Speaking of improbable events…

Vader: "No Luke. I am your father." Luke: "That's not true! That's impossible!" Vader: "And Princess Leia is your sister." Luke: "That's not true! That's...improbable." Vader: "And the Empire will be defeated by Ewoks." Luke: "That's...uh...very unlikely."

Vader: “No, Luke – I am your father.”
Luke: “That’s not true! That’s impossible!”
Vader: “And Princess Leia is your sister.”
Luke: “That’s not true! That’s…improbable.”
Vader: “And the Empire will be defeated by Ewoks.”
Luke: “That’s…uh…very unlikely.”

You might have recently seen my book report on The Improbability Principle; this book explains why seemingly highly improbable events actually happen all the time.

The other day, I had my own experience with an improbable event, and while it’s not quite on the order of the woman who found her wedding ring around a carrot 16 years after she lost the ring in the kitchen, it’s still pretty awesome.

This post isn’t about careers, or science, or sports; it’s just me relaying a story about a thing that happened. I suppose the lesson is: “don’t give up”.

One recent Saturday night, my wife (Nicole) and I were in Toronto: she was seeing a Bruno Mars concert at the Air Canada Centre (ACC), and I was visiting some friends.

After we all had dinner together, I dropped her off near the ACC. We exited the Gardiner and went up York Street, and looked for a place to pull over…but to no avail. Plus, as Torontonians will be well-aware, there’s a tonne of construction going on in that area, so various roads are closed. In the end, I rather unceremoniously dropped Nicole off just past the Fairmont Royal York, as York turns into University, when we were stopped a few car lengths back from an intersection.

After we got back to my friends’ apartment near High Park, I received a BBM from Nicole asking me if I’d seen her necklace. Nicole has three staple pieces of jewellery, and this necklace is one of them: it’s a delicate white gold chain with a small white gold flip-flop pendant; the flip-flop was a gift from her sister, who picked it up years ago in Hawaii.

I checked Nicole’s purse, literally emptying everything out and searching every little nook. Then my friend Muriel and I went down to the car and gave it a thorough search. Nothing. Things weren’t looking good, but I was hopeful that it would turn up in Nicole’s clutch or something – that it had simply been misplaced, rather than lost.

Nicole resolved to not worry about it right then, and she put it out of her mind for the duration of the concert (which I’m told was very good). I settled in for a couple of hours of Cards Against Humanity¹.

Around midnight Nicole was dropped off at the apartment and we spent another twenty minutes thoroughly searching the car, her clutch, pockets, etc. Again, nothing. By this point, Nicole had remembered that she’d had the necklace on her lap in the car (she had changed from this one into a larger “statement” piece²); it was now clear to us that the most likely scenario had her scrambling quickly out of the car (at my behest) while the traffic light was on red, and forgetting that the necklace was on her lap. So yeah, necklace gone.

The situation: it’s about 12:30am, and we’re looking at a drive home of about an hour from our present High Park location. I’m not quite ready to give up on this necklace, for a few reasons:

  • I’m an optimist
  • I had a damn specific idea of where the necklace might be: I knew the exact intersection and exact location relative to that intersection where it would’ve fallen off her lap and onto the ground
  • I had dropped Nicole off several car lengths back from the cross-walk, so not in a high-pedestrian area
  • It’s 12:30am, so traffic’s gonna be light…worst case we add a half hour to our trip. No big deal.
  • I have a superpower. I don’t like to talk about it much, for fear of having to protect my identity, but I have the ability to find anything. Nothing is ever lost if I’m involved. Please keep this to yourself.
  • This necklace is of highly sentimental value, and I’m not going to give up on it without a fight and without exploring all options
  • Finding a shiny necklace on a dark road isn’t the hardest thing to do…I mean, provided that the necklace is there
  • This incident wasn’t this necklace’s first close call: on our honeymoon, I was washing my hands in the hotel sink and saw a tiny glint at the top of the drain…it was the necklace, snagged ever-so-slightly. Operation-style, I pulled it out. Close call.
  • I kinda felt partially responsible for the whole thing, what with sorta “dropping her off” in the middle of the street with no warning.
  • I had a feeling

I suggested that we take a trip downtown, “then at least we’ll know that we did everything we could.” Nicole wasn’t really feeling it by this point, but humoured me.

So off we go, retracing our route. As we came around the curve a the Royal York, I said “Now watch in the headlights for anything shiny!” Nicole sat glumly. We came around the turn, went around a cab (Bonus! The cab is blocking traffic in the right lane, so I won’t have to!), and then as I pulled in front of the cab I saw in the headlights a tiny flicker of starry reflection. Now, I swear I saw this tiny necklace, still ten yards away, in stunning detail – every link, the clasp, the flip-flip – despite what the fancy eye doctors will say about resolving power.

I quickly pulled the car over, opened the door – Nicole had to remind me to put the four-ways on, I was so possessed with a singular focus – hopped out, and strode quickly but confidently³ behind the car; there, in the cab’s headlights, was the necklace. I bent down, carefully grabbed the chain and the flip-flip, and basically ran back around my car and hopped in. So quick was I in this whole extraction that Nicole had barely gotten her seatbelt off and was only just starting to open her door. She seemed surprised by my sudden return, and even moreso when I plopped the necklace in her hand, shut my door, turned off my four-ways, signalled, and pulled away. Total extraction time: about 7 seconds.

For five hours that necklace sat about 40cm off the curb, about four car lengths back from an intersection…and for five hours it deftly hid from pedestrians and car tires alike.

And that, friends, is seemingly improbable.

Remember two things:

  1. Don’t give up until you’ve truly done all you can
  2. Please don’t tell anyone about my superpower

===

¹I am so mad at myself that I didn’t create this game; also inspired by the folks who did (regardless of how you feel about the game, the creators just up and did something…and that’s pretty cool). I also love that they had a Black Friday sale in which for one day only the price of the game was raised.

²Related: that night, Nicole went on the record as saying, “Lee doesn’t understand…anything.” The statement was specifically in the context of fashion. I hope.

³Also how The Lonely Planet recommends you cross a street in Rome; our colleagues in Italy believe such an approach is suicidal.

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Posted in Everything
One comment on “Speaking of improbable events…
  1. Regarding, footnote 2: yes, I was referring specifically to fashion. I made that statement shortly after you expressed your confusion about a nail polish shade I had selected to go with my ‘statement necklace’ for the evening. 😉

    I believe Lonely Planet advised to walk out in Roman traffic “calmly and confidently”?

    Either way, an excellent retrieval mission!

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