. There was something about his eyes. We met on a muddy Himalayan trail, halfway around the world from home, but I could have sworn we’d known each other in a previous life.

Then, out of nowhere, a long-forgotten math problem popped into my head: “If a train left Chicago heading west …”

That’s it! The man with the scraggly beard was Mr. Irvin, my algebra teacher from Saratoga High School. We hadn’t seen each other in 17 years, and back then he’d been standing before a chalkboard in a short-sleeved white dress shirt with, if my memory is true, a shirt-pocket protector. Now he was clad in Gore-Tex and Polarfleece, all caked with 2 1/2 weeks of trail dust. But it was definitely the same guy.

How infinitesimal are the odds of bumping into someone you know thousands of miles from home? Well, it’s more likely than you think. My former math teacher was the third acquaintance I’d met in Asia in the span of three weeks. And two of those encounters were, once I thought about them, perfectly explainable.

These seemingly chance meetings happen to me so often I’m no longer surprised by them. Those of us who love to travel are linked by an invisible web of connections that often sends us to the same remote places at the same time. The late photographer Galen Rowell, who experienced many of these encounters, wrote that like-minded people travel down hidden corridors that often converge unexpectedly.

If, for example, your passion is Mozart, or grand cru Bordeaux, or maiden voyages, chances are your travels will one day lead you to Salzburg, or St- Émilion, or the port of Miami. And the odds are good that eventually you’ll bump into a friend there who shares your passion.

In that light, my Nepal reunion with my old algebra teacher was not only foreseeable, it was almost inevitable.

In the 1950s and ’60s, before he settled down to try to teach second- order polynomial equations to bored teenagers, Dick Irvin had been one of America’s top Himalayan mountaineers. We tried to exploit this every chance we could: Our teacher would be handing out an algebra quiz, and we’d plead: “Can’t we take it tomorrow, Mr. Irvin? Tell us about that big storm on Makalu. ” Occasionally he’d fall for it.

But his stories were enthralling, and one day I asked him to recommend a few mountaineering books I could check out from the school library. Toward the end of the school year he took me and a few classmates up to Castle Rock, in the hills above Saratoga, and showed us some knots and climbing moves.

I’m sure Irvin had no idea what he was starting. Mountains took over my life, and I spent the next couple of decades hiking and climbing the great ranges of the world.

If mountains happen to be your passion, you’ll one day make it to Nepal to see the greatest range of them all, and it’s likely you’ll go in the fall, the best season for trekking. And there’s a good chance you’ll one day find yourself in the picturesque village of Ghorepani, which occupies a ridge high above the Kali Gandaki river, astride several of the most popular trekking routes. Which is where I happened to be standing, catching my breath, when Dick Irvin came bounding up the trail.

A few years after I graduated from high school, he’d resigned his teaching post and returned to the mountains, his original love. He took a job with Mountain Travel Sobek, the East Bay adventure travel company, and, at the height of the trekking season, was leading a group on a 21-day circuit around Annapurna. The standard stopping place on Day 18? Ghorepani.

In retrospect, that meeting seemed almost predestined. So did the one a week earlier, when I ran into my old skiing instructor, Mimi Vadasz, outside the Royal Nepal Airlines office in Kathmandu. She was also a climber, en route to Makalu, the same mountain we used to ask Irvin about. In those days, the Royal Nepal office was a reliable place to bump into old mountain friends: Just about everyone had a problem with their reservations.

My third Asian encounter, though, was one of those bolt-out-of-the-blue coincidences. One misty morning on Koh Samui, an island off the east coast of Thailand, I walked down to the beach and bumped into a guy I’d once shared an office with. I can’t think of any connection, any hidden corridor, that would have brought us both to that place at that time.

I’ve had a few other chance meetings like that, and it always makes me wonder how many near-misses we have: The sixth-grade classmate who strolls by while we’re peering into a shop window on the Champs-Elysées, the old girlfriend who strides into an Outback pub half an hour after we’ve left, the former neighbor who strolls down the dock in Ketchikan minutes before our cruise ship ties up. This sort of thing must happen all the time.

There’s another phenomenon that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time on the world-traveler circuit: You’re constantly bumping into backpackers you’ve previously met in distant parts of the world. You have a beer with a Danish guy at a bar near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and then you see him again on Kao San Road in Bangkok. You ride the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan with a pair of Irish women, and five months later you bump into them on the Milford Track in New Zealand. These reunions are far from mysterious: The world-traveler circuit really is a circuit, and the young vagabonds on it follow a well-established path.

But it points up one more aspect of travel: The more friends you make, the greater chance you’ll have a delightful reunion with them in some far corner of the globe.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Identity theft victim catches her thief

Posted: March 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: redemption, synchronicity | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Identity theft victim catches her thief

This story was written by Mike Brody and originally appeared on the website.

A Seattle customer service representative who was the victim of identity theft in January was able to help police break up a ring of ID thieves when a woman tried to open a credit card account using her stolen identity.Michelle McCambridge, 23, was working at J.C. Penney when a woman asked to open a credit account in McCambridge’s name with a fake ID, according to the Seattle Times .McCambridge was shaken when she realized what was happening, but she composed herself enough to excuse herself and alert store security to the situation.”I’m very proud of her,” said Joseph Velling, a special agent for the Social Security Administration. “It was heroic.”Police couldn’t arrest the woman right there, but they were able to get surveillance footage of her which directly led to her arrest along with several others who police say were responsible for victimizing at least 39 people.”Out of how many customer-service desks, out of how many registers she could have gone to, and she had to come to me?” McCambridge said. “It was fate.”Last year, 8.4 million people in the United States had their identities stolen at a total cost of $49.3 billion.On Friday, Albert Gonzalez, a former federal government informant and the alleged ringleader of one of the largest known identity theft cases in U.S. history, pleaded guilty to 19 counts of conspiracy computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft related to theft of credit and debit card data from TJX Companies owner of T.J. Maxx, BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, among other retailers.

The Hitchhiker meets the Boogieman (and admires his orthodontia).

Posted: March 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: life + death, synchronicity | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

When I was in high school, all the cool kids hitchhiked. Girls would stand on the side of the two-lane highway, the sun-browned-S of their hips thrust out along with their thumbs.

The sight of these girls sent my mother into paroxysms of rage.

“If I ever, EVER, catch you hitchhiking, I’ll rip out your heart,” my mother would say, jabbing a finger at my chest. “Before some maniac does it first!”

“Oh, Tammy,” my father would sigh. He was a happy-go-lucky sort, always with a smile and a kind word. It drove my mother nuts.

“All I’m saying,” she’d insist, “is that a young girl on the side of the road? Anything can happen! Anything!”
And turning my head to watch as we passed these girls, laughing, jostling each other for space, I’d think…yeah, but isn’t that the point?

When I turned 18, I moved from my home in California to Hawaii. I was on my own, and eager to test the waters.
Still, standing on the side of the road on that sunny October afternoon, I was nervous. What if my mom was right? What if one stupid mistake could ruin your whole life?

But after a minute, a truck slowed, and then stopped. The driver was about my age, with shaggy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a sweet, sleepy, smile.

As if on cue, I could hear my mother’s voice, low and ominous, “Ted Bundy looked like the prom king too…”
But the surfboard in back, NPR on the radio, and the Buddha affixed to the dash all told me this guy was harmless.
I wasn’t going far, and we chatted amiably – we were both 18 and we were both from California, though I was from San Francisco and he was from L.A.

When we reached the filling station near my house, I thanked him and climbed out, feeling oddly elated. I’d done it! I’d hitchhiked! And not only that, but I’d lived to tell about it!

I was about halfway across the parking lot when I heard the guy shout something. I turned, and saw that he was smiling, clearly excited.

“Hey…San Francisco, right?”

I nodded, feeling something quicken in my chest.

“They just had an earthquake! The guy on the radio said some freeway collapsed.” He laughed, revealing a row of perfect white teeth. “Like a billion people are dead!”

It’s funny how sometimes you just know. Not the particulars maybe – not that my father was on that freeway, and certainly not that he was dead – but simply that life as you’ve known it has already changed.

As I walked to the pay phone and numbly punched in my parent’s phone number, it occurred to me that my mother was right. Sometimes, the Boogieman has the loveliest smile. And if you stand on the side of the road with your thumb out, anything can happen. Anything at all.

Do Angels Wear Spats?

Posted: March 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: career, synchronicity | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Do Angels Wear Spats?

This story comes from Kelly Simmons.

I am a writer who struggled to be published for over 15 years. One day, after my then-agent had summoned me to New York in near blizzard conditions, only to reject my latest book, I headed back to Penn Station at the lowest point in my career. Her hollow words rang in my ears, “Maybe you just need to write something more personal.” Please, I thought; my third-grade writing teacher could have given me that advice.

At the station, I waited for my delayed train and ruminated over my diastrous meeting when someone sat down next to me. I turned and saw Tom Wolfe, wearing an all-white suit, white overcoat, and white spats. At 2 pm, on a Thursday, in the middle of a freaking snowstorm.

I smiled at the ridiculousness of the situation, but before I could even think if there was anything I should say to him or ask him, my train was called. As we pulled away from the station, I decided it was a sign. Tom Wolfe was published late in life — and I would be too. I told myself I was going to come up with a new plot for a new book during the train ride — before I got to Philadelphia, I would know what to write.

And you know what? I did. And within two months, I had a new agent and a book deal. (Standing Still, published by Simon & Schuster)

Tom Wolfe, angel in white.

My 77 Blind Dates

Posted: March 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: connection, synchronicity | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on My 77 Blind Dates

I spent one year going out on blind dates in order to find The One. I was 35, recently out of a broken engagement, and ready to get married. I spent one lugubrious year slogging thru date after date, and finally, I met the guy. Or so I thought…

Date 77 was with a linguistics professor who had quite an impressive resume. Solomon was so inviting and inclusive and just … warm. It was so good to be in his presence and surrounded by his sexiness. I was like a walking grilled-cheese sandwich, all gooey and soft. I imagined that lying in his arms would be like resting in a jar of marshmallow crème.

His cell phone rang. Thirty seconds later, he was gone. An emergency took him away. Fate dragged him off. I stood there in my black boots with the rain misting softly on my hair, and almost started to cry, yet I was overcome with the feeling that I would never again have to add to my blind dating list that was only growing out to nowhere. I decided to celebrate with a taco and a beer.

But here’s the catch: I never saw Solomon again. When leaving the restaurant, I heard a voice say, “Call Michael Potts.” I quickly turned around to see if someone I knew was behind me playing a joke on me, but there was no one there. But I’d heard the voice. I had heard my mother’s voice before, it’s just hard to recognize when it speaks to me.

Michael Potts was a younger guy who I currently worked with in the funeral industry. More specifically, he worked for my company, and I had met him a month or so earlier in the lobby of a funeral home while we both were presiding over a funeral service. I didn’t like him when we met. He became real annoying and never would get the hint that I just wasn’t that into him!

So here I was, standing outside my favorite taqueria, hearing a voice that told me to call some guy who I could swear that I would never call in a million years. But I am a woman of faith, so in about a minute I called, he answered, and couldn’t believe I was really phoning him. Yeah, neither could I.

We talked all night. It was funny, but he said everything I wanted to hear, and so sweetly and genuinely. I brushed him off after one conversation, and if fate hadn’t intervened, who knows how my future dates would have played out.

About three weeks into dating he said, “I am not the marrying kind. I’ve never wanted to get married before, but I’ll tell you something. If our relationship is this good in a year from now, I am asking you to marry me.”

One year later we were married, and are now parents to a beautiful baby girl.

London Cabby Saves US/Soviet Cooperation

Posted: March 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: luck, synchronicity | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on London Cabby Saves US/Soviet Cooperation

In 1980 I started working for NASA as a space physiologist and was asked to lead a three-person US delegation to Moscow to negotiate experiments to be flown on a Soviet biosatellite. The NASA Project Scientist provided me with a Nikon camera to document instrumentation, international equipment shipping forms, copies of existing agreements between the two “sides”, and notes on items to resolve during our meetings. This critical material just fit into a leather briefcase I bought for the trip and intended to guard carefully.

We flew into London from California for an overnight stay with departure the next morning, Sunday, to Moscow. We woke early to breakfast at the hotel and I looked for my briefcase that also contained my money, passport and visa. It wasn’t in my room and I panicked. My colleagues remembered that when we arrived at Victoria Station on the shuttle bus from Heathrow, because the last cab was waiting, we grabbed each other’s bags sitting next to the bus, jumped in, and headed to the hotel. We stowed the luggage in our rooms, went to dinner and then a late night jazz club, to help shift our biorhythms. But why wasn’t my briefcase in one of their rooms? They didn’t have a clue.

I guessed it was left in the cab and ran to the stand outside the hotel and accosted the first in line. Was there a lost and found? Yes. Was it opened on Sunday? No. Where did I get the cab to the hotel? Victoria Station. I told the cabby that if I couldn’t retrieve the briefcase within a half-hour we would not only miss our plane, our entire trip to Moscow to negotiate a joint space flight, would collapse. He pulled me into his cab and headed for Victoria Station. I asked why, but he couldn’t explain. I knew Victoria Station was just a bus-to-cab transfer point with an unoccupied, wide-open building. Of what possible use would it be to go there?

The cabby sprinted into the waiting room that contained only a bare counter. He jumped behind it and flung open cupboard doors and then – pulled out my briefcase. We did a quick bear-hug dance, and ran back to his cab. Tears welled up in our eyes as we raced back to the hotel and he assembled his story. The bus driver probably saw the briefcase on the sidewalk after everyone had left and figured that someone would come right back to look for it. He had to leave for the airport, so he put it in the cupboard. He never thought it would sit there overnight.

The cabby wouldn’t accept a tip, and said his reward was to know that the “system” had worked and international cooperation would continue unabated, even between the two Cold Warriors. Whenever I see a black English taxi I feel very thankful for a cabby’s faith in his fellow man.


Fortune Teller

Posted: March 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: synchronicity | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

I’ve always had excellent timing, especially when it comes to spiritually guiding others. In the past couple of years, I’ve become my art teacher’s last apprentice before she became afflicted with a terminal brain tumor. I became my Sensei’s last karate student before he died of liver cancer. I’ve even received training as a chaplain due to all the chance events that have led me to help those experiencing transitions great and small. Why? Because I am a fortune teller. And it is my job to help people understand how to maximize the potential of the best “chance” events in their destinies.