Doing The Right Thing Isn’t Taxi-ng, Part 2

| Rome, Italy | Kind Strangers, Transportation, Travel

(My friend and I — both poor college students — are visiting another friend at her summer job on a youth camping site near a small village, about one hour from Rome. The plan is to spend her two days off together at the camp, and the rest of the time she will go back to work and we will take day-trips to Rome while staying at the camp for free. For this we have to take a shuttle bus to a small train station outside of the village, and a train from there to Rome. On our second day, we miss our planned train back to the village, and arrive two hours late. It is now 11:30 pm and the camp shuttle bus has stopped. Since the village is so small, there are no taxis at the train station, just a bus once an hour that goes to the village. We decide to wait for said bus and try to find a taxi in town to take us to the camp. That’d probably make our trip two hours longer and far more expensive than planned, but it seems the only way. While we are sitting on the pathway in the dark, somewhat abandoned station, another passenger from our train tries to chat with us. He’s an elderly Italian man, and we both speak only the standard tourist sentences in Italian. The whole conversation is a weird mix of Italian, English, German and gestures.)

Old Man: “You go to [Village]? Not seen you in Hotel yet.”

Friend: “Oh, no, we need to go to [Camp]. No shuttle bus, so we need a taxi from village.”

Old Man: “Camp? You are kids from [Holiday Group my friend works for]? You look old. Run away?” *laughs*

Me: *also laughing* “No, visiting a worker at camp. We’re university students.”

Old Man: “Students can afford taxis? Italian students can’t!”

Me: “It’s the only way. No shuttle bus today, and we need to go home.”

(After this short chat, the man takes out his cell-phone and has a conversation with someone in rapid Italian, before turning back to us.)

Old Man: “Okay, my friend come and drive you.”

Friend: “What?”

Old Man: “My friend, has taxi. Not working this evening but is taxi. So he can come and take you to camp.”

Me: “Really? Did you wake him up?”

Old Man: *laughing* “No, he only watch TV. I say to him, the kids need help; get your a** over here!”

(He said that in perfect American movie English. Not 10 minutes later, his friend arrived with his taxi. They discussed something again in Italian, and the old man told us the fare will be 15€. The driver took us to the camp, a 30 minute drive, and — in the same English+Italian — says he’ll go back and pick up the old man to go home afterwards. We were so surprised about the old man’s help that we felt like we didn’t thank him enough, so we gave the driver a large bag of sweets we had bought in Rome to share on their way home. Our friend at the camp later told us that since the camp is off the beaten path and it was so late, a regular taxi ride would’ve cost us at least 30-40€. I can only say thank you to the old Italian man who barely understood us nor we him, but realised there were two kids in trouble and helped us so tremendously.)

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Doing The Right Thing Isn’t Taxi-ng

Kind Strangers Kindness

Station Yourself In A Safe Place

| Portugal | Bad Behavior, Kind Strangers, Transportation

I’m a 20-year-old woman. I am going to a music festival far away from my home. I go alone and schedule to meet with two friends of mine at the train station, since none of us has ever been there before. They have missed a train, so we all end up waiting five hours.

During those five hours in the train station (it is winter and quite cold), I have books so I have no problem entertaining myself. An elderly man, in his 60s, sits down next to me and starts chatting. He asks me where I am from, what I am doing there, the basics. I am usually friendly, although I always keep my guard up, so I reply to him very shortly that I am there for a festival and waiting for my friends.

Then he starts to be really annoying and creepy, constantly telling me “Oh, maybe they are leaving you here alone.” “You can stay at my place, don’t worry.” “Want to go with me now?” “Don’t worry, I have condoms with me.”

I became very uncomfortable, but do not want to leave the train station as I have no idea where to go and he could easily follow and trap me, so being in a crowded place made me feel safer. I spend lots of time in the bathroom in order to avoid him. At one point, I see a police officer there, so I think about going to talk to him to help me, but the old guy is faster and goes to talk him and I realize that they are friends.

I am really scared, and telling my friends on the phone what is happening.

Suddenly, I see another guy around my age standing up, maybe 20 meters from me, and looking at me. I get up, go to him and ask if he minds me being near him. He smiles and says “Yeah, I noticed what happened. Don’t worry; you can stay here with me until your friends arrive.” And so he did, and the old guy left me alone.

Thank you, random dude that saved me in those terrible hours.

The Land Of The Rising Stress

, | Japan | Kind Strangers, Transportation, Travel

In university I get the opportunity to spend a semester teaching English in rural Japan. A Japanese woman who did her master’s studies at my university had opened her own English school, and every year she took on a student from my program as her way of paying it forward.

I am excited to go, but it means flying from Chicago to Tokyo Narita, the international airport, catching a train to Tokyo Haneda, the domestic airport, flying to another airport in the south of Japan, then catching another train to the small town, all on my own. My supervisor won’t be meeting me until I make it all the way to my final destination. Since I’ll be in Japan for four and a half months, my suitcase is huge and I can’t lift it on my own.

My first flight goes well; I even manage to sleep a little. I speak Japanese moderately well, since that’s what I am studying in uni, but reading is much harder, especially when tired. Luckily most of the signs in Tokyo also have English translations, and I am able to catch the connecting train to Haneda, where I have about four hours before my next flight. I get checked in and find my gate, but I am so tired I can’t help curling up to nap and hope that no one messes with my bags, which I pull as close to me as I can.

Several people do wake me, but only to make sure I am not missing my flight! Every time a new boarding is called at that gate or the one next to it, someone comes to wake me and politely ask if this is my flight. It is a different person every time, and I am so touched that all of them are concerned about the young foreigner obviously traveling on her own.

I make my second flight to southern Japan, where everything is much more rural and English much more rare. By the time I land and am trying to find my train, I have been awake for about twenty hours, there is a thirteen hour time difference, and I am completely exhausted and losing my grasp on Japanese. I finally figure out where I need to go, but the platform is up a double flight of stairs and I can’t find an elevator anywhere.

Seeing no other choice, I start hauling my bags up the stairs, one step at a time. I have not only my huge suitcase, but also a backpack and a shoulder bag with my laptop. I make it up to the first landing and then trip, falling over my suitcase and only barely keeping my laptop from hitting the concrete. I am so tired and stressed that I just sit down on the step and start crying.

Out of nowhere, an older Japanese man in a full suit and tie stops and bends over me, asking if I am all right. I manage to get across that I need to get up the stairs, but I can’t do it by myself. Without further word, he leans over and lifts my giant suitcase, despite me protesting that it is very heavy. He carries it up the rest of the stairs for me while I follow, pouring out thanks. I manage to pull 1000Yen out of my wallet and try to give it to him, but he refuses, makes sure I have ahold of my suitcase again, and disappears into the crowd.

It seems like no big deal, but I was so tired at the end of a very long trip, and I’ll never forget the kindness that was paid to me. I had so many amazing interactions with people during my months in Japan, but that kind soul right at the start of my trip will always be the clearest in my mind. Arigatou gozaimasu, kind stranger!

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!)

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