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The time I met Whitey Bulger (and missed a $2 million reward)

A Monitor staffer sees the pictures of where James 'Whitey' Bulger lived and realizes he had once asked the fugitive for a bit of advice while on vacation.

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The photos are FBI handouts of fugitive Massachusetts alleged mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger taken in the 1980s. Bulger was captured near Los Angeles after living on the run for 16 years, authorities said Wednesday.

FBI Handouts/AP/File

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At the time, I thought nothing of it. A wiry old gent sat out front of the Princess Eugenia apartments each morning on a red-brick retaining wall.

Unlike many southern Californians, he had a tendency to stare straight ahead. He wore a baseball cap and oversized shades – not a super-friendly guy, I remember thinking. Then again, California is chock-full of all types.

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My wife and I had booked our vacation at the Santa Monica hotel across the street because it was inexpensive, close to the beach, and away from the action. Or so we thought.

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The man's icy demeanor didn’t invite conversation, but it didn't stop me from asking him one day about the potential for a ticket on my rental car.

"Do the cops really check for resident parking passes on cars around here?” I queried him.

“Yup,” he responded.

That was the end of our exchange.

It was only this Thursday morning – as we watched a TV account of Mr. Bulger’s capture that we realized our brief brush with infamy in March (not to mention the $2 million reward).

That's the economics lesson here: Opportunity knocks, but you have to recognize it. Or him.

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Had I known who I was speaking to, there are so many more important things I could have asked him: “Where have you been hiding?” “Was that you in London?” “How is life on the lam?”

Or if nothing else: “How about those Sox?”