Saturday, April 01, 2017


[This is a very long post. I'm sorry. But TL/DR: My X power is random coincidences.]

So, several years ago one of The Pilot's photo editors left journalism to start a chicken farm. Like, with coops and everything, near Charlottesville. This guy Norm. I met his wife, a lovely tall woman with white hair, at his going-away party. I hadn't seen either of them since I moved here a couple years ago, so I was pretty excited when I saw her at Target today. I was heading to detergents, and she was heading the opposite direction, to area rugs. 

I kept walking a few paces but kept thinking, then figured it would be nice to say hey to Norm through her, since I'd worked with him for more than a decade and he was always a nice guy. So I turned around and chased her down, something I can't recall ever having done before. When I came upon her I said, "Hey, this is super random, but are you Norm's wife?" To which she responded, "No."

This came as quite a surprise. A super awkward silence followed, which she broke with, "But you look very familiar to me." So I said, "You too! My name is Judy Le." And she said, "I'm Kristen Hallam!"

OMG Kristen Hallam! THE MANAGING EDITOR OF THE DAILY NORTHWESTERN MY SOPHOMORE YEAR. Whom I haven't seen in more than 20 years! Who was living in England last I checked! At the Target where I live!

Turns out she moved here a month ago and needed an area rug and a bunch of other housey things. I was there prepping for our trip to Legoland tomorrow. We talked a bit, exchanged contact information and went on our respective ways. When I got out to the parking lot, I saw that they were parked NEXT to my little car with the Medill Northwestern University sticker on the back. And I don't even ever park on that side of the parking lot, but several months ago Jeffrey suggested that I use a different turn-in to get to Target so I tried it today for the first time.

I mean, crazy, right?!? But here's the thing: I think I am a person to whom these things happen. 

I know. But suspend your disbelief for a second.

I don't have a ton of friends here. That's actually an understatement because I literally have one outside-of-work friend. It's probably why I chased Norm's wife down in a Target. I was used to having a lot of friends at The Pilot because I worked in a newsroom of 300 people (when I started, 100 when I left), the vast majority of whom I did not oversee and did not oversee me. Close friendships, partnerships, all that were really common there. And then I left, and started working in a room of 10 people, all of whom either were my boss or reported to me. It's not the best way to make friends. Also, I don't get out much. But my dear friend Brianne, whom I met early on at The Pilot, came here for grad school a few years ago and offered to set me up with a couple of her friends when I started here. She sent a couple emails introducing me to her old roommate, who seemed perfectly nice but since I'm a garbage person I didn't follow up with much. (Also she was getting married and was busy!)

Fast forward a year and a half to November 9, the day after the election. I was sitting out in my car in the parking lot of one of the gyms I have access to through work, scrolling on my phone and feeling despair. It finally got to be time that I needed to be serious about taking a shower and going to work, so I hustled in to the locker room. A random woman came in right behind me, caught my eye and asked me how I was doing. She was incredibly thoughtful and kind, and we talked about the election, and about women, and about Howard Zinn, and it was probably the best talk I had that terrible day. And since I don't have any friends here, I asked her if we could have coffee sometime. So we, too, traded contact information. She said, "That's so funny; I already have a Judy Le in my contacts." [You see where this is going, but I have to tell the story.] I laughed and said, "Oh, there are a million of us." (There are -- check LinkedIn or Facebook.) A minute later she said, "Wait, are you Brianne's friend?" to which I said "YES ARE YOU BRIANNE'S FRIEND?!" 

I should also say that while I go to the gym every day, I NEVER talk to anyone there. I'm just there to get swoll and that's it, you know? And no one talks to me. And this was the first day my new friend, Erin, had even gone there. Anyway, since that day, we've become friends and I joined a women's discussion group she runs. It's amazing. She's amazing.

See what I mean? I believe these things happen to me. I feel very weird saying this, but it feels magical. And these are only the incidents that have happened in the past 6 months. In 2009 Jeffrey and I went to Prague sort of on a whim (well, really because I am super easily influenced and someone mentioned it once). The afternoon we got there we ventured out into the gigantic historic Old Town Square, filled with hundreds if not a thousand people, and I said to Jeffrey: "Hey, isn't that Dave and Shannon?" Walking in front of us were two of our old friends from The Pilot nightside -- a subset of the newsroom with about 40 people -- who had gone to The NYT several years before. In 2000 I got into a plane in Virginia and found myself seated next to Heather Harris, with whom I'd gone to school -- in Iowa -- since fifth grade.

The biggest aggregate example of these weird coincidences is my friend Jake. Also from The Pilot. He was born in Iowa, where I grew up -- and half a country away from where we met and became very good friends. He pretty randomly ended up in The Pilot's library about six months after I very deliberately ended up on its design team. My son, Abbott, was due on Jake's birthday in 2010; his son Wynn was born a couple months later, on my actual birthday. His second son, Teddy, was due on Abbott's birthday. But here's the craziest thing: The night my family was escaping Vietnam in 1975, his uncle was in the very same airport, trying to get out as well. 

I've talked to people about these coincidences before; I know a lot of people don't believe in them. And there's not a ton I believe in, truly. But I'm starting to think there is something there.

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