Friday, May 31, 2013

What are the chances?

The book with the title "What are the chances?"  was sitting smack dab in the middle of the train seat, the title invitingly visible.

Inside the jacket was a business size card stating it was a review copy.

It is a book about "chance", about statistics and probability.

The location of the find probably tells us two things: the reviewer may have worked at Stanford University, and the book was meant to be found.

So, let's test the chances. What's the probability of the reviewer of this specific copy reading this post?

About as good or bad as winning the Powerball jackpot?

TheEditor admits to a certain fascination with unlikely events. The following story ends with one such event.

It starts probably sometime in the 1980s.

Some rich idiot has parked his shiny Mercedes roadster in one of our parking spots. That's what one of the servers at a Los Angeles area restaurant said when she arrived for her shift. Not long afterwards, a young woman we call Donna resigned to get married to the much older man who was a customer at the restaurant. The car had been a present.

Further north, in San Francisco, a firefighter we'll call Ray handed his wife tickets for a Pacific cruise to celebrate their ten year anniversary.

They became friends with Donna and her husband during the cruise and visited them a couple of times afterwards.

Several years later, the firefighter's wife came home from work to a chili simmering on the stove as so often before. To this day, firefighters cook during their long shifts, you can even find cookbooks by firefighters. The 12 noon pizza run with the sirens bawling does exist, though.
There was no letter on the table - the divorce papers would arrive in the mail and confirm her fears. One of her sons will tell her that dad left after Donna's husband died.

Two decades later, in the first week of June, a young couple camping at Camp Richardson in South Lake Tahoe, CA, wakes up to several inches of snow on the tent and on the ground, and bear tracks lead to the overturned garbage can someone else had left out near the main gate.
The couple had been one of the few holdouts at the camp, nearly everybody else had fled the snow and the cold at least a day earlier.
Let me treat you to a good hotel, the male said, let's go to Incline Village.

That night, they are having a drink in the bar and barely notice the much older couple at the bar. Though, to the young man, "barely" does not have the same meaning as for most people. The older couple, in their late sixties or early seventies are tanned, the man shows the composure that often indicates a retired solder, policeman, or firefighter. Just as the young couple are getting up to leave, a group of five or six people enters and heads for the couple at the bar. Smiles, animated greetings, hugs and introductions suddenly fill the quiet room. This is Donna, this is Ray, says one of the newcomers to the rest of the group. Did you arrive from Palm Springs today?

Passing the group, the young man catches Ray's eye for a fleeting moment, knowing that Ray could not place him. As the couple steos into the empty hallway leading to the elevator, the male turns to the female with a little smile. I can not believe that, what are the chances?

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