Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chances Are

A customer came in last night that I haven't seen in quite some time. He always comes in on his motorcycle. He'll buy some kind of drink or snack and then sit with them on the curb. Just diggin' the night.

Now if you read my earlier post; The Problem With Kids Today, you know that people are always stopping here and hanging out in one fashion or another. Last weekend a woman came in for non-drowsy cold medicine and proceeded to sleep in her car for the next five hours. Assorted groups of guys will come in buy snacks and stand around by their cars talking. When I tell some of my co-workers about this hardly a one of them can understand why I just let people hang out. "Doesn't that scare you?" "Why didn't you call the police?" Never a word about how good it is for the store that people like to come here. For what ever reason. The manager doesn't seem to have a problem with it and neither do I. It always surprises though me how uptight people get at the thought of people wanting to relax here for a bit. Get what you need and go! A CVS up the road was robbed just last night. Would you feel safer letting people socialize or being completely alone? Either way doesn't bother me. I do know though that the odds are in my favor of not being robbed if there are people around.

Well, let's get back on track here.

The first few times this guy came in be just sat for a while and left. Eventually we started talking. Don't remember how we first started talking. It's just like that sometimes. We were talking last night about a woman he knows who said she wants to get a motor bike. There is always a concern about safety though. He kinda shrugged at that point and said, "We don't control fate."

THAT'S what got me to thinking.

Some time ago I read The Drunkard's Walk; How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mladinow. It's all about famous theorists and mathematicians, statistics, and probability. He talks about such heavy hitters as Bernoulli, Gauss, Pascal and Thomas Bayes. What's that you say? How could I? Well, he's a very good author with a breezey narrative style for such a topic. He discusses for instance the Monty Hall Problem. Ok, you are on Let's Make a Deal. You are trying to win a new car or some other great prize. You choose one of three doors. You are shown a booby prize behind door #2. You now have the option of choosing another door. What's it gonna be? Stick with door #1 or switch to #3? Intuition might sway you either way. Using principles first put down by Gerolamo Cardano in the 16th century you would see that your odds of winning actually increase by switching doors. Or take Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak. If you compare his statistics with other players there end up being something like 85 different players who could have accomplished the same feat. Or a winning streak. Whether it is a movie producer with a string of hits or a football team trying to win it's 18th game in a row. People are so surprised when the next movie is a flop, or that stock that had done so well for so long suddenly nose dives. None of that should be of any great surprise though. Things like that always regress toward the mean. The more you win, the better your chances of losing. Mr. Mladinow explains things in more depth and much better than I ever could. I found it a good read and it will change the way you look at some things.

So. Fate.

No, we can't control where we are born, what kind of family we are born into, the nature of our passing; you know, all that good stuff. We can have a hand in what goes on in between that first shuddering breath and shuffling off this mortal coil though.

Be mindful people. Help take care of each other. The odds are you'll be better off for it.

As Red Green says, "Keep your stick on the ice."


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