Sunday, January 26, 2014
What Are The Odds? A Good Story About How The Unlikely Does Happen
I was in a Persian grocery store in LA. I wanted to buy something for Gita who had translated for Pourya and Mona, the Iranian film makers whose film, Everything is Fine Here, got honorable mention for features at the Anchorage International Film Festival. Here's a short post and video (in Farsi) from early in the festival.
I explained to the clerk that I had a Persian friend in Anchorage and I wanted to bring back something she would like, but probably can't get in Anchorage. She was having trouble figuring out what I wanted.
Then a young man came up to me and said, "I lived in Anchorage for two years, what do you want?" I explained the situation.
"What's your friend's name?," he asked.
Big smile. "I know Gita, I've eaten at her house."
He suggested three things that would be hard to get in Anchorage - fresh bread, fresh dessert, and barberries (Zereshk). But, he said, wait until just before you leave, so they'll be fresh.
And then I asked him what he did for two years in Anchorage.
"I taught at the College of Business and Public Policy at UAA."
It turns out he was there - where I taught - after I retired. But we had lots of common friends and I walked out of the shop in amazement at my good luck.
People talk about things being destined to explain such things, and I like that notion. I'm skeptical though.
What are the odds?
A million to one? 100, 000 to one? !000 to one?
There are lots and lots of Iranians in LA and a good place to run into them is an Iranian grocery store. If he goes to the grocery once a week the odds suddenly don't seem so remote.
The store is open seven days a week, 13 hours a day (12 on Sunday). (I just called and checked.) So they are open 90 hours a week. Say he spends 15 minutes in the small store per visit. There are four quarter hours per hour, so I have one chance in 360 to be in the store when he is in any given week. That's much better odds than most lottery tickets.
It's a small store so the odds are good he could hear me talking to the clerk.
The odds that an Iranian who had lived in Anchorage for two years would know Gita are probably very high - there aren't that many Iranians in Anchorage, and Gita's been here a while. That he had worked where I worked? A little lower.
I also think about how easy it would have been for us both to be in that store together and not connected. If I hadn't said anything about Anchorage to the clerk, we never would have met. Or if did we meet at the checkout - which we did - would we have found out about our one degree of separation?
And I wondered about how many times we've been right near someone but didn't know it.
The odds of this happening are great enough - at least in people's minds - that if I wrote it in novel, people would find it a little far-fetched. But it happened. And Gita came and got all the goodies we brought back right after we got home. And she loved the story.
When she gets the translation done, I'll do another post. We had an interesting conversation. You don't get to talk to Iranians coming right from Iran in Anchorage every day.
And while we're talking about links and degrees of separation, here's a video of a Kevin Bacon TED talk on how he responded to the Kevin Bacon Six Degrees game by setting up Sixdegrees.org to get people to donate to charities.