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Archive for January, 2014

I know this post should be about London, and trust me there are some posts about London coming up. However, this post was sparked by a friend’s question on Facebook, asking: “what is the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for you?” This took me back on a walk through memory lane. Close friends of mine will have heard this story, but I thought writing it down would give due credit to the kind lady who really helped me out one crazy night in NYC.

This story involves my old roommate K. I was staffing an international summer camp that required me to go for training in Washington D.C. My lovely roommate’s boyfriend (now husband) lived in Connecticut at the time, and so we decided that we would drive down together so that I could attend training, and that she could visit her boyfriend. To say that it was under-planned trip would probably be one of the biggest understatements of all time.

K is one of the most solid, well organized, and reliable people that I know. Somehow, she ended up all the way up in Fredericton, New Brunswick to attend University at the same place as me. To this day, I still don’t really understand how she ended up there, but I’m so glad for our friendship’s sake that she did.

Our Easter road trip took place in April 2007. Something else you should know about my past roommate K, is that she’s from the Bahamas. This factors into the story for two reasons. The first being that because I don’t drive, (read past post: “Dude Where’s My Car?”) meaning that K stepped up like a champ and agreed to drive. Being from the Bahamas means that K had never driven on a highway, or on the right hand side of the road. It also means that she’d never driven through snow, or a blizzard for that matter. That is until, April, 2007. I don’t know why we didn’t check the weather, or maybe we did, and threw stupidly young caution to the wind anyways, but K started our road trip almost immediately by driving through a horrendously bad snowstorm in Maine. Even a seasoned pro would have had an extremely difficult time, but this little Bahama Mama drove through like a pro. We then moved onto five lane highways, driving through construction and through Boston’s rush hour traffic. This was all within a few hours. Miraculously we made it to Connecticut where we would continue our journey to Washington in the morning.

Driving to Washington took a little longer than we thought, but with the beautiful weather, and with K’s boyfriend driving, the pace was a little more relaxed and leisurely. I was dropped off, and had a great weekend. At the end of the weekend K calls me Monday morning, and asks if I can take a bus to meet her in NYC which is halfway between our two points, I agreed to this logic and planned to meet her in the East end of NYC at midnight later on that day.

Upon arriving at one of the Greyhound bus stations in Washington, I was struck with two problems. The first being that with all the business of training, I forgot to charge my cell phone. The second was my luggage. Now, I would just like to take a bit to explain my luggage. People travel really differently by car than they do by bus. We had traveled down with our rental car, so I brought EVERYTHING. I brought a small suitcase, a sleeping bag, a comforter, two pillows, a backpack, a laptop bag, and my purse. This is what I loaded onto the bus, like an amateur prima donna, much to everyone’s dismay. As I sat on the bus, heading up North, I started to have a feeling of dread. My cell phone was slowly beeping its’ way to death. I watched as it blinked sadly, and I prayed that K would be in the location that we previously agreed on. We pulled into a dark parking lot in an area of the city I had never been. This was before smart phones existed, so I couldn’t have Googled where I was, and even if I had one, it would have been dead, as earlier indicated. The overhead announcement came on and notified us that we were in the West end of the city. My heart sank, and my stomach filled with a quiet panic. Unsure of what else to do, I put on my coat, my backpack, and started getting my stuff together. In the hustle and bustle, I got one of my mittens on a string, caught in my backpack. The bus driver looked at me like I was a 9 year old girl, helped me to untangle myself, and asked me if I was alright.

“Yep!” I said bravely, even though I’m sure he knew I was lying, and I headed inside the station.

Walking through that station was one of the only few times in my life where homeless people looked at me with a great deal of pity. Some of them even asked if they could help me. Imagine if you will, a 22 year old, with a jacket with mittens on a string, with a backpack and sleeping bag tied to it, a laptop bag, purse, on my back. While carrying two pillows and a comforter with one arm, and pulling along a suitcase on wheels behind me. It was a pathetic image indeed.

I stood in the station, having no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and no idea of how I was going to get there. I looked around and saw the subway station signs pointing to my right, so I turned around and headed towards it. I got to the ticket booth, and peeked up over my comforter and blanket, asking the woman if she could give me a ticket Eastward. She sat there chewing her bubblegum loudly, with large hoop earrings, her long 90’s style hairsprayed heavily to her head, looking at me, unimpressed. She pressed the microphone to speak to me through the bullet-proof glass.

“Where you goin’ ?” She says in a heavy New York accent, looking at me bizarrely with all of my things.

I say casually, “Um, to the East side, to meet my ride.”

She looks me up and down, and looks at my stuff, shaking her head.

“Uh, no you ain’t. You call your ride and you tell ’em to meet chu here”

“I…I can’t. My phone is dead.”

“Honey” she says as she reached for her flip phone, and slides it under the glass to me, her long fake fingernails clicking on the counter,  “you call whomever you gots to call to get you outta here.”

I sigh heavily, and look at her, and say

“I’m Canadian, I can’t call because it would be long distance. Oh, and because the number I need to call is in my phone, which is dead.”

“Honey”, she says again in her flat tone,, “You call as many people as you gotta, you do what you need to do”.

Gratefully, I take the phone, and quickly dial my other roommate L (who’s at our house in Canada). It’s about 1 am there, and I hear a groggy voice pick up the phone,

“Hello?”

“Hello! L, it’s Lill, look I don’t have time to explain, but can you give me K’s number?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be with K?” she says confused and worried.

“Yes, it’s a long story, that I promise I’ll explain, but not now” (not wanting to rack up this phone bill any more than I have to)

L gives me the number I need and I quickly end the phone call.

I frantically dial K’s number, and she picks up

“K!? I’m on the West side! And I don’t know how to get you!”

“I’m on the West Side!”

“You are?! We’re both on the West side?!” I say with pure joy. The toll operator overhears this and presses the microphone, and says,

“Ask  her where she is”

K gives me directions that I don’t understand I write them down on my hand, reading out the directions to the woman, she’s nodding, saying,

“You’re real close”.

“I’m close!” I say back excitedly to K.

We quickly confirm the directions and I hang up. I thank the woman profusely, and she tells me to come back if I have any problems, and I’m on my way.

I’m on my way up on the streets of NY, with all my belongings in tow, like I’m ready to move there. I quietly slip behind these men who are loudly rapping lyrics in front of me. A whole line of them, impossible for me to slip past, so I hang back, trying to look casual, while also trying to see where I’m going. I walk in fear of not wanting to get mugged, listening to some of the most misogynistic lyrics I’ve ever heard, and somehow laughing to myself at how hilarious this whole situation was.

When I saw that white rental car, my heart leapt into my chest, and I’ve never felt such a mix of happiness and relief. I slip into the car, thanking K profusely, telling her about my escapades in getting to her. To finish off the craziness of our driving adventure, K drives through downtown NYC, and makes it out alive and all of us in one piece. Blizzard, Rush Hour, Five lane Highways, Construction, and NYC, she’s done it all in one weekend. She’s a North American Driving Professional.

As we drove back to Canada, I couldn’t help but think about that woman at the toll booth.If it wasn’t for her, I would have ended up God knows where. I cringe to think about how differently my night might have been. Sometimes, when people complain about how there aren’t any good people anymore, I think about that woman in NYC. My friend’s dad once said,

“You should never let fear stop you from from helping people”.

I see kindness between family, co-workers and friends, thankfully, so often. However, there’s in someways, a greater beauty when a stranger acts out of kindness,  and in a way, a truer sense of generosity. On that day, a stranger, in one of the biggest cities in the world, handed over one of her most important possessions to me, and paid who knows how much for my random long distance phone calls. For no other reason than wanting me to get home safely. For that I will always be amazed and endlessly grateful.

Thank you.

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