A few weeks ago my family sat down and watched a movie together: Slumdog Millionaire. There are some intense scenes not suitable for my 10-year-old, but we were great about pausing and having Madison willingly snuggle her eyes into Daddy’s shoulder or run for snacks during the rough parts. But outside of that, the movie was a very good choice for us as a family as it touches on themes of family members, loyalty, betrayal, as well as luck, intelligence and destiny.
The next day as I drifted into my Monday morning at work in Berkeley, I thought about the feeling of destiny and the times I felt that perceived guiding hand was at work in my life. An example occurred in the early 70’s when I was 14, (as my older daughter Haley is now), attending 9th grade in San Diego.
I signed up for last chair alto sax in the High School Marching Band, and with that came fund-raising and occasional trips. Our first campaign was selling concert tickets door-to-door in suburban neighborhoods, and one Saturday the whole band was bused around through different districts, unloaded with maps and directions and given 2 hours to sell as many tickets as possible. Final tallies would be noted for each student, and those that qualified would go on a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.
My lucky break came from an older band musician who had ridden by on his bike and was in the mood to show what he knew about this particular fund-raising game. He stood behind me as I made my pitch, and through his coaching and the magic of the moment I started selling ticket after ticket. By the time I got back to the bus, I realized I had exceeded some of the experienced older students, and won the admiring attention of a few cute girl clarinetists, (far better than money).
When the trip to SF came, we piled into several charter buses and made the 10 hour bus drive from SD to the Bay Area. (As an ex-New Yorker I thought: “Aren’t there other Bays in the world? How did they get that generic term to mean one thing to Californians?”).
The next unexpected epiphany came when I was seated next to what was clearly the biggest nerd in most of the band (he had competition). His name was Billy Ivey and he played Ortophone, the eunich marching version of the French Horn, and although perhaps effective in the right hands, an instrument sonically useless on the field and basically something shiny to hold. Billy had gleefully brought maps to plot the road trip, showing me with pleasure as he spittled colored zots candy between his braces. I sank into my chair and gazed out the window at the dreary CA freeway steeling myself for boredom when my totally unexplained deliverance came. A Junior girl named Vicki Shillacci, also a Clarinetist (was there something up with Sax players and Clarinetists?) was sitting in the Back Of The Bus Gang, the exclusive group of older musicians that had claimed the back seats that could turn backward, pop out a table and then create a moving nightclub of coolness. They had music and cards going with the banter of older guys and girls, and somehow there was one seat open.
Without making any flirtation with me, but with remarkably generous empathy, Vicki came to the front of the bus and said “you look miserable, why don’t you come back and sit with us?”. What ensued was one of the most memorable weekends of my life, driving through the hippy holy land of San Francisco, North Beach, The Haight-Ashbury, and Golden Gate Park.
That weekend, as the climactic purpose of the trip, we marched our carefully rehearsed routine during Football half-time in the Oakland Coliseum. I remember smelling something forbidden in the air, and as I looked around I wondered if I would ever be back. There was a moment when an older African-American teenager who was selling drinks in the stands passed me in the upper halls after we played. He gave me an “all right, that’s cool” kind of smile, and I couldn’t believe he gave that to me, a younger white punk in a goofy marching uniform. I didn’t know until years later that (speaking for myself) compared to 1960’s New York City or the mostly white areas of San Diego I was from, Oakland could be a very cool town inter-racially, and that was a big plus for me.
On the last leg of the night-time bus ride home I sat with a girl my age, and under low romantic lights I made a pass at a kiss with her, (I hardly knew this girl, what was I doing?), and instead of getting upset with me, she gently rebuffed me and then lay her head on my shoulder and we fell asleep. There must have been some kind of angel giving me free passes that weekend, even my mistakes were forgiven.
Ten years later I had an old High School friend ask me to drive her family car from SD to her Berkeley Apt, and that trip became the weekend I decided to accept my best friend and roommate Carmen Borgia's suggestion to move to the Bay Area. I soon scored a job at Alta Bates Medical Center the very next week and never looked back; that is, until one day when I drove my medical courier car past the doughnut-shaped hotel near the Oakland Airport where the entire Marching Band had stayed that fateful weekend. I couldn’t believe it was still there, and at that moment, and yet all along, I felt some quiet reassurance there had been some destiny at work.
The perception of destiny is only one of the possible influences of a person's lifetime, but if the direction feels right (the way it did for me and the Slumdog Millionaire) I hope my own girls feel some guiding hand over whatever paths their lives take them...