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This is Hannah. Oh, hi, Hannah, this is Sarah from this American Life. Hi, how are you? I'm good, thank you. How are you? Good.
Before we go any further from ABC Chicago, it's this American Life. I'm Sarah Koenig, sitting in for IRA Glass. And you're about to hear this story the same way I did blind. All I know is that it's going to have a coincidence in it. I have no idea what you're about to tell me, so. Oh, yeah, lay it on me.
So the story is I was a freshman in high school at Bozeman High School in Montana. Yes. I was in the orchestra and it was early in my freshman year when I had made friends in high school but didn't really have orchestra friends yet. And we were taking an orchestra trip. So that was a little nerve wracking.
When you're a freshman, this qualifies as a demi crisis, a long bus ride to Seattle, sharing a hotel room with someone you don't know. But there's this one girl, Lindsay. She and Hannah have friends in common, so they decide to pair up to room together, ride the bus together to be orchestra friends.
So we go to Seattle and we're like, it's awkward, you know, because we're like new friends trying to get to know each other. And on one of our free days, they send us to the Space Needle. And I don't know if you've ever been to the Space Needle. I have. There's that, like, carnival area all around it, huh. And we are playing the little games all around there. And we won pupate troupers. Do you know what those are?
No, they're like the little plastic soldiers that have a plastic parachute and you're supposed to drop them from somewhere in the plastic parachute sort of expands and. Oh, what did you call them?
Super troopers, really?
I didn't quite believe about this, but she looked it up. It's true. Super troopers. I just did a Google image search. OK, but troopers and I'm seeing images of the little guys.
But wait, is it a generic name or is it a brand name? I think it's a brand name.
I think from what I'm seeing here, Imperial Pupate Troopers, His Highness, four star general pupate trooper.
Yeah, exactly. Back to the plot here. Hannah and her new friend Lindsay go to the top of the Seattle Space Needle to try out their prizes.
So we we got in the little elevator and ran to the top and ran to the edge and through the super troopers over the edge because there's nothing to stop you. Really? Yeah. And we were just like in peals of laughter. And it was we thought it was so hilarious and it sort of broke the ice in our friendship.
Lindsey and Hannah become best friends all through high school, cut to senior year. Four years later, another orchestra trip, this time to Reno, Nevada. Hannah and Lindsey are in their hotel room studying.
And so Wensing are both sitting at the desk in this hotel room in Reno, Nevada.
And a pupate trooper comes flying out of the sky and lands on the windowsill of our hotel room where we are.
And we both like we couldn't we couldn't believe it. We opened the window and we grabbed the pooper trooper and we ran into the hole to try to, like, find other people in an orchestra. Like we thought someone had been playing a trick on us, but no one knew what we were talking about. No one even remembered the thing in Seattle. And so I still to this day, don't know why that happened.
Every once in a while, we get pictures like this at the radio show Coincidence Stories, since they don't really fit into our usual, every week we bring you a theme format.
We've been setting them aside, wondering what to do with them. They mean so much to people.
I don't know. It felt like it was about our friendship. You know, it was just it felt, you know, I I'm not someone that believes in God, really, but it felt a little bit like an act of God or something like this sort of cosmic and larger than us.
Finally, it hit us, if we got enough of them, we could put them on the radio as their own thing. So we put out a call to listeners. Send us your coincident stories. And you did hundreds and hundreds of you did.
We read at least 13, 500 coincidence stories, interviewed dozens of people here. Just a few things we've learned. You're most prone to coincidences when you're young teens or 20s. Lots of coincidences involve your grandmother. You're likely to experience a coincidence if you're in or near the Netherlands. Coincidences also happen to you in or near airplanes or on Craigslist. For many of you, coincidences where the answer to your prayers or helps you find your missing bike. Also, there are coincidences hidden in your name, your keys, your clothes, your address.
Like when Flora and Reggiano Pena first started dating.
When we met, he said that he was born salmonella. And I said, well, I was two. And then when we were going to get married and we needed our birth certificates, we compared them and was the same building the.
We heard stories about a lost roll of film discovered coincidentally in the stomach of a decomposing hyena about the man who got his favorite T-shirt back from a stranger's knapsack in Slovakia, about the woman who was dating not one, but two Mark Steven Andersens at the same time about the student whose car broke down in rush hour on a busy highway and the one person who just happens to stop, who comes to her rescue.
It's her dad who lives four hours away. And one of my favorites from a woman named Jill Peterson, who felt nauseated on the subway in New York City as they pull into the Second Avenue stop, there's a garbage can perfectly positioned to help her out.
So the train doors open and I'm feeling it for this can. And as I get there out of the corner of my eye, I kind of see like another person heading my direction, kind of like going for the Cantillon. And, you know, it's it's all coming up. And I'm throwing up. And as I'm throwing up in the scan, this person is coming towards me. Throwing up and began cancer. And we're both, like, simultaneously barfing into this can in this conversation.
And we kind of look at each other like, whoa, I don't know what how how are you feeling? Oh, I'm feeling a little bit better now. I'm need to. What's the only way to survive throwing up in front of a subway car full of strangers? Have a nice girl your age, do it with you and numbers. So many coincidences with numbers.
One woman told us how she was at Thanksgiving with her extended family, and they suddenly realized that six of them had the exact same number of letters in their names, 23 letters. Michael Arthur Advanta, Patty, Mary Elizabeth, antipode. William Arthur, Vandar, Patty.
There was a guy at the mall doing surveys who had ask people their phone number. It's obvious the guy he's surveying starts to make up a number. He says nine three three, four, five, six. When he read out that last number, he said eight. And I kind of step back for a second. But I was cool and I said, no, sir, I'm sorry, that's not your phone number. And he said, well, why isn't that my phone number?
And I said, Because that's my phone number. That's my phone. The phone number that you just made up is actually my phone number.
These stories reminded me of an old Chinese saying, I once heard actually I learned a couple of weeks ago and I have no idea how old it is, but it goes like this Boudjellal potential.
That's my friend Unwarned Boudjellal potential. And what does it mean? If there's no coincidence, there won't be stories.
No coincidence. No story to imply that, of course, Life-cycle.
I don't know, developed in the ways that we can predict, so is it like if you heard a story with a coincidence afterwards, you might be like, no coincidence? No story like that, right?
Yes. Just some expression you used to quote.
I say it like a corny thing to say. Mostly I think of, no, I won't be anything.
Do you ever use it when I'm horny?
Yes. At the risk of being corny, I'm going to say it. Today's show, no coincidence.
No story. While the big man's away, we're going to sneak these coincidence stories onto the air. All the stories you'll hear today first aired on our show in 2013. And they're all verified. True stories that my colleagues hid from me until the actual interviews so it wouldn't spoil the surprise, which is also why there is so much unprofessional giggling this hour.
And full disclosure, I came into this topic a coincidence skeptic believing that a coincidence is just a coincidence, nothing more. I judged I confronted weakness.
I countered wide eyed faith with statistical probability. And by the end. Well, stay with us.
Act one Gramma's Blake Oliver is living in Nicaragua right now. We talked on Skype about four months ago. He was on the phone to his friend Camille, who goes by Kamei. He mentioned to her that the screensaver on his iPhone had been the same picture for a long time, that he wanted to change it.
So I asked her to just send me a picture of something. Uh huh. And and it was really funny. She ended up sending me this picture of her as a little kid, as a joke. And I was like, oh, yeah, it's kind of funny. I was expecting, but that's funny. And then I glanced back at the picture and I saw my grandma walking through behind her. What? Yeah. How crazy is that? Right.
Very crazy. The picture was taken about 18 years ago, but you recognized her right away.
Oh, absolutely. There is no question that was given a choice because without question, a choice.
Coincidences like this one usually have a dense nest of details to bolster the craziness. Here goes.
Blake is from Michigan. That's where he met Camille. But Camille's family isn't from Michigan at all.
They're originally from Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. That's where she grew up. Yeah, that's where she grew up.
Was was this photo from Utah? No.
And that's the funny thing is my grandma lives in Melbourne, Florida, and I'm thinking, oh, she must have been in Utah and walked past it. And he's like, no, no. That that picture was taken in Marksville Vancouver Island in Canada. What? Yeah, right. Blake figured out that at the same time that Cami and her family were on vacation in Vancouver, Grandma Joyce had gone there to visit some of her husband's relatives.
Like what are the what are the chances to think that not only did I meet Cammy, but she sends me this picture of her in the background of my grandma?
I don't know what the chances are miniscule, right? Yes. And not only look, I don't know if you've seen the picture, but not only just in the picture, but like perfectly behind her at that moment, a fellow producer emailed me the photo and there it was cute.
Four year old Cami in the foreground facing the camera and not far behind her, a blonde woman walking past wearing blue shorts and a matching top.
Yeah, and she has no idea she's in the picture even. Yeah, right. It's not like yeah, she doesn't seem aware, but I have to say it's it's a little you know, it's not a very crisp photo. Like, I'm sort of surprised you would recognize her right away.
Well, yeah, there's not a lot of it's my grandma was like I was like. From my first reporting job decades ago, I interviewed a woman who'd just turned 100 years old. I asked her, admittedly, a rookie question, what's the most amazing thing that's happened in your life? She thought for a while. And then she said the most interesting thing that happened to me was that on my first day at Patchogue School, the principal said to me, What's your name?
I said, Esther Tuttle. And he said, I have a friend in Shelter Island by that name. I was 12, she said. And that to me was remarkable.
This woman had seen the advent of cars and movies and computers and space travel, and this was her answer at the time. I thought it was lame that maybe Esther was losing it a little. But since I started hearing all these coincidence stories the last couple of weeks, I've reconsidered coincidences feel so rare and that sticks with you even when the coincidence is barely a coincidence at all. An academic study of people's reactions to coincidence stories from the early 1980s found that we have an egocentric bias toward our own coincidences that people find stories that happened to them far more surprising than the same stories happening to other people.
Case in point, my name is Juliana Bontrager and I'm 16 years old, Juliana. She's got a problem with her grandmother. My grandma has been obsessed with coincidences and she finds them in her life all the time and she always wants to tell everyone about them. And we get kind of annoyed with her sometimes because she just she thinks they're so incredible and how they happen to her all the time. And it's just, you know, it's every time we see her.
Oh, my gosh. She would not believe what happened to me. And they're always you know, I was at the hospital with you know, she was her cousin cousins. She takes her cousin to the doctor's office quite a bit for appointments and stuff. And she'll be sitting in the waiting room and then, you know, they'll drive to go get lunch after that and they'll see the people they were waiting in the waiting room with at the restaurant.
And I've always, you know, I always thought that was funny because it's like a coincidence. But, you know, maybe they're just going to get lunch, too, like it's not a big deal.
Yeah. So then a while ago, I was doing a project in my English class. We were reading the Scarlet Letter book. And I was once we finished the book I like and project what we had to come up with, what our sin was, or what sin we struggled with the most. And I chose envy. So we had to create our own letter of paper and then we had to like safety, pin it to our shirt and wear it around school the entire day.
So as I was coloring in my letter and cutting it out, my mom was listening to the show Monk in the background. As we were watching it, I was literally like cutting out my last line on the letter E for envy. And it said on the show, I've studied the Seven Sins and the most prominent one is envy.
As I was cutting out my letter and so I immediately called my grandma and was telling her about it and she was like, oh, that's a good one. Yeah. And then I didn't really hear back from her after that. And I thought, like, well, maybe she's just envious of my great coincidence. And and I was sitting there like, Are you kidding? I know so much better. You just happened to run into a person twice in one day.
I do that all the time. You know, what are the odds that as I'm cutting out this letter E they would talk about that on a show and I was so confused about it. OK, so Juliana's coincidence is a common one, we've all had those moments when you're reading a certain word and then someone says it on the radio or on TV.
But remember, Julian is 16, so maybe this is the first time it's happening to her still.
I'm on her side here. I think it is more remarkable than her grandmother's example of the people in the waiting room being at the restaurant.
Do you do you have a phone where you can dial up your grandma right now?
I can try try it. OK, one second. So Juliana conferenced her grandmother in so we could settle this. I'm here. Elaine Olsen, Elaine Olsen, nice to meet you. Nice to meet you, dear. I laid out my argument for Elaine about the purity and therefore superiority of Juliana's example, but Elaine argued right back there were several hours between the two sightings. Plus the restaurant was about four miles from the hospital.
And in that four mile radius, you might say, I could have gone to any number of restaurants. The fact that I ran into her at that restaurant I think is a coincidence. I think if she could have gone anyplace, too, that's that's true. I mean, this story I'm not saying it's not a coincidence.
I'm just saying it's not maybe as pure as like you can break down the sort of probabilities of certain kind of person and a certain kind of neighborhood going.
So you don't think so?
I don't think so. Do you think you're somehow prone to coincidences like coincidences, find you more than they find other people? I don't know, that's what I like, you know, in my own family, I've asked them, does this happen to you and don't get, you know, you know, much of a response. But, yeah, that's possible.
But when you ask when you ask for coincidences, we have nothing to give to you because you have you're so set in your way. And 81.
OK, OK, so what would Juleanna like what would Juleanna have to experience in terms of a coincidence that would impress you, do you think like what would it need to be?
Well, you know, it's hard to tell.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I had my my cousin up at another doctor's note sitting in the reception area, gentleman across from me age.
And this time it was about an Asian man in the waiting room whom she later saw buying a melon, a Trader Joe's would Uihlein. And it wasn't as good as the other one.
Back to in God we trust, it's probably no surprise that we got a huge number of coincidence pictures about love, romantic love.
A few years ago, after Steven Lee proposed to his girlfriend, Helen, they brought their families together for the first time to celebrate the engagement.
My mom and my stepdad came to New York to meet with Helen's parents.
And basically over the course of dinner and coffee afterwards, we discovered that basically my father had dated my wife's mother back in Korea back in the 1960s and he had proposed to her.
I'm going to slow this down a sec just to let it sink in. Helen's mother had almost married Stephen's father, his late father, actually. He died when Steven was 17. And how this all came out was that after they had dinner, they went back to Steven's apartment. They were looking at Steven's family photographs.
So, you know, my future mother in law's flipping through the album and she sees my dad. And so she asks, you know, oh, what was his name? And my mom tells the name. And, you know, my my future mother in law kind of nods and kind of moves on and keeps flipping through the book. Does he even say anything to imagine what she must have been feeling with seeing that photo suddenly just like flooded?
Yeah, she has. She is. I think she'd be really good at poker.
So Helen's mother says nothing goes home, but later that night, she tells her daughter, this was the one this was the man who might have been. She explained that the reason they hadn't married was because her father, Helen's grandfather, had chosen a different husband for the man who became Helen's father. All of them ended up living in the U.S., but they quickly lost touch. Steven didn't find out about any of this until a couple of days later.
That's when Helen, you know, calls me that says I have something to tell you. And she tells me and I was I was floored by it. And, you know, together we call my mom and, you know, she put a good face on it. She but she was you know, she was pretty shocked.
Did she know that there had been this other woman that your father had in love? That's the thing my dad told her years and years ago. You know, there was this other woman that that I was in love with at one point. But, you know, long before I met you. But Mom was like, look, you have a past. I have a past. We all the past. Who cares? Of course, you know, never thinking that she was going to share grandchildren with that woman.
I mean, she later admitted to me that if she had known this from the very beginning, she would have not supported Helen. To me, she really you know, it would just been like, look, being with the daughter of this of the other woman your dad loved, I mean, it would get you find someone else. How did you take this coincidence? Did it come to mean anything to you or to Helen?
Yeah, there's something about it. The fact that, you know, I didn't have the time with my dad that I wished I had had. Yeah. And then suddenly to kind of have him be kind of an active part of my life again, to think that I can talk to my mother law and hear what he was like in his 20s, something that my mom doesn't even know. And, you know, might actually Helen's father is a strong believer in the idea that somehow my dad somehow is behind all this, that somehow, you know, he's kind of helped make all this happen.
At the time this next love story takes place, a guy named Paul Gracian was working in a Chicago suburb called Arlington Heights. He just started dating a woman named Esther. They'd been out maybe eight times.
And I thought maybe it was time to get exclusive or become boyfriend girlfriend or whatever it was. And I was about to go out to lunch and I was thinking about asking her on a Friday date that I had set up and I went out to lunch. I stopped at the store prior to hitting the deli that I normally hit. And I got some change, went to the deli, ordered my sandwich. It was six bucks or something like that. I pulled out a five from my wallet and I pulled out the couple bucks change that I got gotten from the store, handed the clerk one of the ones.
And then I looked at it and I pulled it back. Written on the dollar in pencil was Esther. And I thought, Oh, that's weird.
You know, I'm thinking about asking her to go steady and I get this WSS astronauts bizarre. So I stuck in my pocket, you know, chuckled and went to the store. I got one of those floating frames and a little piece of gold lamé and I started out in the frame. So it was floating in the middle on this piece of gold, as if, you know, you're going to go in a church in Italy. And they had a a fragment from the robe of some saint or something like that.
And I called it the immaculate dollar of Arlington Heights.
So on the Friday, I asked her out and she was, you know, all excited and we were all Gideon that I said, hey, I have one more thing for you.
And I gave her this frame with this dollar in it.
I start unwrapping it and he's like, it's a dollar with your name on it. And he's all like beside himself. And I just look at him like. I'm freaked out, she kind of furrowed brow a little bit and looked concerned and I said, you know, is there some sort of problem?
I was speechless for the first time ever. But I said, you know, remind me to tell you something later.
So, OK, you know, I let it go and we you know, we had a relationship. We got engaged, got married. A couple of years later, we were unpacking at a new apartment that we had. And I had the I found the frame with the dollar in it. And I stuck it up on the dresser and she came in the room. I said, hey, you never told me about this dollar.
What's the deal with that?
She said, Well, when I was 19, you know, I was a cashier working in a coffee shop in downtown Chicago. And I was dating someone and I just wasn't happy with him. And I just thought, you know, how do people know who the right person that they're meant to be with? How do you how do they know who that is? I said, you know what? I'm not going to worry about that. I'm just going to put my name on the dollar bill.
And the guy that gets his dollar bill is going to be the guy that asks me to marry him.
And I'm like, well, you can't just write your name on one. Actually, I think it was more like maybe 10 or 12.
And so this dollar bill that you gave me, I believe, is the same dollar bill that I wrote my name on and I knew that we were going to be married the day that you gave me this dollar bill, it was pretty crazy. And then you made me tell the story again. He asked me like five or six times and I said, the details don't change. It's the same story. Like, he couldn't I think he was a little bit beside himself, but that actually happened and that I didn't tell him.
You know, I don't know how I found the will to not say anything to them, but I just remember, like, do I don't I do I don't I do it, you know, what do I do? I don't wanna freak this guy out and be like, why this guy is already talking about marriage.
Wait, why forget it.
You know, I don't read too much into almost anything, so I just kind of move forward. And then after she told me, I think I went through all the normal stages of whatever and I just thought, what does this mean for us?
Are we going to invent a time machine or are kids going to bring world peace?
Or like, what's the some sort of bigger thing that we're not seeing here?
Now it just sits in that very same frame up on our dresser and I look at it every day that I wake up, sometimes I remind her that we have it when she's upset at me or angry.
It's never been a question in my mind, like, you know what, I'm going to get this guy to the curb. But I do believe it's because of this dollar that I feel that tied to him.
I mean, obviously, I love him, but I think that if it ever did cross my mind, I'd be like the way I this is my soulmate.
I can't just walk out on him. You know, we don't we don't even wear wedding bands. I'm like, why? I just I know I'm stuck with you.
You got this dollar bill. I guess he could also, you know, put it back out into the register and then be like, look, I'm cashing this in. I think it's got to go to somebody else. He could do that.
Paul and Esther Gracian. I got two doses, says the man. If you forget this here, let me take your hand. Someplace I'm supposed to be. Actory, brother, can you spare a dime? This story comes from Ryan Ruza in Los Angeles.
It happened when I was in college. I was actually pledging a fraternity and I ran into some of the like the seniors and on campus and they were laughing about something. And so one of them tells me the story that had happened to him that day, supposedly, where he gets in the shower and about five, 10 minutes into his shower, he hears a thing. And he looks down and sitting on the floor of the shower between his feet is a nickel.
And has no idea where this animal came from or, you know, why it's there, you know, obviously, like we like everyone is making jokes that, you know, he had chain falling out of his butt. You know, people were like, were you eating dollar bills or, you know. But anyway, we have our laughs and I go home. I don't think much about it. The next day I get in the shower and like five, 10 minutes into my shower, I hear things.
And I looked down and right between my feet is a quarter, so my first thought was, you know, how did they do it? Like my thought was I totally assumed that this must not have really happened to him. That was a setup. And somehow they set this up to happen to me, but I could not figure out how I was just like, you know, there had to be a prank, basically.
Oh, that's so like that's so smart of you to to, like, figure out the whole con.
That's I mean, that's what I assume. Right. Then I go. I go and I talk to him and I tell him what happened to me. And I'm kind of watching his face for that, you know, the laugh or the glint in his eye of mischief or whatever. He it's he just looks kind of sincerely mystified by the fact that this happened to me right after it happened to him. Then like a week later, I get in the shower and like five, 10 minutes in, I hear Tingting and I look down and there's about thirty five cents between the two things happening.
There's that moment. I'm like, no way before I look down and there's more change.
So at this point, like, obviously in my my mind's going to seem like weird places because I don't want to be the fucking scary guy, you know, like, there's somehow there's just there's nothing no way that is very good for me.
And then no explanation comes.
It doesn't happen for a while for like I want to say, probably a month until one day I'm about to get in the shower. And I reached behind me to scratch my back and I feel something cold and metal on my back. And I turn around to show my ID like turn my back to the mirror. Right. And there is like a whole pocket full of change stuff to my back. What do you mean duck to it? In what way?
Next to it. Well, this is what I figured out. So, like, it wasn't there was no adhesive or anything. It was just like compressed into my back. So I figured out what was going on is that I had a bad habit of falling asleep with my pants on because I was college. I'd nap alot. And so I'd also sleep with my shirt off because my apartment was really hot, so what was happening was change was falling out of my pockets onto my bed and I was laying on it.
And all that sweat and pressure was just sticking the coins to my back like there just literally like impressed into my back. And it was taking about five minutes of water running on it to dislodge them, at which point they're dropping at my feet.
So clearly, I love this story, but I did not see the coincidence in it. Ryan said there was absolutely a coincidence it happened to that one kid, the senior, and then it happened to him the very next day. I disagree. I think this is probably a common quirk of college boy life.
Lounging around shirtless and groggy on unclean sofas and beds. Probably have the boys at his college had change stuck to them. I told Ryan.
So I don't think there's any coincidence involved at all. I do. And because I'll tell you, I know I've known lots of lots of guys who've lived in pretty squalid conditions.
And other than me and that other guy, I've never heard someone, you know, having that change falling from them.
It's just because they're not admitting. It's just because they're not admitting it. I swear to God, start asking and start asking.
Hello. Hi again. Can I come in for a second?
I knew Ryan wouldn't actually start asking, so I started asking because while Ryan's life is sure to contain many special and unique experiences, I am positive that this is not one of them.
So off I went to prove him wrong because finding others would be so easy.
I happen to live in a college town, State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State. So I drop by a frat house.
Has this ever happened to you? No, I never in my life. Never. Never in my life.
Never, never, never.
Have you never heard of that happening to anybody? Not even close. Never heard of it.
I knew. Never, ever. Never. I mean, I think it'd be a nice icebreaker with a lot of women. I was like in a conversation, you could be like, oh, this weird thing happened to me.
Yeah. I always got change stuck in my back or my butt for weeks. Anyway, lots and lots of no's, I asked whole classes. Does this happen to anyone? No.
And then we thought, Pennsylvania, it's too cold. Ryan went to college in Southern California. We got to go south.
So we sent reporters to the University of Virginia.
All right. Have you heard of this happening? No, I've never heard that before. And none of us have heard this. How this happened. No, no, no, no.
That's the first to frat's a University of North Carolina. Never heard of that problem, though. All the way to Miami. We asked at two different universities there.
Never had it fall off in the shower. No, no. I can't say that it has. No, no, no, it's never happened. That's never happened to me. I've never heard of that happen to anybody.
So now I guess maybe it's a California thing.
So we went to UCLA to match the climatological conditions at Ryan's school.
Has it ever happened? You know, that doesn't happen. I don't know what's going to happen. Not a thing that is not a thing. So does that mean Ryan was right?
It really was a coincidence. Maybe I asked at one more class in Pennsylvania, has this ever happened to any of you?
Oh, it has.
Oh, my God. Ladies and gentlemen, Penn State senior Casey Phillips.
It's actually like an ongoing joke in our apartment that because there's just change in our shower all the time, it's just from you or others in your apartment to just me.
Actually, there's change in my shower.
I know it's there's like a roommate texted me today, why is there change in the shower? Because I forgot to take it out, because that happens to me all the time. Like you said, I take naps all the time. Like, I pretty much just sleep in naps, like in like two hour spurts. And I just sleep in my jeans and I change my jeans and it comes out and it gets in my bed.
And I figured it out the same way he did it. It's that story eerily similar.
I am so pleased to meet you, too. Coming up, don't lift the manhole cover. That's 23 letters, by the way, that's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.
It's this American Life, I'm Sarah Koenig, sitting in for IRA Glass. We've borrowed today's theme from a Chinese saying, no coincidence, no story. We first aired the show in 2013 after asking you to send us your coincidence stories and you flooded us with more than 13 hundred pictures. We found trends. We found gems. We found stories impossible to classify.
My name is Jeff Dunn. Jeff Dunn. OK, Jeff grew up in Sioux City, Iowa. When he was 16, he was hanging out with two of his friends at someone's house. The parents were at home. They're goofing around, smoking pot there in the living room. That had a huge window on one wall.
And so we're sitting there and we're kind of sitting along this glass wall and there's a dirt road outside of his house and up this dirt road. Beryl's this then, um. And the thing that happens next is what you think is going to happen when you see a white van like that at night, these two guys get out, they're all kind of bundled up and they pretty quickly just run to the back of the van, open it up and pull out this big black bag.
So they get out, they take the bag out and they quickly run up. This kind of small hill is behind his house and it's all winter. There's no houses back there. So they run up this hill with his bag and less than like two minutes later, they come running back down and they get in the van and they take off.
So Jeff and his friends do precisely what you don't want them to do. If this were an after school special, this is the point where you're yelling at the TV saying, don't do it, stay inside. But they decide they have to find out what the strange man in the van have deposited at the top of the hill.
So they run up there, we get to the top and we kind of look around and then we see that kind of on one side of it.
There's this manhole cover, like a circular manhole cover like you'd see anywhere. And coming from one of the edges of the manhole cover it's in place is long brown hair, human hair, long brown human hair.
They are teenagers, they're stoned. They are freaked out. They have to tell an adult about what they've seen. A police car happens to drive by. They flag it down and the officer tells them to get in the back.
It became clear that she was really concerned because she then said, yeah, there's been a girl missing on the west side of town for the last couple of days. Oh, my God. So, again, like, our hearts just sort of drop.
And you hadn't known that hadn't been on the news or something. Like we had no idea. OK, so we we just kind of got scared at that point.
Can I can I stop you for a second? Is this story going to get funny or is this a horrifying story? Wait, actually, don't tell me. Don't tell me. Tell you. OK, don't tell me.
So she calls another officer and the other officer comes there's a couple cars and they both get out and they tell us to get out and they say, OK, wait at the bottom of the hill. So we're waiting. They go walking up to the top and it's dark. So we can't really. See them that well, but we can see them well enough and we don't really want to watch what's going on because we see them bend over, pull the cover off.
And I'm trying not to look, but of course, I'm looking. And she pulls up a human figure out of the hole. Oh, my God. And then she says it's a mannequin.
I don't know what my friends are doing, but I was sitting there thinking that's the only like how does this story end up OK?
And it doesn't in any universe, you know, like unless you say it's a miracle.
Jeff goes to school on Monday, tells his story in physics class, and the kid next to him says, that was us.
We did it. We went around stealing holiday decorations and we had to get rid of them.
So we stuffed them under the manhole cover. The mannequin, by the way, had been the Virgin Mary in someone's nativity scene.
I think the real coincidence is that it's like our close friends that, um, caused this to happen. Oh, they were good friends of yours. Right. All right. No, Jeff, turns out that is not the real coincidence of the story.
My producer, Brian Reed, was listening to all these interviews as they were happening, and he interrupted us to tell us we both missed the point.
Brian is just pointing out that I miss you and I are both missing. I don't even though the coincidence of my own story, I submitted it to the coincidence of thing, to the main coincidences.
There's a girl missing at the same time.
Yeah, I have five words for you, Jeff Boudjellal. Potential, no coincidence.
No story. Here's a definition of coincidence that seems right to me a coincidence is a surprising concurrence of events perceived as meaningfully related with no apparent causal connection. It's that middle part meaningfully related that people seem to get stuck on, because when events line up, just so you can't help it, you can't help but wonder if there's a message in that. In that way, coincidences are kind of like shortcuts to very big questions about fate, about God, even to people who don't believe in either one.
The notion that somewhere out there, someone or something is paying attention to your life, that there might be a plan conjured through coincidences.
That notion seems to be most appealing when you're young. We got one story about a young couple visiting Marrakech in Morocco. They're at a restaurant talking like you do about old flames.
And the boyfriend wanted to know about one guy in particular.
I asked Kate, Kate, what did this guy look like? And Kate just stopped dead in her tracks and lifted one hand to her mouth and with the other hand, pointed across the restaurant. And she said, Oh, my God. He looked like that and she crossed a restaurant and tapped him on the back of the shoulder, and it was him, the daughter of a jazz guitarist named Andy Riley wrote to us about the time when she was 19.
She was listening to an Ella Fitzgerald album.
I was listening to the song That Old Black Magic. And at the end of the song, Ella throws in a line that old black magic that Billie Daniel's got me in. And I heard her, you know, sing that line on that album dozens of times before and wondered who's Billy Daniels. But on this particular day, for some reason, I felt inspired to go out to the living room and ask my dad to Billy Daniels was. And he explained that in the 40s, the Billy Daniels had sung all black magic in a way that made it his song.
And he was referred to as Mr. Black Magic, I guess, back in the 40s. And it was a big deal at the time. And I'd asked my dad, had you met him, you know, did you ever know Billy Daniels? And he said that Billy probably dead now. And just literally at that moment, the phone rings, so I answer the phone and this is playful, gravelly voice asked for Andy Riley and I said, Who's who's calling?
And he said, Billy Daniel's little black magic, little black magic that we saw.
So last September, I was living in Roswell, New Mexico, and I had woken up in jail for like the last time.
This is at a Thordarson when this happened, she was 20 years old on drugs, hanging out with street kids.
Her mom offered to buy her a bus ticket to Washington State to go to rehab. Etta said yes, she took her dog and got on the bus in Los Angeles. There was a stopover at the depot and this guy comes up to her while she's waiting in line to get food. She's got two dollars just enough for some French fries.
The guy starts asking her questions about her dog and he starts asking me other Vietnam questions like, what are you doing? Where you going? And and then he asked me, are you from Alaska? And I'm like, Yeah, I am, actually. And then he asked me, is your mom there, Meg? And I was like, Yeah, she is. And she's like, Oh well, oh I'm Chris, I'm your father. I met you 10 years ago.
And I was like, oh, holy.
And I had only seen her father that one time briefly when she was 11. And then he pulls out a big wad of money and like, he pays for my food. And then he hands me 40 bucks. And if I don't say I never gave you nothing and walked away. That what I am I'm like shocked by this story, and he didn't. That was it. You didn't see him again? He didn't know. You could tell he felt bad.
Did you expect something more to happen, like did you think? Oh, yeah, I really this is going to go, like, sit down and eat together. And I was going to, you know, lay out my whole life story for him and he was going to explain his life. Where were you? And I was kind of looking forward to that. But then that didn't happen. Mostly I just I wanted to, like, study his face for longer just because that's I mean, I've seen him twice and I still can't really remember what he looks like.
Do you regret not not pursuing him in some way? Yeah, absolutely. In the moment I was just, you know, so sick, I just really couldn't comprehend it. So I got on the bus that I was kind of just like, why didn't I run after him? I have to spend my whole life wondering about this man and, you know, the chance to talk to him right in front of my face. And I didn't really understand that at the time.
And I let it go.
Emiliano Garcia Sarnoff also hadn't seen his father in many years since he was seven or eight years old. He lived in California, but he was visiting a national park in Mexico with his mother when he was 18. And they hiked to the top of a pyramid there. The whole place was sort of off the beaten track or walking, walking along.
And some people passed in front of us. And my mom said, Oh, my God. And then she turned to me and said, that's that's your father and that's your dad and.
And it was also coincidentally, it was Father's Day.
So I ended up sort of embarrassingly breaking down, crying on. That was a really emotional moment for me. My father definitely you know, his absence meant a lot to me. And we said, yeah, we're going to, you know, stay in contact. And after they said goodbye, they left and he came running back up the hill about 20 minutes later. And, you know, you can hear him panting. And he said, Emiliana, I just want to say I'm sorry I didn't stay in touch and and that I love you.
And he turned and went back down.
Emiliano story goes the way Etta wishes hers had gone. After a rocky few years, he and his father did get to know each other and each other's families. Emiliano had a son who now had a grandfather. Milano's father had left him when he was a baby. But when his father died some years ago, Emiliana was there at the hospital.
They'd had a real relationship and that never would have happened, Emiliano said.
If you hadn't seen him that day at the pyramid, walking down that pyramid, I was talking to myself and I was saying like, this is one song going have. I think, don't forget, don't forget, you know, the thought of getting angry at my future, which I knew would rationalize this event, you know, because I had a very distinct sense that I had felt that this was definitely a miracle. Something had intervened and brought us together.
You know, you don't just run into your father on top of the pyramid. So I think I was a believer for about a week and then.
And then that very pause that brings us to Act five, what are the chances in order to let a good coincidence live a long and healthy life, to get told and retold and take its rightful place in the narrative of your life?
Sometimes you have to stop yourself from thinking it all the way through why it happened, really?
Because the fact is, any statistician will probably rain on your parade. We'll tell you these things happen a lot more often than you think. But a good coincidence is like a good magic trick when you see one. A struggle ensues instantaneously between the thrill of the apparent miracle and the urge to debunk it. This final story is by Carey Weeks. He's a prop guy for the movies, but he told this at a storytelling competition. So here's my story.
Nine years old, first time going to summer camp. And my grandfather gives me before I go, he gives me his old pocket knife is practically an antique. And so the first thing all of us boys do when we get to camp is we pull out our knives and we start throwing them at things, trying to get them to stick the way Daniel Boone did.
And because in the 1970s, there's nothing unusual about a bunch of young children throwing sharp knives around.
And I got mine to stick in the floorboard, it was like long and it's great, but when I pulled it out, the tip broke off.
But anyway, Kim goes on in a few days later, I notice my knife is missing and I look everywhere for it. I look I look low. It's gone.
But then one day I'm walking through camp and I see this group of boys throwing knives at a tree and something tells me I should check this out.
And sure enough, there's this boy there throw throwing my knife. Now, there's no mistaking this knife because the handle was red and green, but the colors met in the middle class rolled together in a trippy psychedelic way. And I've never seen a knife like that before since.
So I got up to this boy. He's a little older. I walk up to him and say, hey, that's my knife.
And he says, no, it's mine. As I know, that's my knife, my grandfather gave it to me and he says, no, he didn't. This is my grandfather gave it to me. And I'm confused all of a sudden. Maybe I should have thought this through a bit more. I thought he would just hand it over and the other boys they like move in close and I'm thinking.
Could it be possible that his grandfather gave him the exact same knife that my grandfather gave me? I mean, is this a thing? And I just didn't know it. But I look at the knife and he's holding his hand and I look at the blade and I see that the tip of the blade is squared off as though it were broken.
And I say, that's my knife, because I broke the tip off when I stuck it in the floor and he says, what, that no, it came that way.
So you can use it like a screwdriver.
And I look at the other boys and I'm not getting any help from them, and so I wander off just thinking to myself, screwdriver, I never thought of that.
Well, as you can imagine, this really bugged me.
And I don't mean just while I was at camp, but like for the rest of my life.
And, you know, I kept thinking, why did I fold so easily, why didn't I go to the counselors? And the only thing I can think of is this. I'm the son of a physicist.
And I used to ask my dad these questions all the time, like, Dad, how far away is the sun, dad? How fast is the speed of light?
Dad was the closest star and he would give me these answers in these numbers that were just so huge I couldn't get my mind around them.
So my my point is this.
I, better than most other children, had an idea of just how vast the universe is.
And therefore, how infinite the possibilities are. So the thing is, at the time, I thought, well, maybe the kid's telling the truth.
So the only reason why I bring this up is because this is what I was thinking of when some 32 years later, I become the landlord of a small apartment building.
And one of the first things I did as a landlord was I threw this guy out because he was a small time drug dealer.
So on the day he's moving out, I get a call from his neighbor across the hall, a guy called Budweiser, Bob and Budweiser.
Bob says, hey, that drug is stealing your refrigerator.
And so I hopped down there and sure enough, in the driveway as a pickup truck and in the back of the pickup truck is a refrigerator.
So I charge up the stairs and I demand to know just what the hell is going on. And Nick, the druggie, calmly tells me, he says, dude, when I moved in here, that refrigerator was so gross, I bought my own refrigerator and swapped it out and I put that one in storage. And now I'm just putting it back.
And I look in the kitchen and sure enough, there's another refrigerator. It's a little old, a little dirty, but it's working. And I'm trying to think this through. I mean, would someone really go to all that trouble of just swapping out a refrigerator and then putting in storage and bringing it back?
Or would a guy go to the trouble stealing a used refrigerator just to screw his landlord and replacing it with an even more used refrigerator? And well, the answer to both these questions is yes. But I look up and there's Nick and he's expecting me to say something and there's his buddies who are helping him move and they're expecting me to say something.
So I walk up to Nick and I'll look him in the eye. And I say to him. You sweep up real good before you leave. Because there's just too many possibilities in this universe. Thank you. Carrie Weekes lives in New York. His story was recorded live at a moth story slam in New York City. You can download the Moth podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. At the beginning of the show, I said I was a skeptic, but after talking to so many people about coincidences, including a Stanford mathematician who spent decades studying them, I end up here agreeing with this one woman I interviewed about her coincidence.
She knew her story could probably be explained away with statistics and probability, but she said there's just a poetry to things like this. When they happen, there's some kind of beauty in it. There's meaning in the noticing of it at all. Coming my way, son Kournikova's. But I do want to say surprising the away some. Our program was produced today by Brian Reed and me with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Miki Meek, Jonathan Manuever, Lisa Pollak, Robin Semien, Alissa Shipp and Nancy Updike.
Senior producer for this episode was Julie Snyder. Our technical director is Matt Tierney, music help from Damian Graff and Rob Geddis, additional production help from Ari Sapperstein and a huge thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of you who sent us your stories and took the time to let us interview you, including Lila, right? Kathryn Van de Pudi, Bob Yanka, Eric Johnson and Hannah Jacoby. Thanks also to Peter Acquaro, John Boone, Eric Mennel, Jane Marie Marva Hinton, Dave Hunter, Percy Diaconate at Stanford University, Julie Bishop and Fallon, Paula West, Catherine Burns and Jennifer Hickson, Michelle Harris, Aaron Henkin, Bianca Tonys, Tony Barbieri and Ben Schreier.
Our original music about the Immaculate Dollar was written and performed by Brai Webb and Rich Burnett, produced by Barry and Jeff McMurray. His website, Brai Web.com. Our Web site is This American Life Gogu, where we have extra coincidence stories from you that all involve your photographs. So you should check it out. That's this American Life dog. This American Life is distributed by PUREX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks also to Tori Malatya, who's on vacation with IRA this week.
They were so excited for their cruise, but it seems like by day three, fun starting to fade.
Even when you ask, you are so set in your way of 81. Okay.
I'm Sarah Koenig, IRA Glass. We'll be back next week with more stories of this American life. Next week on the podcast of This American Life, Lenny Posner's son, Noah, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting and then he gets harassed by people who believe Sandy Hook was fake and Noah didn't die.
In fact, Noah wasn't even his son when he gets death threats, said to move over a half dozen times. But I decided to fight back and he's good at fighting back. Next week in the podcast on your local public radio station.