Kind Strangers Kindness

Kindness Is In The (Metro)Cards

| New York City, NY, USA | Kind Strangers, Transportation

On my way into work my automatic-refill MetroCard simply will not function (“Please swipe again… Please swipe again….”). I miss a train because of this.

So, I try my backup MetroCard. It is 10 cents short of a full fare so I go to refill it. The machine says that it can’t refill my card AND won’t exchange it for a new one like it normally would do, so now I have two defunct cards and really don’t want to spend $1 to get a brand new card to fill up. (The fee is encourage people to use their cards until their expiration date; you get a new one for free if yours is expired.)

Now I’ve missed two trains. Luckily there is an actual human being stationed at the booth on the far end of the station — very rare in recent years — but he tells me that both cards are damaged and that the only way to get my money and a replacement card is to mail them in. So now I’m looking at missing a third train because I have to walk back to the machines AND I have to waste a dollar getting a new card. I know it’s just a dollar, but it’s the principle of the thing!

Then he says, “You’re on your way to work, right? Why don’t you just go through the gate and try to deal with this over your lunch hour?” And he lets me in for free! So now I’m late to work, but not as late as I would have been if I’d missed yet another train. Thank you, understanding MTA worker!!!

That night, I have to stay past nine pm at work and am finally heading home. Of course, I had no time over lunch to get a new card BUT I did find yet another backup MetroCard stashed away. Hooray! When I get to the subway station I see that the area before you get to the platform is packed and reeks of pot — I am very sensitive to smells so this is giving me a headache. A train comes in and a surprisingly huge number of people are trying to get through the turnstiles at once. When I finally get to swipe my card after being buffeted around by people going in all directions (I’m under 5′ tall; most people very much are not!), I find… that this backup one doesn’t work either.

Fighting my way back through the people I have now held up, and missing a train, of course, I go to the MetroCard vending machine and miraculously it works correctly and lets me exchange my apparently expired card for a new one AND to add money to it! I check it at the separate “check your card here” machine juuuust to be sure, just as another train comes in.

All is well so I again get in line to go through the turnstiles and behind me is the source of the pot smell: a somewhat disheveled young man. Now my eyes are stinging from the reek and I am decidedly grumpy. Eventually it’s my turn but I know all is well because the machines both told me it is. Then I see that the reason the lines are so long is that all the turnstiles are giving people trouble more often than not (“Please swipe again… Please swipe again… Go!… Please swipe again at this turnstile… Please swipe again…”).

Of course, mine is not one of the lucky ones. But then pot-guy says, from behind me with a friendly smile, “Here, use mine. I have a swipe!” I don’t want to take his money so I thank him and assure him of what the machines told me, that my new card does in fact work, and slide into another turnstile’s lane and try there… No luck. Pot guy says, “No, really, use mine!” still with a big smile on his face. We’ve already missed the second train but I cannot bear to fight backward through the crowd again so I accept gratefully and it works immediately. His card is the lucky charm!

I hand it back and… he gets “Please swipe again.” I feel terrible and told him so but without a care and with a smile and a wave he says, “No problem, man!” and slips back through the crowd toward the machines to see if he can improve his luck.

Thank you, mysterious pot-guy! You gave me a headache in one way but REALLY eased and even worse headache and let me finally get home.

Found Your French Connection

| Paris | Kind Strangers, Language & Words, Transportation

(It is my first time catching a plane from Paris and as I’m visiting from Australia, I am totally unfamiliar with my surroundings. I can speak a little bit of French to necessitate polite greetings etc. within the country but as I am travelling all over Europe and have many other languages to grapple with, I have not been able to learn the language fluently. I leave really early for my flight to give myself plenty of time to get there. However, as I get to the train station, I realise I’ve left my glasses behind and have to run back. I finally get to the train station again and go to pay for my ticket with my card. The card machine will not work and will only accept cash. I count out my cash and realise I must have dropped some coins whilst running and no longer have enough to pay. I’m at a loss of what to do until…)

Person: “Here, I have a few spare coins.” *hands me some money*

Me: “Really? Thank you so much! Merci beaucoup!”

(I get into the train station and follow the signs to the airport train. Unfortunately through the large amount of people at the station, I get very disoriented and end up on the wrong train, heading in the wrong direction. It is only when the train reaches the next station that I realise my mistake. I’ve only had a couple of hours of sleep the night before and I’m so exhausted from carrying my luggage up and down flights of stairs that I just burst into tears. A French woman comes up to me.)

Woman: *In French* “Can I help you?”

Me: *In broken French and English* “Please help. I need to get to the airport!”

Woman: “Here, let me show you where to go!”

(She ended up taking me to the right platform and even finding some English speaking tourists heading in the same direction! I was so grateful to those people for helping a weary, exhausted traveller find her way to the airport!)

Testing Out A New Platform Of Kindness

| UK | Transportation, Travel

(My boyfriend and I are going on our first holiday together. We have a long and fairly expensive train journey to get to our airport for a seven am flight, meaning we have to leave the night before. We get to our train station, and take our tickets to the information booth to find out which platform we need. The lady there says very clearly that we need to go to [Platform]. We make our way there and wait. There’s no sign of the train, and no announcement saying that it will be late. We grab the attention of a train guard and find out the lady has given us the wrong platform number, and we have missed our train. We try to speak to the information lady who denies everything and tells us and her boss that it is our fault. We find another train that night with Expensive Train Line, which offers to honour our original tickets, but we’ll need to make up the cost of the tickets, about £100. I’m a student, so we’re using his income, and this is a big chunk of our holiday spends. At this point I’m tired and upset, and burst out crying in the middle of the station. The customer service advisor is apologetic, but insists there is nothing more he can do. We shuffle off to get some food, miserable that our first holiday had been ruined by one misinformed, rude member of staff. At this point, we heard the tannoy click, but we aren’t really paying attention.)

Tannoy: “…travelling to [Station], please come to the service desk.”

(We carry on in the queue to get our food, when it goes again.)

Tannoy: “Can the young couple travelling to [Station], please come to the service desk.”

Me: “Do you think they mean us?”

Boyfriend: “I’m not sure; I’ll go check it out.”

(Off he goes, while I wait in line for food. About five minutes pass, and my boyfriend starts walking over with a man I don’t recognise.)

Boyfriend: “[My Name], this is [Train Conductor]. He wants to talk to us.”

Train Conductor: “I’ve just been told by [Service Advisor] what’s happened to you today, and please let me just say I’m so sorry. I’d like to offer you a seat each on my train for free, so if you go back to the service desk, [Advisor] will refund your money.”

Me: “Oh, my God. Thank you so much! This really means a lot.” *starts crying again* “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”

Train Conductor: “Oh, don’t be silly. Come on! Go get yourselves on that train and I’ll come check on you after we set off. Tell you what. Put yourselves in first class!”

(We thank him again and get on the train, and settle down in first class. Sure enough, after 20 minutes or so of leaving, he comes and sits with us. He spends the best part of the four-hour journey sitting with us, chatting about our holiday and telling us about his family. We pull up in our station and just before we get off the train, we hear the tannoy click on.)

Train Conductor: “We have just pulled up at [Station], where this train terminates. Thank you for travelling with [Train Line]. We hope to see you again soon. And to the young couple travelling to [Our Holiday Destination], have a safe trip and a wonderful time!”

(This happened two years ago, and it still makes me smile to think of it. So, Mr. Train Conductor, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to help young couple with not much money make their flight, and for blessing us with great memories.)

Fright Night Becomes Girls’ Night

, | Germany | Awesome, Coworkers, Popular

(I’m moving to Germany to study and it’s been a weird and hectic month, with me looking for an apartment in the city I’m going to. There are no rooms available on campus and every apartment I like online is only available after I visit the place and talk to the rent company personally. I finally manage to find a room in a weird private dorm that doesn’t require any of that. At work I happily share this with my coworkers.)

Me: “…it’s not very big. Actually it’s really small, but it’s already furnished: it has a bed, a table, a chair, a tiny kitchen, a bathroom, and a wardrobe, and even curtains for the window.”

Coworker #1: “This is nice, but isn’t it too expensive?”

Me: “It’s all right. [Amount] per month, but the furniture, electricity, heat, and Internet are included. And even TV, which I won’t be needing. It’s cool. And after some time I can always find something better, if I don’t like that.”

Coworker #2: “Where is it? Do you have to travel to the university a long time?”

Me: “No. It’s nearby. That’s what I also like about this place. Aww, wish me luck!”

Coworker #2: “How are you going to find it, though? Do you have any idea where it is?”

Me: “I’ll have to improvise, won’t I?”

Coworker #3: “Oh, I have an idea!” [Coworker #4, who is from the same city I’m moving to] is visiting me next week. You two should talk! Maybe she could help you out!”

Me: “Okay, I’ll ask her for some pointers…”

(I’m not that optimistic, since I’ve seen the lady a couple of times, but she wasn’t assigned to my project and we just said hi to each other every now and then. Fast forward to next week, when Coworker #3 is off work, but calls me on my cell right after clock-out.)

Coworker #3: “Hi, [My Name], we won’t be able to go out so you could talk to [Coworker #4]. She’s not feeling so well and we have to get her back on her feet so she’ll get home safely on the weekend.”

Me: “Oh.”

Coworker #3: “Wait, she asked to talk to you on the phone!” *hands over the phone*

Coworker #4: “Hello, [My Name]? Are you moving to [City] in about a week?”

Me: “Hi, yes, I am, and I was hoping you could show me around once I get there… Please?”

Coworker #4: “Oh, please, I’ll meet you right at the central station when you come in, and I’ll help you find everything! No problem at all!”

Me: “Wow, this is so nice of you, thank you very much! And you don’t even really know me…”

Coworker #4: “Nah, I’m sure we’ve met. I just can’t place your name with a face right now, but this is all right. We’ll work it all out when you get there!”

Me: “Thank you! And many thanks to [Coworker #3]! Safe flight back home and I guess I’ll see you in about a week!”

(Fast forward again. I catch my very early flight, somehow manage to catch a train from Berlin to the city I’m moving to, and when I somehow get reception, I text Coworker #4 the time of my arrival. Even though she’s at work, she gets out two hours early and meets me in front of the station, where we greet each other, I thank her for meeting me, then she asks me my living situation.)

Me: “This is the thing… I just spoke with the rent office. They can’t give the room today, because all of their agents are fully booked. They asked me to come in at three pm tomorrow.”

Coworker#4: “Ah, these idiots. Why didn’t they give you an appointment when you rented the thing?”

Me: “No idea. I tried to set one a couple of times, but no response. I don’t know what to do now. Do you know any place where I can stay for tonight and tomorrow? But not too expensive…”

Coworker#4: “It’s pretty easy, isn’t it? You’re coming to my place and you can crash on my couch, if you like.”

Me: “But, but…”

Coworker #4: “I don’t bite! Come on, you can relax a bit, tell me where your room is so I can find it on the card, and then we’re going out to find it. Then I’m showing you the city! And later we’re watching a movie! Girls’ night for your first night here!”

Me: *teary-eyed* “You’re literally one of the best people on the planet.”

(We found the building the room was in, she showed me the city, and we ate at a neat tiny noodle place that is now one of my favourite places. The next day I went to fill the huge protocol for the room, then I made a list of things I needed. She fished a bunch of stuff out that she didn’t need — like old tea mugs or dry food jars — then she called her boyfriend to ask him to do the same. Both of them gave me a huge carton full of dishes, cutlery, and a bunch of crap I still use to this day. Then they drove me to a big supermarket so I could get some of the other things I needed plus some food. Finally, they drove me to the apartment building and helped me get all the stuff inside. The next day she brought me a prepaid mobile card. To this day they are one of my best friends here. They are still together and now have an adorable little boy. And a couple of months ago she heard accidentally that I didn’t have enough cups and brought me another box full of kitchen stuff. I’ll never be able to pay her back, not just for the things, but for all the help and for her warm heart.)

Train Of Thoughtfulness

| Barcelona, Spain | Kind Strangers, Popular, Transportation

(My best friend and I are from Germany. In April 2010 we visit Barcelona. Since we don’t really speak Spanish, we only find out on the day we are supposed to fly home that a volcano in Iceland has erupted and blocked all air traffic in Europe. In an attempt to find an alternative way home, we’ve come to the main railway station, only to find that the railway employees in France are on strike, so no trains from Spain will go anywhere.)

Friend: “I’ll go check with the car rental services over there. Can you stay here and watch the suitcases?”

(While he walks off, I notice a group of young people next to where I’m sitting, who are talking to each other in Schwiizerdütsch, a dialect spoken in Switzerland. A slightly older woman comes to them, says something I don’t understand, and they all start cheering and looking relieved. Knowing that most Swiss people understand German, I try my luck:)

Me: *in German* “Hi! You’re from Switzerland, aren’t you? Have you found a way to get home?”

Girl: “Yes, we’re on a student exchange. Our teacher has called a coach company in Bern, and they’re sending a coach to take us home.”

Me: “If you have some seats available, do you think it would be possible for my friend and me to come with you?”

Girl: “I don’t know. But you can ask our teacher…”

(She introduced me to her teacher, who not only said it was okay, but who called the coach company again and asked them to send the biggest coach they had. Soon after she had her students walk through the crowded waiting area and announce that they were going to Switzerland and had seats available for other travellers. On top of that she even organized a coach transfer from Bern to three cities in southern Germany, from where we were able to catch trains home. I tried to contact her through her school afterwards and sent her a thank you note, but I never got a reply. If you read this, awesome Swiss teacher: You are still my hero!)

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