Friday, December 21, 2007

amazing coincidence #3

14th May 2001
Flying always excites me. Even after years of being squashed in seats designed for 5 year olds, being served food that barely deserves the label 'food', and having to sit next to a variety of extras straight out of a Fellini movie, I still get a thrill out of walking down that rectangular metal tube that leads to the plane.

I do, however, tend to get a little bored. Once I have examined everything in the seat pocket, rung the flight attendants bell enough times until I get from them a smile that can be best described as 'tight-lipped' and eaten all of my fruit mentos and kit-kats, I begin to look around for other means of distraction.

On this particular trip I ran into a friend at the customs gate in Sydney (this is not the coincidence - this is well within the realms of the distinctly probable.) I was heading for New York on an overnighter and was intending to sleep on the flight as much as I could.

I knew it was pointless trying until after they had served dinner as no matter how much I make myself look unapproachable (wearing of sleep masks, blanket pulled over head, big cardboard sign around neck saying 'wake me and you're dead') I am always shaken awake by the 'hostie' with a big sarcastic smile announcing "Your special meal Mr. Culver". (Perhaps the constant pushing of the attendant's bell is NOT such a good idea.)

But what I needed was a distraction to fill those long slow minutes between doing up the seat belt and graciously receiving my dinner tray of boiled and sliced cardboard and polystyrene.

I opened the in-flight magazine. It was probably filled with rivetting travel-oriented articles like "How to Overcome Long Haul Constipation with No Second Language" or "50 Exotic and Exciting Places You Have Bugger All Chance of Ever Being Able to Afford to Visit".

Flicking very quickly through said magazine (creating a small zephyr to flutter my neighbours warming face towel) I stopped at the crossword.

If you know me at all, you will be aware that I DO love a crossword. And this one proved fiendishly difficult. Lots of clues about Major League Baseball or minor Fox television celebs. But it was sufficient to keep me occupied for 20 minutes.

I realised it was time to stop when the Flight Attendant flung my meal tray from the aisle on top of it. (And I was by the window no less)

I managed to sleep the remainder of the flight arriving (relatively) fresh faced the next morning at La Guardia (which I thought was a tropical disease). I spent an engrossing 5 days 'doing' as it were, New York.

One evening I was standing on 103rd Street station. Whoever had the job of naming Manhattan Streets must have been the MOST unimaginative person imaginable:

"Lets call this one '5th Avenue'. That sounds exciting."
"Well ok. Then what shall we call this next one?"
"Oh What about '6th Avenue'?"

I happened to notice a group of four Europeans standing next to me - mainly because they bore an uncanny resemblance to The Mamas and the Papas. Well two days later sitting in a downtown diner with a New Yorker friend of mine, the same four came in and sat down at the next table.
(No, this isn't the amazing coincidence. It's just kinda cuteishly improbable.)

I finally left NY for the UK from JFK, again on United. Once buckled in and ready to go I decided on a whim, to return to the crossword I had attempted on my inward flight.

I turned towards the back of the magazine (which was the same monthly edition) to the correct page and.....

'drumroll please'....


All my answers (perhaps 15 or 20) as well as the scribbles I had made in the margins were there. I instantly recognised my own illegible scrawl.

(Now THAT is the amazing coincidence.)

I was so taken aback that I even showed the flight attendant. She murmured some equally astonished words of agreement (which sounded a little like "Why do I always get them in my aisle?)

I even tore the crossword out and have it tucked somewhere into the back of one of my travel diaries. What does it mean?

Well nothing really. It just goes to show that strange things happen.

As Professor J.A.Paulos, from Temple University in Philadelphia, and best-selling author of 'Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences' says:

"Believing in the significance of oddities is self-aggrandizing ... It says, 'Look how important I am.' People find it dispiriting to hear, ‘It just happened, and it doesn't mean anything.'"


A couple of weeks later I was standing in one of 15 lines at the ticket counters at Clapham Junction station in London when I received a tap on my shoulder. It was a very old friend from Sydney who had moved to London about 5 years previously who I had completely lost touch with.


(image: from my 'one a day' artworks.
See more here.)

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