The prompt for The Chatham Writers Group was “Luck”. A work related incident popped into my mind immediately. I set the true part of the story up with a fictional meeting of old friends in a bar setting. I will elaborate more at the end of the story.


It was about 7:00 PM when I left the offices of the Press & Journal.  I had stayed late to help the photo editor write captions for the morning edition.  The rumble in my stomach reminded me that I had not eaten since noon, so I beat a path over to Siler’s Café for a slice of pizza and a cold National Bohemian.  Entering Siler’s, I spied my friend, Richie, at the bar.  He seemed to be intent on the Flyer hockey game, in blazing color on the 19” behind the bar.  The glass in front of him was half full, to his right was an vacant stool with a full beer on the bar in front of it.  I assumed that was where Richie’s buddy, Phil, was sitting.  He must have stepped away for a second.  I had met Richie and Phil five years ago when I worked a summer at the Steel mill.  They must have seen a big kid, scared shitless of all the fire, smoke, sparks and the smells of melting steel, so they took me under their wings to make sure I survived the next 10 weeks before I left for college.  Working side by side at the mill for over 30 years, they  were almost inseparable.  Phil had retired 6 months ago and was waiting for Richie to retire so they could concentrate on their plans to fish, hunt, go to an occasional baseball game, and enjoy Friday Happy Hours at Siler’s.  It had been about a month since I had seen them, so I made my way over and sat down on the stool to Richie’s left. I patted his shoulder, stuck out my hand for a shake and said “Richie!  How are you? It’s been awhile.  Where’s Phil?”.  He smiled wanly, shook my hand and replied “Oh, I thought you heard.  Phil passed away 3 weeks ago.  He went to bed, kissed his wife good night and never woke up”.  I was floored.  I did not know what to say, other than how sorry I was, I felt feeble.  Richie smacked me on the shoulder, said thanks and bought me a beer.  The full glass next to him was a symbolic round for Phil.  We tapped the symbolic glass, said “To Phil”, and took a swallow.

Richie started to talk about the Flyers game, they had taken advantage of a few miscues by their opponents and turned them into scoring opportunities.  I asked him about a quote I heard attributed to the Flyers coach, Fred Shero, regarding luck being what happens when preparation and opportunity meet.  Correcting me, he said “No, Shero did not say that.  Two different football coaches from the Southwest Conference claim ownership.  But it was the Roman philosopher, Seneca, who first enlightened civilization with those words”.  After a few minutes of silence, Richie said “Although Seneca was right, there are times where there is just plane luck, or fate that decides an outcome”.  Another stretch of silence ensued.  He seemed to be troubled.  I did not want to leave him if he was upset, so I asked if he felt he needed to talk about Phil, to open up, I was a good listener.  He said “I do have something tell you.  I have not told this to anyone, you gotta promise me you won’t say anything until I give you the OK”.  “Sure” I replied.  The story Richie told me gave me chills, it still gives me chills to this day when I think about it.

A week after Phil passed away, Richie was at work repairing a motor on a machine in the steel mill.  He was kneeling on the floor unpacking a replacement switch.  A 5 ton gantry crane had stopped just to his right, the crane operator lifted a coil of wire and had started to traverse it over to a storage rack just behind Richie.  Focusing on his task at hand, he paid no attention to the crane.  Hearing  a snapping noise, he lifted his head.  Now the freaky part begins.  Richie tells me as soon as he heard the snap noise, as clear as a bell, he hears Phil’s voice scream “Richie! Move!”.  He scrambles forward.  There is a loud crash behind him and he turns to see the coil of wire had fallen and crushed the end of the machine where he had been kneeling only seconds ago, the broken end of the crane hook dangling from the strap around the coiled wire.  Other workers have rushed over and now surround Richie to see if he is OK.  Other than being covered in dust that cascaded after the incident, and of course badly shaken, he appears to be physically fine.  I stare bug eyed at Richie.  He is bug eyed staring back at me and in a rush of words exclaims,  “All the guys in mill are telling me how lucky I am, where the hell is preparation in that equation?  And the only opportunity was the one where I would be squashed like a bug!”.  He shakes his head, steadies himself and says, “I guess I was lucky, but that was more a quirk of fate.  And I did not move, I was moved, I could feel myself being pulled.  Phil saved my life not 5 days after his funeral.  How can I explain that without people thinking me nuts”.  Richie downs the rest of his beer and gets up to leave.  He grips my forearm tightly, shakes my hand and says, “Well, I am either the luckiest man alive today, or fate has bigger plans for me.  See you next week”.  I am in a fog as I leave Siler’s.  I don’t remember driving home, or walking into my bedroom.  I lay down, I cannot sleep.

Epilogue: the work related incident/accident described in the last paragraph actually did occur. The only change I made was to make a broken hook the cause of the incident, whereas in real life, the whole hoist mechanism fell off the crane rail. At the time the incident occurred, I was on the safety committee for my department, so I read the incident report. Later, one of the safety engineers who had interviewed the person involved in the incident (his real name is not Richie), told me that he heard “clear and loud as a bell” his late friend scream his name and tell him to move. “I could have easily jumped backward, left or right and I would have been killed. Something made me jump ahead, I felt like I was pulled forward, I had no idea the danger was from overhead….”. He claimed his late friend saved his life.

Ernie Stricsek

Chatham Writers Group

April 12, 2021

4 thoughts on “Luck

    1. Thank you very much John! I have enjoyed the way that you have written to prompts using Joe Martin. I like that approach to a prompt vs. writing a memoir. I had always wanted to be a reporter, so I have adopted your method by using a young reporter starting out a a local newspaper to try and grow my fiction writing skills. There are plenty of true events that I have witnessed that I can try to weave a story around. I have to give my reporter a name, other than mine. The Press & Journal was a local newspaper in Middletown, PA, where I went to high school. I went to school with the children of the family that owned the paper and was close friends with them. The paper ended their long run last summer as advertising dropped during the height of the coronavirus. Siler’s Cafe still exists, was one of the most popular places in Middletown, but I was never in the place. Thank you again for your kind words and inspiration.


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