"I met a young woman who was crying her eyes out in the back of a train station's CVS while I was there picking up stamps before heading onto the train to catch my flight. She had a very young (under 2) child with her and the kid was getting progressively more panicky that his mom was losing it in public. She was underdressed for the snowstorm outside, though the kid was bundled up properly in oversized clothes that looked like they might have been the mother's.
They both only spoke Spanish, but I was able to go up and ask what was going on. The young mom wailed, but the little boy was very interested in my big rolling suitcase. I offered, in Spanish, to watch him for a few minutes while she got things sorted out and cleaned herself up in the bathroom, then took him on a walk through the food aisles and let him pick out some snacks, which I bought for him.
About fifteen minutes later, she came out of the bathroom looking like a different person. She cried again when I offered her the bag of groceries and a twenty, which was all the cash I had on me, and she tried not to accept it until I insisted. She thanked me profusely, the little kid hugged me, and they left into the Boston winter.
I can't imagine how bad things must have been to trust a stranger with her kid, but it was one of those moments where I realized I had the opportunity to make an actual difference in the way this kid lived for at least the next week or so. He was well mannered and--as someone who's volunteered in at-risk grade school classrooms--didn't give off the impression that trusted adults had ever harmed him. He was just hungry and scared about whatever was going on with his mom. I have no idea where they are and I hope they're both okay.
I want to end with a quote from 'The Year In Ugliness' by Arabelle Sacardi, which sums up a lot of my thoughts about stories similar to mine:
'It is easy to walk quickly past something that makes you uncomfortable. It is easy to freeze and stay frozen until your chance is gone. It is easy to save yourself first. It is easy to turn and keep walking. It's instinctual. That does not mean it is forgivable. Fixing everything in the world is impossible. But it is also impossible to know how much a little thing can count for. Not knowing and not daring to find out--that is ugliness, too.'"
"I was about 10 years old and had a pair of Heelys. To me, they were the coolest thing on the earth. I would roll all over on those things and thought I was hot stuff. My family was in China, spending a few weeks in Beijing.
I was rolling around in Tiananmen Square, hit a crack, and lost one of the wheels. I looked around for about an hour but to no avail. I was probably visibly bummed, as my Heelys, the things that made me hot stuff, were now ineffective and basically ruined.
The next morning, I was walking through the square on the way to meet my friends, and an older gentleman ran up to me and stopped me--he had found my wheel. He said that he had seen me rolling around and saw me looking for the wheel after I fell. He saw that I gave up and stuck around for another hour to keep looking after I left.
He came there the next morning with no expectation that I'd pass through but he wanted to be there, just in case. I'm not sure who was happier, me that I got my wheel back, or him because he didn't think he'd see me in literally the world's busiest square. I said thank you and...that was about it. We both had places to be and that was that."
"I was in Paris getting on the Eurostar back to London. I took my seat and proceeded to put my bag in the overhead compartment, as well as my suit jacket. I always constantly check for my passport and tickets while traveling, so I went to make sure I had them. Nothing in my pockets, so I must have left them in my jacket. I got up to look but they were not in there either, and I really started to panic.
Just as I was pulling my bag down to check in there, I heard lots of giggling from many passengers behind me and turned around to see one old gentleman waving my passport and ticket at me.
I was so relieved to have found them and started to thank him, but he stopped me and admitted that as soon as I got up when I first took my seat, he spotted the ticket and passport on the seat and thought it would be entertaining to hide them.
He made quite a show of it for the other nearby passengers, and everyone was just sitting there waiting for me to notice, which is why they were all giggling. It really broke the ice, and everybody around us started chatting and getting to know each other afterward, which made for a very wholesome train journey. When we arrived, about six different people asked me if I had my passport while laughing. It was a funny journey."
"I was day tripping to Vancouver from Seattle and stopped in for lunch at a little cafe. From my window, I saw a young teenage girl out in the cold, squatted down in a closed up businesses doorway, holding a small bundle in her arms. She was panhandling, but people were mostly walking by ignoring her. She looked broken.
I finished up my meal and went outside, went through my wallet, and thought I'd give her $5 for some food. I went up to her and she was sobbing; she looked like she was 14-15. That bundle in her arms was a baby wrapped up. I felt like I just got punched in the chest. She looked up, putting on a game face and asked for any change, I asked her if she'd like some lunch. Right next door was a small Quik Trip type grocery store, so I got a can of formula for the baby (very young, maybe 2-3 months old), and took her back to the cafe even though I'd just eaten. She was very thankful, got a burger, and just inhaled it. Then I got her some pie and ice cream, she opened up, and we talked. She was 15, got pregnant, her parents were angry, and she was fighting with them. She ran away and had been gone almost 1 full year.
I asked her if she'd like to go home and she went silent. I coaxed her and she said her parents wouldn't want her back. I coaxed further, and she admitted she stole $5k in cash from her dad. It turns out $5k doesn't last long at all and the streets are tough on a 15-year-old. Very tough. She did want to go back, but she was afraid no one wanted her back after what she did.
We talked more, and I wanted her to use my phone to call home but she wouldn't. I told her I'd call and see if her folks wanted to talk to her; she hesitated and gave bad excuses, but eventually agreed. She dialed the number and I took the phone. Her mom picked up and I said hello, awkwardly introduced myself, and told her that her daughter would like to speak to her. There was silence, and then I heard crying. Then I gave the phone to the girl and she was just quiet, listening to her mom cry, and then said hello. Then she cried. They talked, she gave the phone back to me, and I talked to her mom some more.
I drove her down to the bus station and bought her a bus ticket home. Gave her $100 cash for incidentals, as well as some formula, diapers, wipes, and snacks for the road. We got to the bus, and she just cried saying thank you over and over. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and a hug, kissed her baby, and she got on the bus.
I get a Christmas card every year from her. She's 21 now and in college. Her name is Makayla and her baby was Joe. It just feels good knowing I did something good in this world. Maybe it'll make up for the things I've messed up."
"I was in New York City for the weekend visiting a friend. The visit kind of sucked because my friend was incredibly selfish and didn't take me anywhere interesting in the city (I wish I had just explored by myself). On the day I was leaving, I stopped in a bubble tea shop by the bus stop in Chinatown and an Asian woman noticed the film camera slung over my shoulder.
She asked me about it and we struck up a conversation. She told me that she used to be into photography, but is now a documentary filmmaker. I thought, 'Oh, that's really cool,' so we started chatting about that.
She invited me to take a walk with her since I still had an hour until my bus left. During our walk, she basically told me her life story, which was rather tragic, but she was an incredibly kind and interesting woman. I don't think I ever connected with someone so quickly. I never had a chance to see her again, but I got her business card and I watched her documentary.
The woman's name was Doan Hoang and her documentary is called 'Oh, Saigon.' It tells the story of how her family got separated from her sister on the last flight out of Vietnam during the war, and how they were reunited."
"In May of 2017, I decided to travel to Norway. I had a layover in Iceland, which then flew to Bergen. During my layover in Iceland, I had about two hours to kill, so I sat by myself and read my book, occasionally popping up to people watch.
I noticed one well-dressed gentleman sitting about 20 feet away browsing on his phone. I'm unsure how to explain it, but I remember thinking, 'He seems like a really interesting guy to talk to.' I was far too shy to approach a stranger, though.
As we boarded the flight, I took my seat. Then the same gentlemen I noticed earlier happened to sit right next to me. We struck up a conversation quickly, as it was my first time ever traveling out of the country. It turned out he was from Norway and worked as a tour guide for elderly Norwegian seniors who wanted to see the world. He traveled to many countries and we had a conversation based around that. He gave me great suggestions and tips on how to handle myself and what to do in Norway. I really enjoyed the conversation.
As we were landing, I told him my planned itinerary for the month. He suggested I make time to visit Trondheim, which was his hometown that he was going back to. I kept it in the back of my mind the whole first week.
After my first week in Stavanger, I headed off to Oslo. After the first couple of days, and exhausting the majority of all the touristy events, I decided to change my plans. Based of off his recommendation, I decided to head to Trondheim.
I took a 10-hour train ride from Oslo and made it there. I had never been so happy about an impulsive decision. Trondheim ended up being my favorite part of my whole trip and I credit it all to the stranger from the flight. His name was Frode. I hope one day to run into him again and tell him about my experience. It was the 35 day trip of a lifetime, and I will never forget it. I wish I was able to give him my thanks for his suggestions, kindness, and generosity."
"When I was studying abroad in Lithuania, I volunteered at a soup kitchen and every now and again, there would be an older lady helping out who dropped off supplies. We would smile at each other and say hello, even through the language barrier.
One night I went to Easter mass in the town I was volunteering in, and it was warmer during the day so I didn't think about bringing a heavier jacket once it got dark (not to mention the church was this old massive building). So I was sitting through mass and I was getting colder. I started shivering pretty noticeably when all of a sudden, I felt someone drape a scarf over my shoulders.
I turned around and it was the lady who would drop off supplies at the soup kitchen! Once mass was over, I tried to return the scarf, but she refused to take it back. I did my best to extend my gratitude through the language barrier, but I'm sure she knew.
It was the most beautiful and kindest thing that has ever happened to me. That was the last time I saw her and I will never forget her kindness towards me. It still tears me up thinking about it."
"I was on an eastbound train from Colorado, two days before Christmas. There was some kind of incident in another car around 11pm that night (a dude got wasted and started threatening other passengers) so we had to make a stop so that the local police could come and collect him.
After the delay, the conductor came over the speakers and announced that if anyone was feeling upset or shaken by the incident, one of the passengers had offered to play his guitar in the snack car, and anyone who was awake was welcome to come down and join in for a singalong. I'm always down for weird train activities, so I decided to grab my harmonica from my bag and head down.
There were about fifteen of us in the car, ranging in age from 16 to mid-70s, and from all over the country. We sang every song we could think of that even kind of referenced a train. We were somewhere in rural Nebraska at that point and nobody had cell service to look up lyrics, so at times I was pretty sure that we were making up more of the words than we actually remembered. The conductor came through after a while and offered to play a few songs, so the guy with the guitar handed it off and pulled out a mandolin. My harmonica was passed around the group while one guy drummed along on his backpack.
After a while, the conductor got up and left, then came back with a copy of 'The Polar Express.' He read it out loud to our absolutely captivated group of mostly adult travelers while the snow flew all around us in the night, and I swear that for a few minutes our trip felt every bit as magical as the visit to Santa Claus in the story.
Sometime well after the snack car was supposed to have been vacated for the night, we capped things off with the most ridiculously earnest rendition of 'Don't Stop Believing' that has ever been performed and went our separate ways. I never saw anyone from our little makeshift band again, but I'll always remember that weird, wonderful, late-night celebration of Journey and the magic of winter travel that came about because some guy was a jerk on a train."
"A few years back, my wife and I visited Italica, a city of Roman ruins a few miles from Seville. The ruins are glorious and we had them to ourselves. So when as we emerged from the gladiator gate in the amphitheater, I stalked out into the sunlight, threw out my arms, and roared, 'ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!' It rang off the old seats in a satisfying manner.
Turns out we weren't alone. I spun to find a Japanese tourist staring at me in wonder, who then grinned nervously, snapped a picture, and gave me a thumbs up.
My wife: 'You're an idiot.'"
"I was on a long late night bus ride. It was express, so it made very few stops and had maybe 10 people on it in total. Half way through the trip, it made a stop at a small town station so people could grab a snack or use a public restroom and stretch their legs.
I went up to the counter to buy what at that point was my dinner, even though it was after 10 pm. When the cashier rang it up, I passed a $50 bill to her, and she told me that she couldn't make change. Defeated, I went back to my seat on the bus empty-handed.
As everyone piled on and the bus drove away, a lovely middle-aged lady walked up from her seat near the back and politely asked if I minded if she sat with me. I told her she was more than welcome. She sat and proceeded to unpack a small lunch bag.
She then split the entirety of her meal with me. She said she had been waiting for the washroom to clear out and had overheard what happened. She said, 'I've gone hungry in my life and it sucks. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, so you can share with me.'
When we were done, I jokingly asked if she could break a $50 and we had a good laugh. She stuck with me for the remainder of the trip and was a very interesting lady, aside from being incredibly generous. I hope she is well."
"I was stationed in Legazpi, Philippines. Avengers had just come out (summer 2012), and I went to go watch it at the local theater in town. The ship just left the city, and I was relieved of duty; it was vacation time for me after months at sea sailing from Perth to Legazpi via the treacherous Makassar Straits.
After the movie let out, it was dark, so I wandered around town and got lost. I was trying to find a way back to the hotel, but Legazpi was a bit difficult to navigate by foot. This guy in a motorcycle sidecar taxi zoomed up to me and asked if I was lost. I said I was ok, and that I didn't need a taxi. But he insisted I enter his vehicle, saying that he'd take me to the town festival that was going on for free.
I obliged and he sped off with me inside. He said, 'My friend, you were about to get mugged by those dozen squatters.' He may have been fishing for a fare, or maybe he wasn't. To me though, his face and demeanor genuinely came off as a hardworking, super nice guy. If he didn't, then I applaud him for being an amazing actor, and he's in the wrong line of work.
We chilled at the festival and got to know each other over a couple of brews (on me). Afterward, he took me down this super dark path, and I got a bit apprehensive. He kept saying, 'Don't worry, I'm taking you to my house for dinner!'
And yes, he took me to his tiny freakin' shack of a house near the ocean for dinner. His wife was cooking, and he had two tiny kids running around happy their daddy was back home. We ate a great meal, and he dropped me off back at the hotel. No charge. 'What the heck? Take my $20!'
'Ok fine, how about $40, and you show me the Mayon Volcano and all the cool stuff around here tomorrow?' He accepted.
The next morning rolled around and he showed up at my hotel. We took off and he showed me these Dutch church ruins that got decimated by a volcanic eruption in the 1600s, hiked all around some awesome caves, and strolled around the black sand beaches. We had a heck of a time. I gave him $60 USD (hid $20 behind another $20, as the bills were crisp enough that you could make it seem like one bill). He realized as I was walking away and I laughed at him and waved back; he had no choice but to keep it. I wished him and his family well. He was a good person.
We kept in touch via email, except he didn't have his own computer, nor did he have his own email address (he wasn't tech savvy). He'd use his friends' email addresses to email me about his kids and stuff over the next few weeks. In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda DEVASTATED the Philippines. I emailed all his friends in vain. I've never heard from him again."
"I was in New Orleans for a business conference and I went to the French Quarter with a few friends. The guy in front of me was not-so-discreetly smoking a blunt and it kept blowing in my face. I was kind of tipsy and wanted to see if he'd let me hit it, so I tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Hey man, what ya got there?'
The guy clammed up and we kind of moved off to the side where the foot traffic wasn't as heavy, and he started blabbering, getting nervous, and calling me officer. He thought I was a police officer because of how I was dressed, and he said I had a cop haircut. I told him I just wanted to see if I could hit his blunt and offered him a pocket shot as a trade, and we had a good laugh.
It turned out his friends had just gotten married and were at the hotel I was staying at, so I went back with him and a few of my coworkers and they let us drink for free with them. We even got in a few wedding photos!"
"A few years ago, I sat next to this younger girl, she was maybe 18, on a 5-hour flight. I'm a big dude, so I already feel uncomfortable on flights, and I tried to stay in my personal space, kept my knees closed, etc. I guess she could tell I was uncomfortable because she immediately kinda laughed and said, 'Our knees can touch, it's ok, I won't bite you.'
For the next 5 hours, we sat there and talked, shared music, magazines, and even split some food. It was like we had known each other for years. No weird tension, no awkward moments, we just genuinely got to have a good time with a complete stranger in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. When we got off the plane, we high fived and went our separate ways. It put me in a great mood for the rest of the day, and kind of restored my faith in humanity."