Saturday, April 07, 2007

Karma Vs. Coincidence

I recently drove a woman to Brooklyn who was quite interested in knowing which celebrities I've had as passengers in my cab over the years. I wound up telling her my Leonardo di Caprio story. Just as we were arriving at her destination and I had finished telling her the story, her cell phone rang. "You're not going to believe this!" she cried out. "This person calling me is a personal friend of Leonardo di Caprio!" And with that statement she handed me her phone and the voice on the other end verified that it was true, Leo is indeed a friend of hers.

Now I ask you: what are the odds of that happening? What are the odds that just as I finish telling this story - at the exact moment I finish telling it, actually - her phone rings and this person, of all persons who could possibly call at that exact moment - should be a personal contact of the person I was just speaking about? A million to one? A billion to one?

Was that karma?

Or was that coincidence?

Or how about this one? One night, after I'd been driving a cab for about ten years, something happened that had never happened before. A blind woman got in and when I got her to her desination, an apartment building in Gramercy Park, she asked me if I would come with her into the lobby and ring the buzzer of the person she was going to see. Since she was blind, she could not read the names. Of course I was happy to help her and did as she requested. The next night, another blind woman got in my cab and asked me to do the same thing! And in the 19 years since then it has never happened again.


Or coincidence?

It turns out that the topic of "what are the odds?" has a special little niche among veteran New Yorkers when it comes to taxicabs. Particularly when it comes to having had the same driver more than once. Since there are 13,187 taxis randomly cruising the streets, about 40,000 licensed drivers, two and a half million residents in Manhattan alone, and a street grid system on an island that uses numbers and very few names, it would seem possible to calculate the odds. So the argument could be made that getting the same driver, or for that matter the same passenger, more than once was just a coincidence.

This, for example, could be said by many to be strictly a matter of chance: one night I picked up a young man and a young woman going from 2nd Avenue and 26th Street to Greenwich Village. About 30 seconds into the ride, the guy says to me that he thinks he was in my cab a few days ago. He described the conversation he'd had with the driver (the phenomenon of blind loyalty by fans to their baseball teams) and I said that yes, that was me, all right, as that is one of my frequent topics of discussion. He then mentions to the lady, who turned out to be his sister, that this was the driver he had told her about! Well, we all thought this was a remarkable occurrence. Not only did I get this guy twice in the same week, but I was not just any driver to him, I was a special driver who had made an impression on him. And now his sister gets to meet the driver she'd been told about. We had a pleasant conversation about the odds of this happening before I dropped them off at a restaurant.

And then, about two hours later, I picked them up again!


Or coincidence?

Well, as you may have guessed, I side with those who say karma. I am not one to say that there is no such thing as random chance. But I have observed this phenomenon of freaky coincidences occurring too many times in the context of taxi driving not to conclude that something is going on here. I can't say for sure what it is, but I do know that it has to do with one's attention being stuck on something or someone. And it also has to do with one's own "universe", if you will, being senior to the physical universe.

Don't believe it? Try this one on for size: way back in 1981, I had finished writing my first stage play. I was quite interested in getting the script into the hands of professionals so I could get it critiqued and make contacts that could possibly lead to a production. One person I knew of, a friend of a friend, had just won an Academy Award for a short film. His name was Bert Salzman. I got his address from my friend and wrote him a letter, asking if he would be kind enough to take a look at my script. Three or four weeks went by, and I hadn't hear back from him. Then one night I was cruising down 2nd Avenue, looking for a fare, and Mr. Salzman and his wife appeared from the street out of nowhere and got into my cab! They told me their destination on the Upper West Side and made themselves comfortable in the back seat. They, of course, had no idea who I was.

"You're Bert Salzman, isn't that right?" I said. (I recognized him from having seen his picture a number of times.)

"Yes, I am," he replied, a bit startled.

"So, Bert," I said, "did you get my letter? I haven't heard back from you!"

Well, of course he nearly jumped out of his skin. To make a long story short, Mr. Salzman did read the script and he did give me some helpful advice. Nothing came of it, but that doesn't matter. The point is, what are the odds of, out of the millions of people in New York City wandering the streets at that particular time, this one particular person whom I had my attention on getting into not one of the thousands of other taxicabs wandering the streets in New York, but into my taxicab?


Or coincidence?

Click here for Pictures From A Taxi. I've heard it's good karma!


Paradise Driver said...

I don't believe in coincidence.

Karma, however, is always "in play".

Mike S said...

I don't know which it is, but I find it happens more with age as the number of contacts you've made over the years increases:)

Jackie said...



J x

Red Mum said...

Here in Dublin, Ireland, the population has soared in recent years to more than a million people (don;t know the exact figure), the numbers of taxis has also risen dramatically to 5,000.

I have gotten the same taxi driver more than once. At least five or six times in recent years, including one guy who picked me up at 6am in the morning going to the airport to fly to Liverpool to see my pal and then again a year or so apart. Once again flying on an early morning cheapo flight to liverpool.

I flagged him down near enough to the same spot. Now coincidence who knows. Mad, definitely...

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to your play?
Bert Salzman

catherine said...

the Leonardo story link doesn't work anymore :(