Traveling With Blanche Dubois
The Paris metro map looks like it was drawn by a second grader. It doesn’t help that I was out in Amsterdam until 3:00 am the night before and that my contacts are glued to my eyeballs with cigarette smoke and regret. I aimlessly trace the various train routes with my finger for the third time, having not located an information kiosk or a friendly face to ask if I can nap on their couch for a few hours. Perhaps I can just live in this train station forever.
Suddenly, a short Parisian man materializes at my side and asks me where I’m going. He has sensed my despair from across the platform. He’s waiting for his wife he tells me, pointing energetically to his wedding ring so I don’t think he’s hitting on me. I tell him and he scans the map, mapping the way to my sister’s apartment in less than a minute. He asks me if I’ve bought a metro ticket. I have! I wave the wrong ticket triumphantly and his face falls. No good deed goes unpunished.
He points me in the direction of the ticket dispensers and I thank him repeatedly before stumbling off. I make it about ten feet when he’s at my side again having rightly assumed that I plan to curl up in a dirty corner and fall asleep. He steers me to the ticket machine, asks how long I will be in Paris and, before I can object, swipes his credit card. I’m stunned. He pulls me along as I stammer out protests and try to hand him crumpled euros. He walks me to the stairs leading up to my platform, reminding me to switch trains at the Charles de Gaulle metro stop. I’m literally bowing in gratitude and shake his hand. Paris is a big city he says before quickly walking away to meet his wife.
As Blanche Dubois and my mom are fond of saying, “Whoever you are, I always depend on the kindness of strangers.” This was true for my mother when her impulsive solo trek up a mountain in Ethiopia left her lost and thirsty with night rapidly descending. The shepherd who found her, escorted her to his one room hut and insisted she take the only flea-ridden bed for the night while his entire family slept on the floor. She credits him with saving her life.
While I don’t have a story nearly that dramatic, my own journey is brimming with acts of kindness big and small. I dedicate this post to the Parisian man who got me where I needed to go; the tuk tuk driver in Siam Reap who took us to his village and served the best chicken soup we’ve ever eaten; the lovely girl in Athens who helped us get to Sounion; the hostel owner in Hanoi who arranged for us to have a few precious nights of privacy in a dorm room; to the lively Polish group who shared their meal with us in Jerusalem; and to the countless travelers and locals we’ve met along the way who have shared tips, advice, stories, brews and allowed us to tag along. Please know that we’re paying it forward whenever we can though it never feels like quite enough.
The Takeaway: Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise. – George Whitman.