Let me preface this by saying that last week I split my time between reading about old fashioned fate, Stoic determinism, and the wacky way that free-choice affects a predetermined world. I readily admit I was prone to seeking out serendipitous situations as a result. Regardless, the following really happened:
Out of a line of 12 cabs stretching from curb-to-shining-curb at the New Haven train station, I chose the penultimate, mostly because I liked the hot-pink slinky hanging from the rear-view mirror.
The cabbie introduced himself as Ron, and informed me that he had been driving since 10 last night with no rest and no break. I tried not to think about how defunct my motor skills would be after 22 hours on the road. Ron seemed unfazed as he adroitly maneuvered our two-meter-wide cab through a meter-and-a-half wide gap between two cars.
Ron jump-started the conversation by informing me that his wife left him last year and since then he hasn’t had much to do except work. He started turning around to look at me as he spoke, which made me suspect that “keeping an eye on the road” wasn’t part of Ron’s philosophy. Three business-casuals leapt back onto the sidewalk in front of us, confirming my suspicion.
By the time we passed the parking garage, Ron had informed me about a good chunk of his life story including, for example, a few precious anecdotes about his college age son’s ability to clog a toilet. Mostly, however, he talked about his ex-wife, who left him for his kid’s YMCA basketball coach when they used to live in California. By the time we reached Chapel, I discovered that Ron’s adulterous ex-wife left him not for any old YMCA basketball coach, but for a YMCA basketball coach who lives in Camarillo, California: which just happens to be my hometown. My little, agricultural, factory-outlets, one-Starbucks-town hometown.
The story gets better. It turns out that this YMCA coach was one Mr. William Studt, who was my track coach for three years at Camarillo High School.
How was it possible that I know the guy who is making my cabbie’s life miserable? Why did I choose this cab and why were we talking about his two-timing ex-wife? Why New Haven and Camarillo, of all places, which have absolutely nothing in common. According to Mapquest, they are 2,930.81 miles apart. The world is such a small place.
I was clearly overly exuberant by the fateful concurrence of our lives. Ron was not. I could see in the rear-view mirror that he was making the face of a man who has been drinking orange juice after brushing his teeth. It dawned on me that talking to a sleep-deprived cabbie about his perfidious wife’s recent extracurricular activity while in the unseatbelted chamber of a veritable death-machine probably wasn’t the best idea. I kept quiet and ruminated over the strange coincidence of it all for the next couple blocks.
That’s when I realized the moral of this story. It’s not about fate, or destiny, or preordained acts by a greater force. I find it very hard to believe that Ron and my conversation was even mildly significant in the larger theater of life. Instead I’ve decided that this episode can serve to educate me of one fact: Every person in this crazy world is connected by six degrees.
In the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” every celebrity in Hollywood is connected to Kevin Bacon via six other actors. For example, Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Seinfeld” was in “Christmas Vacation” with Randy Quaid, who was in “Major League II” with Tom Berenger, who was in “Shattered” with Greta Scacchi, who was in “Presumed Innocent” with Harrison Ford, who was in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Karen Allen, who was in “Animal House” with Kevin Bacon.
After my fateful meeting with Ron, I firmly believe that every person in this world can be tied, however tangentially, to every other person in the world in this exact same way. It’s the universal version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It’s the Six Degrees of Haley Edwards. Or Mary Miller. Or Ron-the-Cabbie. It works for everyone. Your grandmother could probably be connected to your professor of Anthropology somehow.
Admittedly, this revelation leaves me with a series of convoluted morals. The first is: be nice to people. You have no idea if that guy in front of you at ABP is also your illegitimate half-brother from your dad’s wilder days. Second, keep your eyes open. Strange and serendipitous occurrences happen all the time, and even if they’re not indicative of a greater force at work, they make some damn good stories. And third, talk to cabbies. In my experience they’re either interesting or completely insane — both opportunities for extreme entertainment.
Just as I was leaving the cab, Ron sheepishly asked me whether or not that Will Studt fellow was a nice guy.
Well, I said, since I’ve met you both now, I can tell you that Coach Studt is not half as nice as you are. Ron lit up.
Maybe a renewed faith in the workings of this crazy world is all Ron needed to hear.
Haley Edwards was edited by Steve Abramowitz, who works with News Editor Caroline Massad, who sits at the News next to Copy Editor Faith Meyers, who is roommates with Sally Wagner Partin, who is in ANTH214b with professor Barney Bate.