Tag Archive: Vancouver

London Encounter

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Peg Gantz)

In 1996, my son and I flew from Glens Falls, N.Y., (via Albany, N.Y., and Newark, N.J.) to visit my daughter, a college student doing a semester abroad in Bath, England. We flew in to Heathrow and took a train to Bath. At the end of our visit, we spent a couple of nights in London.

The day before our visit there had been an IRA bombing on a London bus, so security was very tight. Because of a suspicious package, and announcement was made that the tube would not stop at our intended station of Covent Garden, so we got off at the stop before and started walking in what I hoped was the correct direction to Covent Garden.

As we stopped on a traffic island in the middle of a street, I asked a man who also was on the island if he could direct me to Covent Garden. “Sorry,” he drawled, “but I’m from Texas, and I’m lost, too.” We went our separate ways.

Two days later my son and I were in line at Gatwick airport. (Yes, we flew IN to Heathrow and OUT from Gatwick; no idea why, but the tickets were a gift from my brother, who’d used his frequent flyer miles, so I was not about to question it.) A man stood in line behind us, and it was the Texan we’d encountered on a traffic island somewhere near Covent Garden in London! We exchanged greetings, made note of the unusual coincidence, and again went our separate ways. (And in case you’re wondering, I never saw him again.)

I’ve often wondered what were the odds of lost U.S. citizens from different parts of the country meeting for the first time on a London traffic island, then encountering one another again in line at the airport.

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 261.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog ICBS Everywhere, and Insight at Skeptics Society.

Unfortunately, I have no answers for this one except to say that low-odds events must happen occasionally. This story actually reminds me of one of my own.

We (my husband, our two boys, and my parents) were flying from our home in Los Angeles to Vancouver the day before our ship sailed to Alaska. Our boys were (and still are) both constantly drawing and one of them was doing so while the plane was boarding. A man noticed, complimented our son’s work, and offered to draw something for him. In a few minutes my son had a personalized cartoon of Homer and Bart Simpson, drawn by a man who had worked as an artist and director for the show for many years.

The next day we saw the man and his family as we were boarding our cruise. He and his wife had two boys of their own, a bit younger than ours, and were booked on the same cruise and post-cruise activities. As you can imagine, we were able to spend some time together and became friends.

The odds are good that at least one family on a flight from LA to Vancouver is scheduled to board a cruise ship the next day, but the odds that two families who don’t know each other are scheduled to board the same ship AND interact are likely pretty small, although not nearly as small as running into someone in an airport that you saw on a traffic island days before in a highly populated city.

Dumplings and Data

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Richard Murray)

In 2011, my wife and I were finishing up final preparations to depart on a two week trip to China. The main part of the trip was thanks to a contest I’d won from the Royal Ontario Museum when they had the Terracotta Warriors travelling show.

Scheduling the trip was somewhat problematic, with blackout dates and weirdnesses around how the airline booked promotional tickets. In some ways, we weren’t even sure if we were going to be getting on a plane when we arrived at the airport that night. The plan was that we were going to Beijing, then Xi’an, and then Shanghai. Hopefully.

I wanted to finish up some work for my friend John’s web site before we left. Another friend, Tom, and I share a web server, and there was a problem that I wasn’t going to be able to address before we left. So, I sent a quick email to John and Tom, and asked Tom if he could take a look at things.

Me: “I took a look at the PHP upgrade, but had this fear of breaking things because it appeared to be installed non-standardy. I’m off to Asia in a couple hours, so… good luck :)”

Tom and I used to work together in Vancouver, on Canada’s West Coast. We’d go out to shows frequently when we lived out there. Since we had moved to Toronto, we haven’t really spoken much; he’s one of those people who’s not all that active on social media, so we only exchange the odd email now and again about tech things.

It wasn’t that unusual when I didn’t hear back from him right away, so we headed out for the airport.

A couple days later, and we were ending our time in Beijing. We had been through the Forbidden City and climbed the Great Wall. We also had plans to meet up with a friend from Vancouver who was now working in the Canadian embassy. She’d moved back to Beijing just in time for us to meet her there for a western style dinner at Blue Frog (in the light of an Apple Store.)

We knew that she might be in Beijing, so this isn’t really much of a coincidence, more just good timing. We said our goodbyes and found a cab and made our way back to the hotel after dinner, and that’s where things got weird. I found Tom had replied to my email from a couple days back.

Tom: “I am also in Asia (Xi’an to be exact) and have been for a couple weeks but I will do the upgrade next weekend.”

We were heading to the airport the following morning to fly to Xi’an.

Me: “Hah. We’re in Xi’an tomorrow afternoon.”

Tom and his partner had originally wanted to go to Turkey, but couldn’t find a decent rate, so they’d decided on something of a whim to go to Xi’an.

After being there for some weeks, he had had his phone off for the past couple days due to the sheer volume of SMS spam you get once you activate a Chinese SIM – it’s insane.

After days without using his phone, he turned it on, checked email, and found my message. He thought it was an amusing enough coincidence that I was headed to the same continent at roughly the same time.

We only had two nights in Xi’an, only one of which was free from plans,  this was a remarkably narrow window for us. We arrived, and toured the Terracotta Warrior dig site on our one full day there, as planned, and then we met Tom and his partner for dinner.

Over an amazing 20 course dumpling dinner at Da Fang Chang Dumpling Restaurant, we compared notes on China, and talked a bit about how weird things can just happen. Mostly, we focused on the dumplings… and then we wandered around the night markets looking for more food.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 211.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary.

I would like to say that the participants in this story may have gotten ideas from each other by talking about places that they would like to visit. I’d like to, but Xi’an? Still, seeing anyone we know when we are that far from home is always a bit of a shock. The fact that he had just emailed this friend/coworker is not so impressive; how many other people had he emailed shortly before leaving on the trip?

Also, unlike many of the travel stories we receive, this was not a chance meeting. It was merely a coincidence that they were in the same city at the same time. This actually happens to me quite often. In fact, I discovered yesterday that a friend and will be vacationing in the same place at the same time next month. A few years ago, a coworker took a cruise on the same ship as my family just a week before our trip; they were getting off as we were boarding.

The odds are certainly low, but I think what makes this story feel more shocking is the distance from home. 

(Submitted by reader Michael Doyle)

In the summer of 1960 I was visiting my older sister in Rivertons, Wyoming, when a census-taker knocked on her door.  Upon opening the door, the census-taker took one look at my sister and turned pale.  It was obvious he was in shock.

He asked my sister, whose name was “Doris,” if her name was “Velma.”  My sister told him no, but that we had an aunt Velma. He said looking at my sister was as if he had gone back 40 years and that he was looking at the face of Velma.

After discussing the coincidence, the census-taker told us that he was at one time engaged to Velma who turned our to be our aunt.  But, he knew her in Vancouver, Washington, not in Wyoming.  Kin always told Doris she looked like Velma.  I guess this stranger proved it to be so.

[EDITOR: This reminds me of a favorite short story of mine, written by Mike Resnick, available on Escape Pod, titled Distant Replay. I won’t spoil the story more than what our story above might suggest about it. I strongly encourage you to give it a listen. Outside of that I can’t say much more about this one. It’s a startling moment in this strange world we inhabit. I can’t imagine just how shaking it must have been for the census-taker. – Jarrett]