Sunday, November 10, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

In 2004, I was driving my daughter to the doctor for what we suspected was strep throat.   A block from the doctor’s office, the car lurched and died.  I re-started it and it was a mess.  It limped its way the final block into the parking lot.  Fortunately, there was a mechanic close by and I got the car there, but barely.  The mechanic went out to look at it and said “You’ve got transmission fluid all over the place.  I think you dropped the tranny.”  Great.  I knew that was pretty much a death sentence for a minivan that had seen over 100,000 miles.  The car was to be towed to the local dealer where I’d be purchasing the new minivan: with 3 small children at the time and living in the suburbs a minivan is pretty much a residency requirement.  That and a sturdy pair of mom jeans and I was good to go.

The one thing I neglected to do was take my EZ-PASS transponder out of the car.  When I went to retrieve it a few days later, it was gone.  When I inquired at dealership if they had retrieved it , they said they didn’t have it.  It was then I realized I’d been victimized by a moronic thief of such low ambition that he/she thought ripping me off a quarter at a time was the heist of the century.  Even funnier was that all I had to do was call EZ-PASS and report the transponder stolen.   It was a pain for me: I had to file a police report in order to not be charged for a new transponder.  I figured this person was the same type that steals someone’s lunch out of the fridge at work, and it’s sad to know there is a bumper crop of these folks roaming the planet.  And that many of them will end up serving in Congress.  Sigh.

Many years back, I worked for a bank.  And I’d often come in the office in the morning bemoaning the state of humanity.  Then some event would happen that would shift the balance – for example, I’d pick up my dry cleaning and there would be a little ‘you forgot this’ baggie with it and the cleaner would have put the $5 I’d forgotten was in my pocket.  I’d skip into the office light of heart the next day, my faith in humanity restored.  My friend BJ – who is a world-class curmudgeon – would roll his eyes at me and remind me of the previous instances where people behaved like they were raised by wolves, but it wouldn’t matter: this small instance of kindness would tow me along in my happy little rowboat adrift in a sea of really bad manners.

As I’ve gotten older, I've come to be sadly resigned that there are always going to be people whose raison d’etre is to be a deer tick on their fellow man.  We’ve all seen the remnants of ‘mailbox baseball’ (do those slack-jawed navel-gazing kids know each it costs about $100 to replace one of those suckers?), been tailgated by some driver bordering on road rage, and read news of a widow being mugged at the grave of her deceased husband.  Humanity can often need a collective ‘Time Out’.  

The little acts of kindness are gentle miracles in the middle of the chaos, and I was lucky recently to be the recipient of not one act, but three, all in the space of 24 hours.  I was driving many hundreds of miles for work, and in a single day, drove from Richmond to Raleigh, and then from Raleigh to Washington DC.  I was meeting a friend for dinner that evening and the restaurant was located on a street and the spaces were designed that you had to BACK INTO THEM.  I’m parking-challenged on a good day, but on an evening where I’ve logged over 300 miles by car, am on a busy street, and will be required to bring all traffic to a stop and back into the space quickly I’m pretty sure my blood pressure went to DEFCON 1.  I somehow managed to pull it off without anyone honking their horn at me to speed it up or flip me the bird.  That alone deemed the parking job an overwhelming success.  The next step was paying for the meter.  This street had a central machine where you could pay with a card or by coin.  Since I had no change, I opted for the card.  But the machine was jammed and wouldn’t accept my card.  There was a couple who’d just finished parking a large pick-up truck (I marveled at his effortless parking skill) and they asked if I needed help.  I explained my predicament and they said “Oh we’ll help you out!”  The young man retrieved a dark purple cloth bag from his truck and pulled out a handful of quarters.  As he was pumping them into the machine for my parking fare, he said “I have a part time job in the summer and they pay me in quarters…”  I thanked him for his generosity and replied “I have a full-time job and they pay me in quarters too.”  We went our separate ways – they excited and happy to attend the Thursday Night football game, me to have a nice meal with a friend.  I phoned my friend Ros who lives near the restaurant and told her I was nearly there and I’d wait for her at the bar. 

I entered the restaurant and the long par was full of patrons eating.  I’d hoped to order a glass of wine but didn’t want to wedge in between dining patrons at the bar.  So I went to the end of the bar where a waitress stood and asked a waitress if I could order a drink from her, because I didn’t want to disrupt those enjoying their dinner at the bar.  A very large man with a genuine smile pushed back from the bar and said, “Come on in here, you’re fine.”  He was seating next to a woman who also assured me that I was fine, to join them for a couple of minutes.  I thanked them and told them about all the driving I’d done and traffic back-ups on the 95, my stress at having to park and the issues with the parking meter.  “All I want is a nice glass of wine…” I said, and the man said “Your first one is on me.”  In the span of 15 minutes, I’d had not one, but two acts of kindness.  I’d hit the ‘Random Acts’ lottery: I was on a roll.  

The next morning I drove to Baltimore for work.  Again, parking was to do me in.  I’d recently switched briefcases: in my old one lay a partially used roll of quarters that I’d carry for parking meters.  I’d neglected to put it in my bag and I found myself at an old-style meter with no quarters.  I parked and went into my prospects office and with a dollar bill in my hand asked if someone could make change for the meter.  The receptionist smiled brightly, reached into a drawer and pulled out some coins.  She refused to take my money in exchange.

There is this saying “Bad things come in threes.”  As I made the long drive home that night I marveled that sometimes really decent people can turn clichés on their end with a small kindness.  That week, I hit the trifecta, and my faith in humanity was again restored.  At least until Mailbox Baseball season resumes.

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