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What are the chances?

This is a story about chance, and how, well, chancy it can be.

Today I flew across the country to visit my dad for a few days. The first leg of the flight left at 6:00am, which meant a very early start to my day (even by my standards). Out the door at just after 4:00am, after parking and shuttling to the terminal, it was a bit after 5:00am. Check-in went fine, so then it was off to the security lines. At the Portland airport, they run two security lines--one for first class and one for those of us in the cattle car.

Both lines were quite long this morning, but moving at a good pace. As I neared the front of the commoner line, I looked to my right and noticed a familiar face standing almost right next to me, in the first class line. It was Bill (names have been changed, as I didn't get permission to share this story), whom I worked with at my last job (prior to joining Macworld full time).

I hadn't seen Bill in person for probably three years (I left the company in 2005). However, Bill and I had been trading voicemails for a few weeks, trying to get together for lunch and to set up a round of golf at some point. But we kept missing each for one reason or another.

So it was very odd to stumble into Bill at the airport, especially at 5:15am on a Tuesday morning. He was traveling with his family, heading off for a week-long vacation. What was even more chancy about this encounter is that, for at least a couple days, Bill and I will both be in the same city on the east coast! How very odd.

When I stop to consider the odds of this meeting, my mind boggles. Portland International isn't a huge airport, but it's not tiny, either. There are five concourses, though only two security entrances to those concourses. There were easily 200 to 300 people in each line this morning, with both lines moving at different speeds. So what are the odds that Bill and I would wind up literally next to each other when we reached the front of our respective lines?

As I think about the number of things that affect the odds of this happening--traffic, shuttle buses, baggage check-in, stopping for breakfast, choice of airline, departure concourse--it's simply incredible we wound up at the same place at the same time.

We said hello, caught up a bit, and made definitive arrangements for a lunch next week, and then continued in our respective lines.

At this point, this incident already seems unbelievably chancy. "But wait, there's more!," as they say on TV.

As the lines enter the secure area, they split apart into two different processing areas. So eventually, Bill and his clan were probably 20' away from me. I looked over just to shout out "good bye and see you next week!," and was, for the second time in a matter of minutes, astounded by the vagaries of chance.

Standing next to Bill in the security line were Doug and Cynthia, the owners of my wife's place of employment! (I knew they were flying somewhere today, but I had no idea at what time.)

Doug and Cynthia don't know Bill at all; they had wound up next to him by pure chance. I managed to get Bill's attention, and told him "See that guy in the blue shirt to your right? Want to confuse him greatly? Say 'Hi Doug and Cynthia, how are you today?'" So he did!

Doug and Cynthia then looked very confused for a moment, until Bill talked further to them, and pointed over in my direction. When they spotted me, their confusion vanished. After we cleared security, we all got together for a brief chat about chance, then headed off to our respective destinations.

Three groups of people flying on three different airlines to three different cities, all brought together by chance for the briefest of moments in a bustling airport security zone. Chance, you are an odd one, aren't you?


  1. great piece of writing and a most 'amazing' read :-)

    - you know, some would say, there's no such thing as 'chance'!

    spooky eh...

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