A recent post by a friend on a chance encounter with a long lost acquaintance set me thinking about synchronicity, serendipity and good old fashioned coincidence when least expected.
I once picked up the phone to call a friend only to hear her voice on the other end already. I’d grabbed the receiver before a single ring had a chance to trill and immediately there was the exact person I wanted to speak to.
However, here following are the sort of strange encounters that make life an occasional thing of marvel.
Los Angeles. 2004.
I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. For days I’d been suffering a replay loop of a few bars of…something. Usually I can pinpoint a song, a lifetime of absorbing lyrics has meant that there are words to thousands of them logged in my brain. Not just a chorus – the whole thing.
In some ways it’s a curse. I can’t remember why I walked into a room or the name of the person I spent six weeks with in 1992 but everything musical is ingrained. A Fairy Liquid jingle 1968. The fifth verse of the second to last track on a Traffic album. The contents of four decades of the top forty. An obscure Roy Ayers ballad. Carly Simon’s B Sides. 1920’s pub ditties. The top fifty songs I most hate. All the ad-libs that came out of the mouth of Luther Vandross and the vaguest Motown harmony. Hymns last parroted when I was six. One hit wonders. Every single word.
But jog my memory as I might, two bars of a Seventies bass line was not reaching the natural conclusion of the lyric or chorus and remained tantalizingly incomplete. It’s the sort of internal ephemera that crowds the mind naturally on a daily basis that we all learn to ignore like so much white noise.
Of no consequence, it could very well reinstate itself if I didn’t concentrate on it and I had other things immediately on my mind, such as taking a friend to the airport and facing an unwelcome goodbye.
On arrival to LAX International it was clear we were in for a long wait, untidy lines of luggage snaked around the building and my friend joined the end of a few hundred suitcases with a resigned air, gesturing me to sit on the sidelines.
Forty minutes ticked by as she edged closer to check in and an unprepossessing middle-aged woman plopped down next to me on the hard steel bench with a tired sigh. We commiserated genially in the way that strangers do and on quickly assessing she was English, always a conversational gambit abroad, I asked her if she was a resident or a visitor. Like myself she was a long-standing denizen of LA transplanted from England and was seeing off a friend. The next logical question was where are you from? She mildly surprised me by naming the town where I was born.
So there I was, happening to be sitting 8000 miles away from Grays in Essex, with a Homie, which is delightful but then we were at an airport next to the line of passengers heading back to the UK so it wasn’t so earth shattering, just a serendipitous coincidence that brings a smile. It transpired we attended the same Roman Catholic convent school, she graduating ten years before me.
She introduced herself as Sonja and explained she’d moved out to America decades before to pursue a musical career, having had hit records in the Seventies with a band called Curved Air.
I had a firing of the brain where synapses connect and in a split second the elusive bass line, followed instantly by the lyrics, clicked into place. The song I had been mentally groping for all week was Back Street Love and I had inadvertently stumbled across the only woman on earth that sung it.
Los Angeles. 1994.
Roy had gone to a business lunch on Sunset Boulevard one gloriously sun filled afternoon but it had run on far later than he intended because he’d had trouble parking. The usual parking lots behind the restaurants on the Strip had been choked with cars and to his annoyance he’d had to trudge a long way down the hill to find the last spot at Tower Records, with the hope that nobody from the store would spy him walking away instead of shopping there. He made a guilty mental note to at least have a browse on the way back.
Lunch accomplished, he strolled back down the street to claim the car, hoping he hadn’t been towed. A couple who were window shopping at a leisurely pace in the opposite direction stopped in their tracks and called his name out in disbelief.
Roy was stunned to find it was Colette and Francois, old friends from Paris. We’d last seen them in 1984 when they had generously made us dinner in their brilliantly creative apartment. Francois was one of the earliest computer artists and Colette a furniture designer and they had stamped their inimitable home with flashes of unconventional colour genius and quirky, self built storage solutions.
They were on their honeymoon and had taken three weeks off work to drive across America. They happened to be best friends with Alain, who was the young and ambitious new head of Virgin Records France and it was through Alain that we had gotten to know them, all of us stepping outside of the usual professional connection and sharing red wine soaked evenings, with the French contingent graciously conversing all night in English and sweetly applauding our terrible grasp of their own language.
Here they were on Sunset Boulevard, ten years later.
Roy quickly asked how Alain was faring only to be informed that he could ask Alain himself if he liked. Such was the strength of their friendship they had decided to go on Honeymoon as a trio. The thought of leaving behind their best friend on their dream road trip had been too much for them.
Alain had lingered in the famed Duke’s Coffee Shop, a mere four doors away, soaking up its musical history while his friends went for a wander.
Here was the thing that floored Colette and Francois; the night before, while motoring along the California coastline towards Los Angeles, talk had strayed to discussing lost friends and in particular, Roy and I many years ago. They had speculated on how we were doing and where we had ended up. They had no idea we had moved to LA but here was Roy right before their very eyes. They could hardly believe it. Alain had spoken his name not nine hours hence, for the first time in a decade, and as if by magic, there Roy was.
The plan was hatched to surprise the Frenchman, who was sitting at a far table, head buried in the LA Weekly gig guide. There was a delicious interlude of the anticipation of savouring the synchronicity.
Roy sidled up and slid himself into the opposite seat, getting no response from the engrossed record exec until his casual, “Ça va, Alain?”
It took Alain an hour to get over the ghostly shock and at least that long before Roy stopped laughing.
Dubai – Los Angeles. 2007.
It was August in the Middle East, the hottest month of the year when temperatures regularly climbed to 50 degrees Celsius. Usually it was the ideal time to escape somewhere cooler on holiday, contrary to the normal vacation mindset, but then contrary frequently applied to living there. For instance, in the summer, it was customary to shut off the hot water heater – the sun would superheat the cold-water tank on the roof and what was regularly a cold tap would gush forth steaming. As the boiler worked inside the house for hot it was fairly insulated and remained a passable lukewarm that had to muster for cold water.
I had used up my precious vacation days avoiding the blistering heat on a trip ‘home’ to Los Angeles to meet my newly born grandson, taking along my partner Jeffrey, affording me the ideal opportunity to introduce him formally to all the family I had there. We’d had a busy few weeks meeting up with people for lunches and dinners and only once had managed to steal away for a quiet romantic dinner à deux, and we’d chosen Mandarette, the Chinese restaurant on Beverly Boulevard where my new in-laws had taken us the week before. It hadn’t been a regular haunt of mine when I lived there, but we’d be introduced to their eccentric but wonderful Strawberry Shrimp and hankered after them once more before leaving.
It was a marvellous trip full of old friends and newfound family and my heart sank on the first day back at work in Dubai, so very far from them all.
In fact, Dubai happens to be located on almost the exact opposite side of the globe to Los Angeles, with a twelve-hour time difference from the Emirates to the West Coast; it took an epic 36 hours to get there and then 36 hours back, with one flight change each way. Not a journey to be undertaken lightly or often.
Plenty of colleagues were off to Australia, South Africa, India, the Philippines and sometimes England to visit their own kin but typical me, I had to have originated from the furthest location from Dubai it was possible to achieve and lose the most hours to flying, taking a large bite out of precious time off just to languish on a plane.
At work, they all knew where I’d been. I’d naughtily set my automated out of office email reply to, “I am currently unavailable and reclining with a cocktail poolside in Hollywood.”
On my first lunchtime back I fielded the usual convivial enquiries as to how my vacation was and was mildly surprised when Khalid from Shipping, who I rarely had call to interact with professionally, did the same but I assumed he’d seen my email status and was being kindly.
“Oh…Actually, no.” he rejoined, to my considerable astonishment.
“You were having dinner in Mandarette with your partner. I saw you sitting inside by the window as I walked past. My brother lives on Beverly Blvd.”
Ran into me on the opposite side of the planet and didn’t say hello.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” he said.