I Didn’t Buy a Lottery Ticket Today

Lest you think the title implies that I buy lottery tickets on other days, let me disabuse you of that notion: I don’t buy lottery tickets. Ever. I shouldn’t have to elaborate the usual statistical arguments, because this isn’t really about winning the lottery, it’s about a day full of coincidences.

I had reconnected with two old MIT classmates via Facebook, and was conducting email conversations with both of them this week. Classmate 1, Anne, was going to be in town this weekend to take care of some family business, and suggested that we meet for lunch today to get caught up (we haven’t seen each other in twenty five years). I let her pick the venue, and she chose Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square, which used to be our regular student hangout (for the usual reasons: decent food and cheap beer). Classmate 2, Jon, had mentioned to me that he would be in the area for a job interview, but didn’t mention when.

So, at 1 PM, as I was saying hello to Anne and her daughter, who should walk in but Jon, along with his son. We adjourned to a large table and proceeded to fill in the thirty year gap with broad strokes (marriages, kids, jobs, etc.). When Jon asked why I didn’t seem nearly as surprised at our all being there as he did, I explained that it wasn’t that much of a coincidence. I had planned the meeting with Anne, and he had planned to take his son to lunch after his interview, which I knew would be in Cambridge. If he was showing his son the old school haunts, the odds were high that he’d wind up at Grendel’s. And we were there at lunchtime, not some odd hour of the day.

The coincidences, however, had not run their course. The two children were quite patient with our boring reminiscences, so they were to be rewarded with ice cream when lunch was over. Anne’s first choice for ice cream was Herrell’s, but it had been closed for almost a year. The second choice, the Toscanini’s branch in the square, had been closed for at least a decade. That left us with the remaining option, which was the original Toscanini’s near MIT. I drove us all there in about ten minutes.

Toscanini’s was the store where I learned how to make ice cream, where I almost became the Ice Cream Terrorist. I was employee #1 when the store opened, and had become friends with Gus Rancatore, one of the store’s founders. Once he became the owner of an ice cream empire, he spent less time in the original store, choosing to spread his attention across his locations. Since I usually visited the store in the evening, I never saw Gus anymore. On the rare occasion when I’d run into him, we’d pick up our ongoing conversation about food and music wherever we had last left off.

But today was a Friday, and we arrived at the store as the staff was gearing up for the Friday evening rush. Gus was there, he saw me, and we dropped right back into the usual routine. We talked about the ice cream biz, this blog (“How can you blog about food? You’re not an Asian woman from New York, now living in Paris.”), and my recent experiment with prosciutto ice cream. Gus gave me two pints of new flavors he was working on to take home and taste, all very typical for us. For Jon and Anne, who watched me walk into the store and then leave with free ice cream, it looked like I had arrived for my weekly free-ice-cream-for-life pickup.

As we left, Jon said “You have to buy a lottery ticket today, this has to be one of the luckiest days of your life.” Without any knowledge of my ongoing thing with Gus, it certainly looked that way. And it still wasn’t over.

I had been introduced via email to a Fransec, blogger in Spain who writes about autism and software applications that can be used in behavioral modification programs. Before I had left for the momentous lunch gathering, I had asked him where he lived. When he told me he lived in Barcelona, I told him I was envious of his living in one of the world’s great food cities. I also mentioned I’d probably never get to eat at El Bulli (the best restaurant in the world, in Roses, near Barcelona) before it closed in 2011. Every year more than two million people try to get reservations for only eight thousand seats.

When I returned from lunch, I saw that Fransec had replied:

Ah, perhaps I can help you with this. A good friend of mine is a good friend of Ferran Adrià (the chef). If you are really interested, I can ask for a reservation for you. I know that the restaurant has some tables each week for VIP. This is not sure, of course, but I think there is a good chance that I get a table for you if you ever come here.

Who needs the lottery? I may already be a winner. Today the inherent randomness of the universe appeared to work in my favor, but as Shaekespeare put it: “All things are ready if our minds be so.”

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