This, for lack of better words…was crazy.
In early September of this year (2016) I visited Chicago, Illinois. It was part of a #travelmore2016 campaign where I made a point of visiting a few places that I had either never been to before, or had not seen as an adult. Chicago was one of the destinations, and for four days I would enjoy the Architecture mecca and look to capture it with Photography. That’s not the only thing that would happen…In fact, Photography became the secondary focus of the trip. It took a backseat to something strange, a series of moments that left me wide-eyed and restored my very faith in God.
I’ve noticed something very interesting over a few years. The first time I noticed it was somewhere in 2007 or 2008, so at the very least I’ve noticed it for about 8 or 9 years. It’s a little phenomenon, where I will see or run into people multiple times in a public setting but at different times or maybe different locations. I’ll explain...
A generic example:
Okay, let’s place you at a nice beachside carnival. You’re walking down a path or boardwalk with the water on your right, and the carnival rides on your left. It’s sunset and the boardwalk has a nice orange glow (just trying to set the mood for you). As you’re walking, you notice that a popcorn vendor is coming up on your left. You can smell the butter. As you walk pass the popcorn stand, you look to your right and you notice a man holding hands with a young girl, father-daughter, walking up the boardwalk in the opposite direction. For them, the water is on the left, the rides and the popcorn stand are on their right.
You don’t know this gentleman and his daughter, but you notice them because… okay, he’s relatively tall and he’s wearing a bright, plain, red shirt and his daughter is holding some freshly picked cotton candy which at the moment is currently bigger than her entire head. You don’t necessarily say anything to them, but you notice them having a good time. You pass by one another in opposite directions at the popcorn stand.
You head down to the other end of the boardwalk and decide to ride the ferris wheel. You watch the sunset from above. Beautiful. When the ride is over, you decide to head back to the other end of the boardwalk to play a few more carnival games. You take the route you did a moment ago, but now you’re heading in the opposite direction, with the water on your left and the rides on the right. You approach the popcorn stand which is on your right this time, and you look to your left. Passing you in the opposite direction, again, is the tall man in the plain, bright, red shirt and his daughter, who has now finished her cotton candy and is drumming the railing of the boardwalk with the stick as she walks along…
Hmm, that’s strange, right? What are the odds that you’d pass by them again, in the same location, but going in opposite directions this time?
How much time has passed since you walked past the popcorn stand the first time, walked to the end of the boardwalk, boarded and rode the ferris wheel, and now passed the popcorn stand for the second time on your way back up the boardwalk? Depending on how long the boardwalk is, and how long the ride takes…I don’t know let’s call it sixteen minutes. It was sixteen minutes between the first time you saw that man and his daughter and now you passed each other at the exact same spot. What are the odds?
That means whatever activities they did on the other side of the carnival took them the exact same amount of time to complete before they decided to walk back in the opposite direction and eventually pass by you.
What is this phenomenon called? Serendipity? Synchronicity? I’m not sure, but it’s odd. That’s the phenomenon that I’ve noticed for years and what this whole blog post is about. I’ve had moments like that occur multiple times over the years, in public places, on streets, or while at work. I will run into someone, notice them, and then a few moments later pass them at the same spot, or maybe notice them in another space nearby.
The first example I can remember was from my first job out of college in 2007. I worked for Wyndham Vacation Ownership in Sevierville, TN. In short, I was trying to sell timeshares. I won’t get into that, but I’ll say that I met some of the sweetest people working there. We had a two-story sales center in the Smoky Mountains; a really nice place. There was a staircase in the center of the lobby. The stairs went up, making one landing, turned 180 degrees and continued up to the second floor. I remember running some errand at work. I was on the second floor and walked down the stairs. I quickly passed by one of my co-workers at the landing. We exchanged a quick “hey,” while in motion. I completed my task down stairs, and then headed back up. You already know what I’m about to say, but while going back up the stairs, at the landing, I passed by that same co-worker from before and we both noticed the phenomenon, lit up and gave each other a comical “hey!” to each other as if to say, “good to see you again!” Timing…
The second example I can remember was from 2012. I had completed an engagement photography session for some new clients: Nicole and Mark. It was in Central Park, NYC, in the fall. Gorgeous colors, and a sweet couple:
When our session was over, we stood at the edge of the Park near the street. Details would really help here, but I can’t remember the exact streets. I will say that we hugged and said goodbye and headed in opposite directions. I remember wandering a bit, not really wanting to get back on the train to CT, where I was living at the time. I walked a few blocks then decided to head back to Grand Central. I searched on my phone for the nearest subway station. I made a few turns then found the right street. It would be a good 3-4 blocks before hitting the station. I was walking up the sidewalk and wouldn’t you know it, coming towards me in the opposite direction: Nicole and Mark. What? We lit up, and had a laugh. We hugged each other again and they entered a restaurant nearby. I shook my head in disbelief, yet recognition of the phenomenon.
Estimated time elapsed from my initial goodbye from Nicole and Mark: 8-10 minutes. It was New York City. What are the odds?
The reason this occurrence blows my mind is two fold.
First, like the example from the sales office, it is the timing. Again, there’s no odds that whatever activities that sent that other person in the opposite direction would take the exact amount of time that your activities would take. Imagine a split screen view. You may have dropped something on the ground and had to turn around and pick it up. The other person was about the leave the room/office, but the person they were talking to said, “Wait!" and told them another thing…” Every detail and moment added up to you meeting and passing by each other at that exact moment in that exact same spot.
Secondly, like the example from NYC with Nicole and Mark, it is the idea that anything can happen and your path is not finite. This may sound silly, but the world is huge. You can head in infinite directions, especially on foot in New York City. There are no odds that our paths would bring us to the same exact spot as one another, even in a different location. I could have walked back into the Park. I could have walked to another subway stop. I could have run three blocks then turned right. I don’t know. Nicole and Mark could have walked into some store to shop. There are infinite possibilities of things we could have done that would have taken our paths in very random directions, and this cosmic, divine link wouldn’t have even existed. Yet…it did.
I’ve seen it a few more times over the years in little ways. I’ve never shared it with anyone or talked about it, because I thought people wouldn’t get it or think it was interesting. In September of this year, I would not have any choice but to talk about it because
Chicago…took it to a whole new level.
Here’s what happened…
I arrived on Sunday, September 4th and planned for a 4 day, 3 night stay in The Windy City. I had three crucial items to check off my list: Architecture, baseball, and deepish pizza. I stayed at an AirBnb in Logan Square. After successfully checking in to my room, I didn’t waste a moment. I grabbed my camera and headed toward the Downtown Loop. I wandered the streets getting a few images and was completely in awe of the skyscrapers. I then realized that Millennium Park was nearby so I went to check out “The Bean:”
I walked around exploring more of Millennium Park and would eventually make my way west to check out some of Frank Gehry’s work, The Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the adjoining BP Pedestrian Bridge:
I’m not trying to step on my Chicago blog post (which is coming soon) and share every photo, but I do want to give you context and take you along with me. I eventually crossed north over Randolph Street heading back towards the Chicago River. I walked north along Columbus Dr. and made a left on to E Lake St.
I noticed a CVS Pharmacy on my right and thought, “Why yes, I do deserve a snack for all this strenuous traveling and walking I’ve been doing.” I stopped inside and got my usually stuff: Vitamin Water, an apple, and some Goldfish (32 years old and I love Goldfish). I think I got a yogurt as well. So by “snack” I meant, “small breakfast.”
There was a small plaza outside of the CVS on the corner of E Lake and Michigan Ave. I found a table and sat down. I was checking out more of the buildings, and really enjoying the urban ambience of Chicago with the liveliness of the streets. I crumpled a few Goldfish and made a small feast for a group of pigeons.
As I was watching the birds fight over the largest crumb, though there were plenty of other crumbs to be had, I noticed a small girl walking nearby. She could not have been older than the age of 2 or 3 and I noticed her skin tone, and made a guess that her ethnicity was Indian. Not far behind her was her mother, pushing an empty stroller and her father with a backpack and holding a digital camera. The girl bounced around with joy and something deep in my gut started to wake up. I squinted my eyes at her. I had seen her before. I knew it. I absolutely knew it.
One of the gifts/curses of photography is seeing many faces in many places. If my mind was a digital database for facial recognition, I was doing a very quick search for this little girl’s face. Was it an event? No. Was it in LA? No. Scanning…scanning… All in this time, her parents were looking at buildings with her father taking photographs. Scanning…scanning…come on! MATCH FOUND.
I could not believe it. It couldn’t be…
Three months prior to this moment, I was visiting Europe for the first time and made a stop in Paris. After checking out the Eiffel Tower, I headed to the Seine River and took a cruise tour. You know, one of those boats where you can check out the Eiffel Tower and few other attractions along the water:
As this cruise tour began, I naturally looked around the boat and noticed how many people were on board. There were couples and families, all different types. I eventually noticed a small child, a young girl, who if I had to guess couldn’t have been more than 2 to 3 years old and by the looks of it, her ethnicity was probably In…
It was her. It was the same family. This little girl in the plaza on the corner of E Lake St. and Michigan Ave. in Chicago, Illinois was the same as the one on the Vedettes de Paris river tour in Paris, France. What finally helped me remember, the reason I know it was the same family, is because I remember that little girl was playing on the boat in Paris. She was hopping around the railing, a bit too wildly for my comfort (My kids are gonna be the safest kids on vacations one day. Bubble wrapped from head to toe, I’m tellin’ you. On leashes if they have to be, I’m not playing. No one’s falling over this railing. Not today. Not on my watch). She was jumping around the deck of the boat, so close to the railing and I remember thinking, “will someone please turn around and watch this girl?”
So I remembered the face, and here she was again, in Chicago.
Serendipity? Synchronicity? I used to see it happen minutes apart within a small area. Let’s talk about it happening three months later and on the other side of the world…
I was freaking out internally. This was incredible. I stood up because I wanted to try and speak to her parents and make the connection. I should not have stood up first, I should have composed myself and thought about what I was going to say because I was just kind of hovering around with a weird/excited look on my face. They did not notice me until I approached them. I didn’t open very well. I didn’t say, “Hi, I’m Mallury, I don’t mean to bother you but…” No…I jumped right in, bluntly, because I was excited. They looked towards me and I said, “Where else have you travelled this year?” Ouch.
The father, thinking I was some kind of street hustler or potential robber immediately went into protective mode, and I don’t blame him. He very quickly said, “No. We’re fine…” and started to walk away with his family. I apologized but he didn’t seem very interested in knowing that we shared the same Parisian cruise boat three months prior. Sigh…oh well. I was still shocked an amazed by the moment. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I posted about it to Facebook to the bewilderment of my friends.
Chicago. How amazing are you?
Little did I know, this moment was just the beginning...
Later on in the afternoon I made my way to Wrigley Field. Baseball: check √ . I had a ticket to a game between the Cubs and San Francisco Giants. (Irony, I came all the way to Chicago to see a California team play…More irony, the only two baseball stadiums I visited this year would be for the teams who would eventually play in the NLCS. You’re welcome Dodgers and Cubs. You’re welcome.)
Wrigley Field was a wonder, an historic gem well worth seeing. I made my way inside and up to my seat. I love sitting in the upper deck for any sporting event because you get to see the whole field and every play develop. Also ticket prices are relatively cheap. Today my view was from the Infield Upper Deck Reserved level, Section 524, Row 6. This detail will obviously be important later…
Before the game officially began, I just looked around the stadium, again taking in the ambiance of the moment:
Fans were starting to fill the seats. As I kept looking around, at one point, I casually noticed two young ladies in the row behind me, a few seats down. They seemed to be around my age, and admittedly, I thought they were attractive. If the way I just described how I approached that Indian family earlier in the day is any indication, I was not planning on approaching these women in any way. I noticed them and just kind of left it at that.
The game was great. Cubs fans are about 40% more enthusiastic than Dodgers fans. The game was a real nail-biter, actually. It would eventually go to extra innings. But…I didn’t see anything of it. “What?! How could you leave?” Those were the exact words of the local fans who I had high-fived a dozen times during the game. We were practically family at that point, so rightfully they were disappointed with my departure. The reason I was checking out early was because I had a friend to visit.
My friend, Jamie, from my hometown of Stamford, CT is a talented musician and educator. She attended the University of Notre Dame for grad school, located in South Bend, IN. She currently (well, at the time of this trip anyway) lives in South Bend and teaches at St. Mary’s College, which was originally the all-female equivalent of Notre Dame before it became co-ed. When first posting to Facebook that I would be visiting Chicago, she, in cheeky fashion commented, “Come to South Bend?”
I had not originally thought of it to be honest, but it made sense. I could see my friend and also visit the University of Notre Dame campus. How often would I be so close to Indiana? Notre Dame is about 100 miles away from Chicago and a good, almost, two hour drive.
Before arriving in Chicago, I had about three weeks to plan out the trip. I would go back and forth in my mind. See Jamie? Don’t see Jamie…but see her. You should go…but I don’t think I’ll have time…There was a moment about a week before the trip where I was budgeting items for Chicago and I thought about two things. One, I wanted to get one of those travel passes, or city passes. You can purchase it and get into major attractions for free or a reduced ticket price. It’s pretty convenient. Just about every major city has them.
The second item I thought about was a rental car. It could have been helpful to have one to navigate the city. But, the L train is pretty present in Chicago, I wouldn’t need it. But…if I go to see Jamie in South Bend, I’ll need a car…This was my ping-pong thought process.
In the end, I ended up purchasing neither. I thought I would wait until being in Chicago to get the city pass. Again, I arrived on a Sunday, and left on a Wednesday. My plan was to just enjoy Wrigley Field on Sunday and purchase the city pass on Monday morning; then I could just go everywhere on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
I also procrastinated on the rental car thinking I would first decide whether or not to go to South Bend, then I would have to hear from Jamie about the best time to try to make the visit. I thought I could just use a quick app like ZipCar once I was in the city so there was no need to book something in advance.
So let’s go back to Wrigley Field. I’ve left the stadium, and I’m standing on the corner of W Waveland Ave. and N Sheffield Ave. right in front of the iconic Wrigley Field sign, “Home of the Chicago Cubs.” At this point, Jamie and I have texted and decided that now, Sunday evening would be the best time for me to visit. We could have dinner and she could show me around Notre Dame’s campus. So, I’m going to South Bend.
Here’s where I get a little bit stupid, and crazy…
It was time to rent a car. I had downloaded an app, which I’ll leave nameless, and created a quick account. I was still standing on that corner outside of the stadium, trying to finalize the details of the reservation. There was a car a few minutes away for an easy price of about $7 an hour. Okay…I can swing that… I clicked, “reserve” or “make reservation,” you know, whatever the last click is before finishing your purchase. “Your reservation could not be completed at this time.” What? Double check my Chase app. Money’s good. We’re okay there. Try again…
“Your reservation could not be compl…” What’s going on? I called their customer service number. Here’s the portion of the story where I’m going to reveal that I’m not a perfect driver…
Upon speaking to their representative, I was informed that their system caught the two recent traffic violations on my driving record. Ugh. Totally my fault. Won’t make excuses. Don’t turn left after the arrow is red and…huh, I honestly can’t remember the other one. I just remember paying for it. These violations were within the last couple of months, so the system blocked my ability to rent a car with them. Can’t argue with that.
Here’s an obstacle, right? A road block. A sign. Don’t go to South Bend. Don’t stretch yourself like this. Jamie will understand. “Sorry, something came up. I wasn’t able to get a car…” No big deal. But no, I’m an Aries. Instead of going back inside and enjoying the extra innings of the game, I flicked a switch in my mind and made it my mission to figure this out. Why do I do these things…
For added drama, my phone was dying. I immediately thought of ZipCar, which I had contemplated earlier, but shied away from because they make you pay a membership fee upfront even before renting a car. Ugh, again. But I had reached a stubborn, undefeated mindset, and decide that ZipCar was “the only way” and I went ahead and signed up. I’ll admit, it was pretty cool, within 15 minutes of creating an account, I was sitting in a car. Awesome.
Now I have wheels, and a still dying phone. I had enough juice to figure out the GPS route to South Bend. “There has to be a gas station along the way, and usually they sell chargers at gas stations! Aha! I’m such a ‘genius’ right now”…so proud of my foolish self. I get a little gas and a phone charger and I’m safely on my way. Anxiety calms.
Along I-90 heading east, the only concern I had was for real time. There were a few factors at play. I had rented my ZipCar at 5:30PM Central Time and had set up a return time of 11:00PM Central Time. This will be important in just a moment…Jamie had to work the following morning, so the plan was the just go up and have dinner and drive back to Chicago. “Returning the car at 11:00PM Central Time will give me pleeeeeenty of time…haha…no worries.” Famous last thoughts and words…For a little added confusion, South Bend, IN is in the Eastern Time Zone. Again, the road trip is two hours. So much math was going on.
The whole car ride, I was looking at the clock thinking Jamie was an hour ahead and I felt bad knowing how much longer the ride was going to take. I kept doing the math of my arrival time and what time I should leave in order to get back to Chicago to return the ZipCar on time. It was a mess, and pretty clear our window of time together in South Bend was going to be tight. I may or may not have drove a little faster in order to get there, and let’s just say that I added, “Get stopped by an Indiana State Trooper: √ ” to my list of bad driving mistakes for 2016.
Yeah. That happened. If I’m gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all… (alright, calm down, Usher.) I was pulled over for speeding, but by the grace of God left with only a warning. I think I confused the heck out of the trooper, but not intentionally. I just laid it out for him after he said, “License and Registration, please…” I explained that I was a California resident visiting Chicago and using a ZipCar to visit South Bend, IN. Ha! What? So let’s add all this up: you have a California driver’s license, in a car with a Wisconsin license plate, that you "got through a phone app," getting pulled over in Indiana…
He probably didn’t know how to write that ticket. When he let me go with the warning he said it was because I had been honest with him. *phew…
I would eventually arrive in South Bend and meet up with Jamie. We had a nice little dinner at Rohr’s inside the Morris Inn on the Notre Dame campus. We of course had a stranger take a photo:
The clock was still ticking, but I wasn’t thinking much about it. Jamie would give me a really great tour of the Notre Dame campus at night. It ended up being better at night, because it brought out the special character of the Grotto:
It also led to a great night view of “Touchdown Jesus,” the playful nickname for the Word of Life mural on the face of the Hesburgh Library:
I was incredibly thankful to Jamie for the tour. Afterward, the clock watch and the math really began. I was also worried about my energy and ability to drive back to Chicago safely. I felt like it was here that I realized I was going to be late in returning the ZipCar on time…but yet…I did not proactively do anything about it. Not smart. And again, a detail which will be important in just a moment. After a quick power nap, I headed back to Chicago. I arrived safely, returned the car, and crashed hard at my Airbnb. That was a long day that started in California with a 1:15AM flight, early Sunday morning, and ended about 24 hours later at 1AM, Monday morning, in Chicago, with a four hour road trip to South Bend, Indiana in between. Long. Day.
Rise and shine! Let’s do this! Chicago! I’m ready!
I was beyond excited for this day. I had looked forward to Chicago for a long time. I studied Architecture in school and knew that this was the home of the American skyscraper. Just about every important American architect had left their mark on the Chicago skyline, or in the city of Chicago, and I was ready for every tourist destination you could imagine. It was going to be just three full days of me and the city...
First task: purchase the city pass. I would pick the Smart Destinations Chicago Go Card and get a three day pass for Monday-Wednesday. The previous day, I had looked at all of the attractions I could add to my card. There were things like the SkyDeck at Willis Tower, the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chicago Architecture Foundation tours, by boat and on foot, the John Hancock tower, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio…ah! I’ll take it all please! I could not have been more ready.
I priced out the three day card, and before going to purchase, I decided to check my Chase app to see what kind of shape my funds were in. Then the sky went black. My face, flushed.
Holy crap. You see, I did not have the most exuberant travel budget for Chicago. I won’t go into detailed numbers, but it wasn’t a fortune. But I had enough to enjoy my four days. I had enough to go to the game. I had enough to eat, and eat well. I had enough to purchase a three day Chicago Go Card and hit all of these attractions. I had…
ZipCar. Disaster. Let me immediately say, that in no way am I blaming Jamie and/or the road trip to South Bend for what happened. This was all 100% me. Again, I won’t go into numbers, but this is the crux of what happened: the cost to sign up for ZipCar + the cost of the rental + the LATE FEE for returning the car 75 minutes late = not enough money for the three day Chicago Go Card. Boom. Sky black. Joy erased. Pit of sorrow and shame. Chicago had changed.
I like to make excuses, that it’s because I’m an artist, that I’ve chosen to take a non-traditional life path by being an entrepreneur and creating art, but I can be honest with myself that I am not the best with money. I’ll save money in little chunks. I’m weird and miserly. I’ll not buy new clothes because I’m saving up for a plane ticket instead.
I had a budget for Chicago and it was pretty much gone. It was only my second day out of four, and I somehow had to survive on very little money for the next three days. It was not all gloom. Payment for a week of driving Uber comes in on a Wednesday (I drive Uber in LA, in case I didn't mention that). I had to survive for two days and would have some breathing room on Wednesday. But my vision of Chicago had changed. I mentally started deleting a lot of the items off my list; the things I wanted to see and do. The whole trip felt different now.
I sat on the edge of my guest room bed in my AirBnb. This was a very profound moment of faith for me. I’ll never forget it. I’ve been in positions where I’ve not had as much money as I thought I would, or where I spent more than I should have, but that’s not an excuse, and this moment felt very different.
I sat silently for a few minutes. When I’m in a position like this, I usually get worked up, and get upset at both myself and God because I’m lacking. But this time, I did no such thing. For once, I was clear headed, quiet and calm. I was surprisingly peaceful and all I did was start thinking about the previous day. I remembered how insistent I was to go to South Bend. I remembered the first app rejecting my request. I remembered how I pushed to get a ZipCar and I remembered not doing anything when I knew the car was going to be late. The representative I spoke to at ZipCar said I could have called to extend the reservation, therefore avoiding the exorbitant late fee.
I knew this was all my doing.
I could see, feel and replay my frantic behavior and see how it lead to this very moment, so I did not get upset. Maybe I was finally growing up. Not to preach and get all churchy on you, but a scripture came to mind in this moment, one that I had been thinking about for a few weeks up until this point:
“…and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
I Kings 19: 12
Translation: God speaks to us softly and in quietness.
[I’m not looking to have religious debates btw. I know a lot of people disagree with/hate the Bible, but it’s changed and saved my life. Are there things in there that do not directly apply to today? Yes, of course. I’ll just leave this alone. I'll just say I’m the kind of Christian that understands it’s not my place to judge or condemn anyone, but to love everyone, and I do not want my appreciation of the Bible to lead anyone to judge or condemn me, because no matter who you are or what you believe, I love you. Hopefully that made sense.]
So I sat in quietness, my disposition changed, thinking of that scripture and I hit this moment of resignation and surrender. “Well, this is where you are. You put yourself here. This is what you have. Chicago is not going to be what you imagined, but let’s make the most out of it.” I thought slowly and reconfigured the trip, starting with this moment. “Okay, we have enough to take an architecture cruise on the river, so let’s do that.” One thing at a time. I got up from the bed, left the AirBnb and headed into the:
(shoutout to my college friend, Brandon, who lives in Chicago, who I saw on this morning. I will share my photo with him on my full Chicago blog post)
Once I was on the water, I stopped thinking about the money, and just got back to doing what I love to do and got some nice images from the boat:
Afterward, I walked the streets of Chicago with new eyes. I could not go to more attractions, but instead, I could walk the streets and get some street photography. I did have enough cash to check “deep dish pizza” off my list and would go to Geno’s East:
That pretty much marked the end of Monday. I would photograph a few things at night, but again I'll save that stuff for the full proper Chicago post. I have to move on in the story and get to the most bizarre day of my life. The day where things got nutty...
I awoke and first checked my Chase app again. My account was the same as before, minus the cost of a small deep dish pizza and the ticket for an architecture boat tour. There was no magical Money Fairy that deposited money in my account overnight. That’s not the miracle in this story…
I kept silent, I really stayed resigned, and it was clear that this was all a larger lesson for my life: be mentally and emotionally quiet and let God lead you. It’s still something I’m working on to this day. Stay. Quiet.“Remember Chicago,” is something I will currently think to myself whenever I get impatient or worked up.
I had the same kind of thoughts as I did the morning prior: “Okay, make the most of it. You wanted to take a walking tour of the city’s architecture. We can still do that, now we just have to take a free tour.” I googled in search of one and wouldn’t you know it there’s a company called, Free Chicago Walking Tours. I looked at all the information and signed up for a 10AM tour. I again, took the L train, the Blue Line into Downtown, and would arrive at the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower):
I approached the Tower and its plaza and as he promised, sitting on the steps at the corner of Jackson Blvd. and Whacker Drive was the tour guide for the day, Matt. I was the first to arrive and we struck up conversation about Chicago and Photography. Fearing a small group , or that I thought I’d be alone, he kept assuring me that more people would arrive. He was right. After a few minutes a few more faces appeared and approached. We started to make a little group. People small talked and chatted amongst themselves. Matt waited for a few more moments. Then…
From across the street, I noticed two young ladies coming towards our direction and eventually joining our group. “Man they look familiar….” It clicked much faster this time. "The girls from the game!” What?! Yes. The two girls from the Sunday afternoon Cubs game whom were sitting in the row behind me were a part of this architecture walking tour.
Chicago, what is going on?!
This was now twice, in two days that my phenomenon of Serendipity or Synchronicity was appearing. This was crazy. Was it me? Was it Chicago? Something was happening. My first thought, immediately, “Play it cool.” Don’t freak them out like you did the Indian family from Sunday. I chilled. Though I knew what was happening, I said nothing.
Matt was satisfied with our group size and began the tour. He explained that we would be walking around the Downtown Loop and stopping at several locations along the way. He then started introductions. He said he was Matt, obviously, and where he was from (a suburb of Chicago). He then went around the group and asked us to do the same. It circled around to me, and eventually the two girls from the game. They introduced themselves as Isabelle and Sophie and they were on a vacation from Montreal, Canada. With perfect timing, after they introduced themselves, I interjected, “Hey, were you guys at the Cubs game on Sunday?” Surprised, they replied, “Yes!” I went further, “was it like, Section 524, row 7 or something…?” More surprised, “Yes…” I then said, “I was there too. I think I was sitting in the row in front of you.” “Oh wow, yeah! Cool!” We all thought it was funny and interesting as the tour began.
Matt did an incredible job, showing us great work from decades gone by, and explaining the history and significance of many things:
Our tour ended at Daley Plaza, and before we all parted ways, I approached Isabelle and Sophie and asked them if they’d like to take a selfie with me, to commemorate the oddity of having run into each other again on the streets of Chicago:
I was already blown away by what had happened. Again, in two days, I saw two occurrences of running into people I’d seen before. First, a family from a Seine River tour walking the streets of Chicago, now two girls from Canada, vacationing in Chicago at the same time as me.
I had no idea it was about to get even better...
On this trip to Chicago, I was also planning on seeing my friend from Stamford, CT, Cherice. Her and her husband, David, had relocated to the Windy City. Cherice held me to making a visit to Chicago some day. We were in touch before I arrived, and more specifically, we were in touch before my money fiasco had happened. I never told Cherice about it. If she reads this now, that’s okay. It’s long over. But in the moment, I never mentioned it. Money and friends is always awkward subject matter. I wanted to save face, naturally. I’m sure it would not have been a big deal, but still.
I was looking to survive Tuesday. The following day, just a few hours away, I would receive a deposit and all would be okay. I was not sure when I would try to catch up with Cherice and her husband, David, but man was I hoping that it would be on Wednesday. Tuesday afternoon Cherice got in touch with me: “hey! what are you up to today?…”
Perfect. Of course.
She asked if I had been up to the Willis Tower Skydeck. It was on my list of to-dos, but again was going to be push to the following day because of $$. I imagined if I hung out with Cherice on this day, Tuesday, I could barely pull it off. I would have enough money for the SkyDeck ticket and could get a really light meal or a drink afterward. I could squeak by. Dire straits.
Again, like Jamie, I’m not blaming Cherice for anything. She did not know the predicament I was in and it was my pride that caused me not speak up to say, “Hey, tomorrow might be better…” I was actually pretty reserved, peaceful, and again, very faithful about the whole thing. I was being quiet and letting God lead. If Cherice came up today, and not Wednesday, it was for a reason. Just flow with it and trust Him...
I made a stop back at my AirBnb to shower and change clothes. It was pretty warm in the early September city air and walking all morning required a moment to refresh. I finalized my plans with Cherice and we would meet just after 4PM back where I had started the day, at the Willis Tower. I would hop back on the L yet again heading into Downtown towards the Loop.
On the train, I was just silently riding, maybe looking through the photos on my phone. Stops would come and go. Passengers boarding and exiting. Between stops, and the “clunk clunks” of the train on the tracks, a voice came to me. Not God’s though I’ve been talking about Him a lot during this post. A young man asked me, “How old are you?” I looked to the face sitting in front of me.
On the L train some seats were perpendicular to others, so while I was facing to the front of the train, this man was facing to the side, towards the doors. I laughed at the question, knowing that I look young for my age, and replied,
“Oh wow, I thought you were like 25 or something.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. I look 12 and act 12, but I’m 32. But I gotta start doing better. I gotta start sleeping right and eating right…”
The man across from me silently nodded and acknowledged my response. Then suddenly another voice came through the air. A woman to my right jumped in, “Oh honey, that’s nothing. Just wait until you’re my age.”
“How old are you? If you don't mind me asking...”
“Wow. You’re looking good! What’s your secret?”
“I eat right and sleep right.”
The three of us laughed and began a conversation. Traveling is the greatest gift. I’m saying that now, retroactively after having experienced days and stories like this, but I felt it even in this moment. I love meeting new people. I think we are all complicated and fascinating and I love hearing what makes people who they are. In day to day life, in “normal situations” wanting to talk to a stranger in depth, being curious about new people may seem weird, but I feel emboldened when I travel. Though we were “strangers” we all just opened up to one another about who we were and our lives and that seemed really normal to me.
After a few moments, I told my train mates that I was a photographer, and I felt comfortable enough to ask them if I could take their portrait on the train. They agreed. There was a few nervous laughs and self conscious moments but eventually we got a couple of good ones. The man across from me that started the conversation was, Anthony:
He was from Indiana, but he was traveling in Chicago to help his friend on a music album. “Are you a singer?” “Nah, I’m just a producer.” Anthony preferred being behind the scenes and even though he knew he wasn’t going to be paid much, he was willing to help his friend get started. That’s loyalty if you ask me.
To my right was Joanna:
She was from Arizona, and had lived there for a long time, but she recently relocated to Chicago to be closer to her only son. She was getting accustomed to the new life and said that the sacrifice of leaving Arizona was worth it. She was really satisfied and heart-warmed to be near her child.
They both exited just a few stops later, and before they left, I got their email addresses and promised to send along their portrait.
I sat alone on the train with a smile. This was “good life” to me. To meet new people and to immediately be able to share my passion with them. I was so happy and looked at their images on my camera.
The train stopped back downtown and I exited in search of the Willis Tower. Before reaching it, Cherice had given me the address of her office and I would meet her in the lobby. We had not seen each other in over three and a half years, so it was nice to reunite.
We decided to stick with the plan of going to the Willis Tower Skydeck. It was a Tuesday afternoon a little after 4:30PM and we noticed something really eerie right away: the place was virtually empty. I had seen long lines outside of the Tower the previous two days and thought it would be a nightmare to visit, but for some reason…it wasn’t.
Cherice and I entered the tower, made our way through the lobby, purchased our tickets, and started up the elevator to the 103rd floor. Just about as quickly as I typed and you read that sentence. We flowed right through. Once we got to the SkyDeck we were blown away by a really great view:
Afterward, we focused on a particular attraction at the SkyDeck. We were interested in “The Ledge.” The SkyDeck sits 103 floors above the streets of Chicago, which is incredible enough, but The Ledge takes it further. What would you say to standing in a glass box that juts out from the edge of the Willis Tower so you were completely suspended in air and could see down to the street below? Sounds terrifying, right? It’s really cool though, and I’ll share a few images in just a moment, because first, I have to tell you what happened next…
There are 5 or 6 “Ledge boxes” at the SkyDeck and because it’s such a popular attraction, there are a few short lines to enter them. People will take a few photographs and then exit allowing the next person or couple to enter. The lines weren’t incredibly long, maybe 8-10 people deep, but each box had a line. Cherice and I danced around a bit trying to figure out which line to stand in. She eventually chose one and we stood in line. It’s important to note that she chose the line, not me. It’s important because while we were standing in line, I was aimlessly looking around, maybe checking my phone, and I eventually looked up, straight ahead, to the people standing in front of us in line…
You have got to be kidding me.
I walked a little further ahead and stood behind two young ladies. They were not facing me, but I got their attention as I said, "Okay, you two have got to stop following me. Seriously. It's getting weird. And I promise I'm not following you."
It was the girls from the game…and the architecture tour…again. Isabelle and Sophie were as surprised to see me as I was to see them...for a third time. We exchanged greetings and sufficiently found it all odd and hilarious. The girls from Row 7, and I were in sync somehow.
This was officially crazy. Officially something from a higher level. Divinely timed. Remember, Cherice chose for us to stand in this particular line for this particular Ledge box...I was losing my mind about all of it, internally, while keeping cool and talking politely with them externally. There are no odds to such an occurrence. This “phenomenon” I notice was in full effect.
I also thought about the timing of how Cherice and I entered the Willis Tower, and ascended so quickly to the top. What if we had come 15 minutes later? What if I had missed an L train at my stop before coming in to Downtown? All of the factors, if just one had been a bit different, this moment would not have happened. The same is true for Isabelle and Sophie’s day; what if they stopped for food before coming to the Tower, or didn’t?
After talking with them for a moment, Cherice and I would enjoy The Ledge, and as promised here are images of what it is all about:
And though I panned much quicker than I should have, here’s a short video of the experience:
Also to place a face with the name, here’s a photo of me and my friend, Cherice. Ah we’re so happy…
After the SkyDeck, Cherice and I returned to the streets and would eventually grab a drink nearby. It was great to catch up with her and hear about her life in Chicago, in particular the awesome garden her and David were tending to near their home. We walked by the River for a while, until she reached her bus stop. We said our goodbyes, and I was not yet ready to head back to my AirBnb in Logan Square. I thought I would look for a few night photography opportunities. There were a few, like the Wrigley Building…
…but overall I was growing tired and felt it was time to head back. I had a weird following 20 minutes. I was going to go back to Logan Square, but it was like I was fighting it. I wandered the streets for a bit with no real objective. I bought some mini pretzels that I would eat only a handful of before giving the rest of the bag to a homeless man. I remembered liking the atrium of the Marshall Field’s store from the architecture tour earlier in the day so I stopped inside to see it, but did not photograph it. Weird.
I went up to an L platform thinking it could be a cool long exposure shot but the lighting and space just didn't feel right. "What are you doing, man? Stop. You're beat, go home."
I eventually worked my way to a Blue Line Station: Clark/Lake and waited for the train. It would arrive within a few minutes. I walked along side of it as it slowed to a stop. I entered the car, looked up....and there was Joanna. The woman from my train ride downtown earlier in the day. The woman I photographed. Of course she was there.
My mind was blown, but at this point, part of me wasn’t surprised at all. Chicago was officially magic. This day was officially magic. I resigned. We exchanged smiles, I sat down next to her and we picked up where we left off. I told her about the odd occurrences that had been happening to me in Chicago, including this one. Then she said something I was thinking, but felt nice to hear someone else say. With a sweet smile she said, "it's the Spirit. There are angels."
Joanna and I would talk about life for the next 20 minutes. I asked her what her stop would be and she said, "Logan Square." Of course it was. That was my stop too. We were linked. We exited the train and I didn't know when and how we would say goodbye.
Old fashioned chivalry, and protective instincts kicked in and I thought I should walk her to her apartment. She was a 65 year old lady, alone on the Chicago streets at night. If there are guardian angels in some of life's moments, they certainly existed today and as it turned out, I was not Joanna's angel, she was mine, and she would eventually walk me home, as much as I objected to it.
I sat on the bed in the room of my AirBnb and was overwhelmed. I was overcome with emotion. It was God. It all had to be God. I thought back again to how distraught I was the prior morning. I remember waking up and seeing my money situation change. I remember resigning to calmness and just quietly continuing on the trip despite things being different. And then, I was overcome with joy that this day had happened.
God did not have to prove Himself to me, but with this day, Tuesday September 6th, 2016, He showed me that He is perfect and that He knows what He’s doing. Plain and simple, if I had the money I thought I was going to have for this trip, this day probably wouldn't have happened. I would not have taken the free architecture walking tour, but a paid one at another time. I may have met up with Cherice at other time, in another way, I may not have taken the train home at the time I did. Isabelle, Sophie, and Joanna would have never happened.
To share scripture with you again, there is a common one that is popular in many churches and among Christians:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
This day was living proof, a real-life example of that right before my eyes. I spent too much money, but it worked together for the good of this day. I composed myself after a few minutes and wrote about the story of the day, and shared it to Facebook, including the photo of me and Joanna above.
I woke up the next day to a few dozen likes on Facebook. The story had touched the hearts of my friends, and I’m glad that they appreciated it.
It was now Wednesday. I had a few more bucks to my name and could breathe. I decided to make the best out of the last day of the trip and purchased a one day Chicago Go Card. I had a few stops in mind for the day: The Art Institute of Chicago, the John Hancock Tower and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour.
I grabbed my camera bag and was about to leave, but just before leaving the room, I thought about Isabelle and Sophie.
The day prior, at the Willis Tower when we ran into each other at The Ledge boxes, there was slightly an air between us that because we kept running into each other that we should hang out, but it was nothing solid at all. It was just kind of casual and fleeting like, “Well, since we’re in a weird rhythm somehow…” During that quick moment/conversation they jokingly/jovially said, “We’ll be at Millennium Park tomorrow so…” A slight tip/hint/invitation. I just laughed it off in the moment, but this morning right before leaving the Airbnb room, I thought about it.
I had a few of my photography business cards with me during the trip and before leaving, I grabbed two of them and placed them in my camera bag, you know, “just in case I run into them…”
I laughed at myself for doing it. “There’s no way…” I didn’t know what time they would be there. I did not have their phone numbers. They told me their Instagram handles, but they had not accepted my friend requests yet, so I did not have any real way of being in contact with them. But…I had two business cards ready, just in case.
I arrived back in the Downtown Loop and made my way towards the Art Institute of Chicago:
I was a bit early, and it was not open yet, so I decided to change gears and head over to the John Hancock Tower first. I walked a few blocks to catch a bus. The Art Institute of Chicago is right at the edge of Millennium Park. As I walked by the entrance to the Park Park, I could not help but to think, “maybe they are there…” but I did not venture inside to see, I just thought about it in passing. I did not want to "jinx it," or step on the incredible phenomenon.
I would arrive at the John Hancock Tower and naturally ascend to its viewing deck, taking in more great views:
Afterward, I would go across the street to the Fourth Presbyterian Church and photograph it. Enough time had passed that the Art Institute was open. I hopped back on the bus towards Millennium Park. I walked by the main area of the Park again, and thought of Isabelle and Sophie. But again, I was hesitant to venture into the Park in search of them. I really did not want to tempt the serendipity of Tuesday and the plans of God. In a weird way, I thought, by looking for them, it would tarnish the purity of having naturally run into them three times prior.
But…I could not help myself. I eventually walked a few paths into the Park keeping my eyes peeled. How silly... "There’s no way, Mal."
I went back to my second “rule” of Serendipity. Infinite paths. Chicago is the third largest city in the United States of America: 2.7 million people, 234 square miles. They were two girls on vacation from Montreal, Canada. They could have been anywhere in the city at any time. Granted they told me they would go to Millennium Park this day, they could have been there at any time and in any part of the park.
So somebody please tell me, why I decided to eventually walk back to “The Bean,” and would spot a girl with dark hair and a backpack, whose face looked familiar, gazing at the metallic sculpture...
[pausing for you to be shocked like I was shocked]
On Facebook, friends lost their minds, just like I did. In case you didn’t get it, we put up “four” fingers because it was the fourth time we had run into each other in Chicago. They are too sweet, and teased me for wearing jeans because it was so ridiculously hot, which was fair of them to do. They had a few plans for the day, as did I, so we didn’t hang out further, which was okay. There was something really nice about the way we were randomly, cosmically, divinely connected, so pushing the agenda to hang out was not a high priority. I gave them my cards with a cheery invitation to hang out if they ever visit Los Angeles. We are connected on Instagram to this day and it was too cool to meet them this way, this many times.
I really don’t know what else to say about all of this. This was the most bizarre set of events I’ve ever experienced and it brought a phenomenon I casually noticed for years to a brilliant new level. I think I’ll end this post by borrowing a few of my own words. I saved the text from the story I wrote on Facebook from Tuesday night, after everything had happened and Joanna and I had walked off the train together. I feel it sums it up best.
In honor of a wonderful trip to Chicago:
I've been faithful and believed in God for most of my lifetime and have seen Him do the incredible, to the heartbreaking and back. But this was something new and amazing to see. In these 3 days He's shown me the kindness of both friends and strangers and that His timing is perfect and absolute. I believe in everything that these occurrences and meetings mean and could mean. I'm loved and watched over, that's clear. We all are.
There are angels above and ones walking with us all the way home. There's a perfect hand that guides it all, that puts people from opposite corners of the planet in the same boat, on the same street, in the same baseball stadium and on the same train and for that, I'm thankful.
I’m not sure how you arrived at this blog post, via Facebook or other means. Blogging is still new to me, so SEO and all of that isn’t part of my game just yet. No matter how you arrived here…you may have noticed that like to include a preview image for each post for little bit of clickbait for you to want to check the story out. When thinking of the preview image I would use for this post, I immediately knew that a single image would not do. This story took place over 4 different days and involved many people and places to create all the details of the story, so I knew I would have to create a collage. I ended up really liking it and wanted to share it again.
The one with text, previewing my confused nature of the moments:
And a clean version of just the images:
I really enjoyed this story and trip, and thank you if you read it all, even up to this point.. By the way, just so you know, I did run into Isabelle and Sophie for a fifth time on the street, about an hour after seeing them at The Bean :)