Monday, January 11, 2010


I had a "what are the odds?" experience the other day and it made me think about strange coincidences I've been involved in over the years. I decided it is time to reduce some of these to writing. Otherwise, over time, if left untold, the incidents take on mythic elements and seem too fantastic to have actually happened. Feel free to leave comments with your own coincidental experiences.

In 1986-7, I was flying to Los Angeles at least once a month to work with a client who was developing a customized vitamin business. To some extent, I made the trips to get out of being in Minnesota in the winter and out of the apartment my family was living in while our home was being constructed. To a greater extent, I made the trips because the client, a Persian expat, gave me the keys to his Ferrari Testarossa to drive while I was in town. The price of the plane ticket ($240) was worth it just to be able to drive up the Coast Highway in a car that was an upgrade from Tom Selleck's ride in Magnum, P.I.

One day, I boarded a Northwest flight to LAX. The flight attendant asked me to switch seats so a family could sit together. I obliged and moved back over the wing to an aisle seat. There was a woman of similar age in the middle seat next to me who had started her travels in Detroit. While waiting to depart we struck up a conversation. She had graduated from the University of Michigan a decade or so earlier with a theater major and was flying to Los Angeles to follow her dreams and break into the entertainment business.

I went into my facilitator mode and suggested she contact my former roommate from law school who was working as an attorney for ABC Entertainment in Los Angeles. I remember writing Bob's name and work phone number on the back of one of my cards and handing it to her. Bob and I had the kind of relationship where I knew he would help the woman if she called on a referral from me. It seemed appropriate, a logical follow-up to the twist of fate that had me sitting next to this woman after initially being assigned elsewhere.

I will never forget the look on the woman's face as I handed her the card. She stared at me in disbelief. It wasn't just the random act of kindness that stunned her. She had graduated with, and performed under, Bob, who had directed the University production of "Hello, Dolly" their senior year. Someone in Ann Arbor, who had Bob's home phone, had told her to look up Bob when she arrived in Los Angeles. Making that connection had been a major part of her plan to establish herself. But she had lost his number, had no idea where he worked and did not plan on calling every "Robert Cohen" in Los Angeles to try to track him down. She told me how upset she had been, thinking she had lost a golden opportunity to get a leg up in an extremely competitive endeavor. And then I appeared, randomly, an out of the blue second chance. "What are the odds?" Incalculable.

Life is full of these wondrous moments if we are receptive to the possibility of their occurrence. If I had not introduced myself to Bob at the student housing office before the start of law school in St. Louis in 1974 and suggested rooming together and/or if I had not engaged my neighbor on the plane to Los Angeles, there would have been no magical connection.

In these troubled times, we need to make positive things happen. We need to demonstrate the benefits of community and support. We need to network wisely. We need to reach out. Interact. Make our 1 in a million shots happen. We need to share our stories and pass on the hope of possibilities. Our lives have more meaning when we rely on the kindness of strangers – especially when WE are the strangers.

Robert Cohen and Nathaniel Davis, Hong Kong, October, 2000


Irv Stern said...

Wow. This was amazing. What would be equally amazing if she made contact with Bob and is now a rising star who gets you great seats at the Oscars. Love, Dad

Sam Stern said...

I don't remember her name. It was something like "Marlys Steep" or "Mary Strep". Odds are she ended up waiting tables.