Today, I listened to “No Coincidence, No Story!” on This American Life, and it inspired me to write up my own favorite coincidence story.
In 2009, I needed to buy a larger vehicle. I was planning to move across the country, from Las Vegas to Chicago. All of my stuff was going to be transported in pods, by movers, but I still had a carload that I wanted to keep close at hand. Plus, I had two cats and a dog that would be riding with me. The two-seater Toyota MR2 that I’d been driving for the last nine years would no longer do.
I scoured car dealer sites, regularly skimmed Craigslist, looked at Enterprise sales, studied car reviews, all that stuff, searching for a Toyota RAV 4 or a Honda CRV. Still, I wasn’t moved enough to actually reach out and go for a test drive. Until…
I found the ad on autotrader.com for a 2005 Honda CRV with only 15,000 miles on it. I emailed the person to see if I could check it out and received an email back quickly, giving me a phone number to call. The last name was immediately familiar. “No, couldn’t be,” I told myself. It was a common enough name. And the population of Vegas was approaching 2 million. What are the odds? So I called the guy and set up a time to look at the car. If that is who I think it might be, I hope his mom’s not home, I thought to myself.
When I went over to drive the vehicle, the man said he needed to copy some papers at Kinko’s, and suggested we make the Xerox machines our driving destination. As I drove—and started falling for the car—we chatted. He was a nice guy, and gave me some history on the car. It had belonged to his mother, he said. At the mention of his mom, I felt my heart rate rise a bit. He added that she rarely went anywhere, keeping the mileage low. She died about a year ago, he said, and he and his wife had finally gotten around to selling the car.
We pulled into Kinko’s, and while he made copies, he handed me a well-organized folder with all of the car’s documents. That’s when I saw the name of his mother. That’s her, I thought.
In 2006, I was an editor at Las Vegas Life magazine. I’d met a man at a party who was telling me a story about how his mom was a showgirl in Lido De Paris, a dance production that started playing at the Stardust in 1958, and continued into the early ‘90s. It’s one of those Vegas stories you hear about—growing up in a showgirl household—but don’t often get a chance to meet with the players, firsthand. At least, I never had.
Always on the lookout for stories, I asked him if I could interview his mom for the magazine. The Stardust was to be imploded in 2007, and I loved the idea of interviewing a showgirl about her memories of the storied Las Vegas casino. He said he’d check with her and let me know.
It took a few weeks, but eventually, his mom and I connected and she invited me over to her house for an interview. She was a strange old cuss, kind of mean, full of piss and vinegar and I quite liked her. She was on oxygen and slurred her words a bit, I guessed from pain pills, but had clearly lived a colorful life. In fact, the story ended up being one of those “In her words” pieces, because her words were far more interesting than mine. I transcribed about 7 intriguing minutes from the interview, and the story ran as a direct excerpt. I was really happy with how it turned out.
Well, she hated it. She denied saying just about everything in the story. She sent me nasty emails. She complained to my editor. She called me a liar. She said I made her sound like a whore, because I never mentioned that she had a husband (she never told me that she had a husband).
She’d loaned me photos to run with the story, and, after I realized how angry she was, I decided to request a receipt on delivery when I mailed the photos back to her. Thank god I did. She called my editor and said that she’d never received the photos. The post office, however, confirmed that someone in her house had signed for them.
It was clear that the woman was sick and struggling. But that didn’t really soften the blow. Responses like that, to something printed under your name, are painful.
Now, standing in a Kinko’s two years later, I was looking at the vehicle registration from that very woman. In my panic attack, I knew two things: A. I wanted this car even more now. B. I couldn’t buy it, in good faith, until I told her son what happened.
The man finished up his copying and signaled to me that he’s ready to go. As we walked to the car, I told him I’ve actually met his brother. Then, I told him, I’ve also met his mother. “I wrote a story about her,” I said, my nerves making me a bit dizzy. It’s strange, but he barely reacted. “Oh yeah?” he said, almost disinterested.
I continued quickly, ready to get it all out in the open. “She wasn’t happy with the story,” I confessed.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. He described her as cantankerous and said she wasn’t nice to anyone in her last years, because of her sickness. He wasn’t dissuaded by my story.
In fact, after I agreed to put $1,000 down on the car, he told me that he really thought our meeting was serendipitous. He felt like he’d connected with his mom through it. (Apparently it wasn’t serendipitous enough to knock $500 off the asking price of the car, although I did try).
It seemed serendipitous for me, too, but for different reasons. I loved the car, and I really loved the story that came with it. After a 10-year run in Las Vegas, constantly on the lookout for stories that fit what I liked to call “the freak beat,” this was the best last hurrah I could ask for.
At first I considered breaking out the Ouija board, or at least burning sage in the car, before the cross-country trip. But in the end, I figured she was the best co-pilot I could ask for. Today, four years later, she hasn’t failed me yet.