Last week we talked about having unpleasant experiences with strangers, so this week we’re going good. Have you ever been helped or assisted by a stranger when you needed it most? Ever been injured and a sweet Samaritan swooped in? Ever been totally lost and has a stranger go out of their way to help you find your way?
Miranda Meyer: Oh, man, so many times. I have an amazing ability to lose important things, very much including my phone and wallet. The number of Samaritans who have gone out of their way to get those things back to me is truly amazing and gives me hope for humankind.
My favorite instance, though, is from a travel snafu. I was supposed to fly from Beirut to Istanbul with a layover in Cairo. A cab driver I’d made friends with the day before had promised to come pick me up to drive me to the airport. He didn’t, of course, so I was late and missed my flight. It was early in the morning so a lot of staff weren’t around yet, so there I was, wandering around the Beirut airport, looking for someone, anyone, who could help me out.
Eventually I just walked straight into the behind-the-scenes offices where travelers/customers are…not really supposed to go, looking for the office of the airline I was flying. I found it, and in it I found a solitary older man. He was naturally taken aback to see me, but when I explained the situation he said he’d help me out as soon as he could (I can’t remember why now, as it was years ago, but he couldn’t do anything about it until more stuff in the airport got up and running.) He let me sit there with him, got me a coffee, and chatted. He told me about his daughter. When it was time for him to go sit on the customer service desk he took me with him and let me sit there with him (people kept coming up to ask me for help and I had to keep explaining I didn’t work there, OOPS), continued to feed me, and eventually he got me on a flight out to Cairo.
When I got to Cairo it wasn’t clear whether I was gonna be able to make it to Istanbul that same day (because of course I’d missed my connection), and for really silly bureaucratic reasons I had to leave the customs area and come back in, meaning I had to buy a visa since I’d technically be entering Egypt. In the Cairo airport you buy your visa at a banking/money exchange window, and I explained my situation to the guy working there. He gave me his number and told me if I ended up having to spend a night in Cairo he could help me out, show me around and help me find a place to stay. (I know this could have been a very sinister offer, but I have a lot of experience with those and I feel 90% sure he was legitimately just a nice guy.) Ultimately, I didn’t end up having to do that, but he was totally prepared to take me under his wing, just like the man in Beirut did.
Lucy Hallowell: I have probably told this story a hundred times before but let’s make it one hundred and one. Before my wife started medical school my then fiancee (now wife) decided that we were going to have an adventure. I had just finished law school and she was about to start four years of med school followed by a million years of residency and fellowship. This was our moment to travel. We seized it by flying to London. We landed on July 6, 2005. The next morning we slept in. When we woke up it was late morning. As we passed storefronts my wife said, “Something has happened.” There were television screens everywhere and we finally worked out that there had been a major terrorist attack on the public transportation.
We had to call home and we had to call fast. It took us forever to track down a phone card and a place to use it to call our freaked out parents who assumed we had been up exploring the city early and were probably dead. On our way back to the hotel it started to pour. We were soaked, very shaken, and looking like a couple of wet cats I’m sure when a gold Mercedes pulled up next to us. A woman wearing clothes that probably cost more than our entire month-long trip through Europe asked if we were okay and if we needed a ride. Seeing a friendly face when we were out of our minds with fear was something I will never forget. We didn’t catch a ride with her but almost 10 years later I think of her sometimes and smile. The world was very dark then but the people couldn’t have been nicer.