Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Kindness of a Stranger

On the busiest travel day of the year, the night before Thanksgiving, I had less than three hours to catch my flight. My client in Manhattan had already warned me: "Don't even think of taking a taxi to JFK Airport! 2 hours minimum". So, with a roller in tow, I managed to trudge to Penn Central Station only to find long lines snaking around ticket counters. Finally after thirty minutes, I got an express ticket to Jamaica station.

As I plonked down in a seat on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), I reckoned 30 minutes to the stop, another 20 on the tram into the terminal and I should be there in time to catch my flight. The locals around me were already settled in - a woman who worked in advertising was touching up her face, an old man with a beaten-up briefcase was catching a snooze, an accountant who was reciting a train schedule on the phone.  As I fidgeted with my roller, the woman said, "Going home, eh?". I smiled nervously and said I hope to catch the flight in time. Ominously, just at that moment, a voice over announced - all trains on LIRR had been temporarily suspended. On cue, a few passengers picked up their bags and left the train hurriedly.

"How long is the delay?" I asked aloud nervously. "Dunno," the accountant spoke, "Could be a few minutes or an hour. Hard to tell." My heart sank. "I'm staying put," the woman announced, "Too tired to move. Don't care how long this takes".

"Is there another way to JFK?" I asked. "Sure, go up and switch to the Subway and take the local train to Jamaica," the accountant piped in.  "A bit slow though. 40 minutes maybe. If you hurry, you may make it." He went back to his phone. "But I don't have a Subway ticket and there is hell of a line to get one. I don't think I'll make the flight" I bemoaned aloud, mostly to myself, since every one was back in his own zone.  

Across my seat, the old with the beaten suitcase had been quiet, almost dozing, all this time. Slowly, he opened his eyes, pulled open his case and handed me a Subway ticket. "There. Go home."  I looked at him incredulously, suddenly at loss for words. "Hurry!" He smiled. I mumbled a thank you, collected my bags and ran.

I ran across platforms, around the snaking lines, up the escalators, and into an overcrowded Subway. I counted each station as the slow train made its way to Jamaica. I caught my flight with less than ten minutes to spare. It was the last flight home for the Thanksgiving Day. It wasn't until the flight took off that I realized I did not know the name or email of the old man who helped me. 

So, here's to the kindness of a stranger who helped me reach my home in time for the Thanksgiving!