“Was it a Terrible Coincidence? I Think Not!'
Have you ever thought about how sometimes a massive world, with billions of people, can seem so small? Have you ever noticed how many “Oh wow, what a small world!' stories you hear? How many of those funny coincidences have you personally experienced? Did you have a lot of friends later in life who grew up in the same area you did? Did your first college roommate have family in the same city you were born in? I sometimes swear that I must be a proverbial magnet for these mysterious ‘coincidences’; they are statistically fairly common if you consider that alleged ‘factor of seven’ when it comes to someone knowing someone else, but I would even go so far as to say, without a doubt, that most of mine go above and beyond a mere seven people having at least one mutual connection.
I would hypothesize that where and when I grew up predisposed me to more of these so-called “coincidences'. When I was still quite young, in fact before I can even remember much, my parents broke up. I was born in central California, but after my parents became separated I would visit my father in Sitka and Port Alexander, Alaska during the summers. (He had moved back there). A lot of people would spend summers in that area, working in the commercial fishing industry, then return home, often to somewhere in California; in fact, many boats even had places near where I spent my childhood in California as hailing ports listen on their sterns. When I was 10, my mother began to succumb to the effects of depression and alcoholism, and I ended up moving in with my dad. Two child custody cases later, I was officially an Alaska resident. I spent my teenage years in an extremely rural area; in a town of less than 100 people, everyone literally knew everyone. Of course, to use Facebook terminology, this meant that we were all mutual friends.
That said, I eventually started discovering that my friends and neighbors still had more than you might initially guess in common with me. In Sitka and Port Alexander, Alaska, as a teenager, I discovered that three people I knew fairly well had also been on the dead-end dirt road I spent the first ten years of my life on in Atascadero, California- and knew it well. Who would have thought? Granted, in every case it had been long before I was even born, but as a teenager this still blew my mind. It eventually turned out that quite a few people knew that area of California quite well- and people I knew in California knew my area of Alaska exceptionally well to boot; many had passed right by small, rural, isolated Port Alexander, Alaska where I spent my middle and high school years.
During my final semester of high school, I experienced one of these coincidences that not only blew my mind at the time, along with those of everyone around me at the time, but still has lasting implications (but at least they’re good implications) to this day. I was surfing an Internet forum related to military vehicles, posted on someone’s thread, they noticed my location was Alaska, and proceeded to message me asking where. I revealed where, explaining I was living outside Sitka. Believe it or not, their aunt and uncle owned a local brewery. I asked if they were going to UAF once they explained they were moving to Fairbanks that August, and sure enough they were. We decided to apply as roommates. However, arguably the best moment in the entire story would be where, as an 18-year-old, I had only recently signed up for an account with Facebook, and looked him up. Upon viewing his profile, we both did a double take when we discovered we had the same birthday. When we finally revealed this to our respective parents, they were of course all but blown away. We couldn’t hardly believe it either ourselves. Our respective parents immediately thought of us as more or less a member of their families. He’s become well-known in his discipline, and other people always get a kick out of it when they learn I was his first college roommate when he was exchanging to University of Alaska.
Another equally bizarre occurrence, right along the very same lines, happened not long after I arrived at UAF as an incoming freshman. I had been in Fairbanks for about a month, and although I was slowly becoming familiar with the city I was still very much in that mode of waving locals down to ask for directions: “Excuse me, where is Fred Meyer located?' I’m on the city transit bus, asking the driver of the mostly-empty bus for directions. Of course, this leads to the ice-breaker, “Where are you from?' I explain that I’m from Atascadero, California, but most recently lived in Sitka and Port Alexander, Alaska. Lo and behold, he knows both areas, down to street names and everything. As the bus nears downtown, the conversation shifts to the decrepit 11-story Polaris Building, whose broken, boarded-over windows and peeling tan paint overlook the Fairbanks skyline: “Are they ever going to do anything about this eyesore?' The conversation leads down a rabbit hole concerning earthquake retrofitting, lead paint, asbestos, and buildings tied down on registers of historic places so although they cannot be demolished, will eventually fall down of their own accord. Eventually it circles back around to Atascadero and a couple 1910’s brick buildings there which are historic landmarks that are presently being restored following a 2003 earthquake that killed two people and leveled much of another small town less than 15 minutes away; I can still hear the wicked sound of that quake in my head over a decade later. I reach what should be my stop and get off the bus. Two hours later, I’m back waiting for the bus. Mind you, I’ve gone to a driving school to register for classes. I get back on the bus, same driver, same route. Bus is again more or less empty, so I strike up conversation with the driver. Going through the stop-and-go Fairbanks traffic, the subject of driving comes up, along with learning to drive. In the winter. In Alaska. In snow and ice. He’s commenting on how for him he’s more of a truck driver, not a go-fast type. I anecdotally relate how I had some of my first driving lessons in a fifty-year-old Army-surplus, Vietnam-era ‘Deuce and a Half’ with its funky five speed manual shift pattern (5th gear in an odd spot compared to most cars or pickups) and completely manual ‘Armstrong’ steering, and lo and behold I’ve just met another military vehicle enthusiast. Mind you, this is exactly how my first college roommate and I met.
I’m relating that story to him- and he knows the exact Internet forum where that happened. He’s floored: “Wow, that’s really tempting fate, same birthday?' I get off the bus, back at the university campus, walk up to my third-floor dormitory, and greet said roommate with ‘You won’t BELIEVE what just happened just now'.
Stories like this make me swear that I am somehow a proverbial magnet for this kind of thing, though it also helps that in this age of the Internet people are all the more interconnected than they previously were. It makes you feel special, and makes you realize how much of an effect you have on other people; you manage to touch people in ways you never before imagined. People really are interconnected in the funniest ways; it makes you wonder how many cases of this you miss every day, every hour, simply because not every stranger talks to every other stranger. It’s particularly funny and ironic when you’re a college student who intentionally moved 700 miles away from your one surviving parent to gain new experiences, yet you immediately encounter people from both of your childhood hometowns; even if you wanted to get away, it’s nearly impossible to actually do so.