Dick Sudhalter’s “Believe-It-Or-Not” Experience
As Told by Terry MacDonald
I’d known the cornetist/trumpeter/journalist/author Dick Sudhalter since our teens. He’d never given me any reason to believe he was one to stretch the truth. So as unlikely as this scenario surely is—worthy of Ripley’s famous “Believe It or Not” collection—I believe it.
Here’s what Dick told me a few years before he died in 2008:
He had been playing a gig one night in New York City and, at the end of the night, left his horn in a dressing room momentarily. When he went back to retrieve it, he discovered the worst: The trumpet was gone. Stolen, obviously. Needless to say, Dick was beside himself. As he left the gig, headed empty-handed back to his place in Manhattan, he mulled the fact that he had to play again the next night and would have to find a replacement horn.
Next morning, the lost horn and the need to replace it were foremost on his mind. He knew a guy who operated a trumpet repair shop and thought maybe he’d be able to borrow or rent a horn from him for the night’s gig. So as soon he figured the guy would be at his shop, he got on the phone to him. Yeah, the guy had a horn he could borrow, no charge, and what a terrible thing that Dick’s horn was stolen. Terrible.
Dressed and ready for the day, Dick headed down to the street, anxious to get his hands on the horn he’d be playing that night. In no time, a cab came along, and he hailed it.
Now, here’s the eerie part. Dick gets into the cab’s back seat, and lying there, in its case, is Dick’s stolen trumpet. This, in a cab that just happened to be going along Dick’s street when Dick came down looking for one.
“This is my trumpet!” he told the driver. No response.
“It was stolen from me last night” (and he told him where his last night’s gig was). No response.
“Look, pull over,” Dick instructed the driver, and shoved the horn in its case up into the front seat. “You open the case. But before you do, I’ll describe the horn in exact detail, so you’ll know it’s mine. In fact, my card is in the case with my name on it, and I’ll show you some ID. But that’s my horn, and I’m taking it.”
Finally from the driver, a response. Guy had gotten into the cab the night before, said he needed money. This was a valuable trumpet and he’d let the driver have it for fifty bucks. The driver said he was pretty sure it must be worth at least that amount and so he gave the guy the money and kept the horn.
Promptly, Dick pulled out his wallet, took out fifty bucks, handed it to the driver and grabbed his horn.
“I don’t need a cab after all. Thanks anyway.”
“What are the chances of that?” I wondered when Dick told me the story.
“I wondered the same thing,” he said. “So I asked a friend of mine, who’s a statistician, and he calculated the odds.”
Sorry, I forget the number now. But it was up there.