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When it comes to head-smacking coincidences, all the world’s a stage

A view of Florence with the Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio) over the Arno River. (Frank Rumpenhorst/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

In 1996, Bill Lidell of Dumfries, Va., was vacationing in Florence with his then-wife when a street performer called out to Bill to join him in his act. The shtick was that Bill would stand shirtless in the piazza next to a buff, young “Adonis” while the busker polled the pretty young women in the crowd on who they would prefer.

“Go ahead,” said Bill’s wife. “No one here knows you.”

Bill stepped forward and peeled off his shirt. Then came a shout from the assembled throng: “Hi, Mr. Lidell!”

It was the son of a friend, who was also visiting Italy. Wrote Bill: “It became local, small-town gossip at home.”

Small town, small world. Today I have more travel coincidences from readers.

Coincidences are usually memorable. Often they are delightful. But sometimes, the District’s Barbara Lynch wrote, they are baffling.

In the early 1960s, Barbara lived in Georgetown. Every weekday morning she walked to a bus stop on Q Street NW to await either a bus or a taxi.

“On nearly every one of those workdays for five years I would see the same man already at the stop,” she wrote. “And it was always just the two of us. Curiously, in all that time he never once said good morning or even smiled a bit.”

July of 1962 found Barbara somewhere else: in the dining room of St. Ermin’s Hotel in London. “And, yes, strange as it may seem, at the very next table was — THE BUS STOP MAN!” she wrote. He was staring at me, but never changed his typical unpleasant expression.”

He simply continued to eat his breakfast without a word. Barbara did the same.

Wrote Barbara: “A month later when I reappeared at the bus stop, there he was — silently grim-faced as ever, not a shred of recognition!”

Pallavi Kumar and her sister, Minal, barely made the last train of the day from London to Paris on their European trip years ago.

“Discombobulated from our frantic dash to the departing train, we struggled to hoist our luggage up to the overhead bin,” wrote Pallavi, of the District. “A rather gruff looking man traveling with his girlfriend stepped in to help us somewhat grumpily. A few days later we were walking on the Champs-Élysées and we tapped the shoulder of a man to take a photo of us. Lo and behold it was the same man! This time he laughed and said, ‘I am always helping you girls!’ ”

In 1995, Bethesda’s Tim Polk and his wife, Marianne Swanson, boarded a flight to London with their two children.

“We had four seats in the center section of the row, adjacent to the aisle, and the kids managed to sleep once the novelty wore off,” Tim wrote.

With an hour left before landing in London, the couple on the other side of the aisle cried out, “Smoke! Smoke!” A large puff of smoke was wafting from an overhead luggage bin. In seconds, flight attendants cleared everything from the overhead compartment. A faulty ballast in a fluorescent fixture had caused the problem.

Eight days later the family was in Edinburgh, eating breakfast at their bed-and-breakfast.

“My wife and I felt we knew the couple at the next table, but couldn’t place them,” Tim wrote. “It was clear from their body language they recognized us as well. They were the couple across the aisle who had seen the smoke! We chatted briefly, marveled at the efficiency of the flight crew, and wondered what the odds were of seeing each other again, eight days and 400 miles from that happy landing at Heathrow.”

When Ellen Hinch was a college student — “light-years ago,” in her description — she spent her junior year in France. It was after taking the train from Rouen to Paris during the final week of her stay that Ellen found herself on a busy — and soggy — Parisian street.

“It was raining and almost everyone on the crowded sidewalk of a large boulevard had umbrellas open as they walked,” wrote Ellen, of Leesburg, Va. “My umbrella tip caught the edge of another woman’s umbrella.”

When the women turned toward each other to untangle their umbrellas, they realized they’d been high school classmates who hadn’t seen each other since their graduation three years earlier.

“Talk about being dumbstruck,” Ellen wrote.

Of all the umbrellas on all the streets in all the world …

Tomorrow: More worldly coincidences.

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