Sometimes people surprise me. I think this happens quite often – to all of us – but is rarely commented upon.
I just spent about two weeks on the east coast, where people are more known for being surly and unfriendly. Well, at least that’s how us west-coasters view them, let alone the myriad TV shows, movies and commentary supporting those prejudices. And yet I found that the hipster culture back in Portland is more arrogant, rude and holier-than-thou than most people I encountered while on my trip.
A few examples come to mind, both from this recent trip and my last visit here three years ago. Back then I was visiting from Peru and had no US telephone with me, as I had left it in storage in Portland. I diligently made a list of all my friends’ phone numbers and carried it with me in my wallet, using payphones when necessary, home phones (if they were around) and planning everything well in advance. Well, sometimes there are snafus, such as subway trains breaking down and making you run excessively late when you are to meet someone. I remember looking around to whoever was not occupied at the moment and asked to borrow their phone to alert my friend of my impending tardiness. Not only did that person happily comply – in the middle of New York City! – but when we got off the train they actually offered me the use of their phone again so I might check in if necessary!
The other day when I left DC to head to New York, it decided to start raining. And not a light drizzle that makes you feel refreshed, nor an angry summer storm that passes in just moments. No, this was fall rain. And it was falling. And I had a bus to catch. I lined the top and front of my bags with stolen grocery bags (thanks, Sean!) and set off for the oh-so-distant bus stop that lay just a block away. In this short drudge, I got soaked. But not so soaked that it was hopeless to seek cover once I arrived, but just wet enough to think to myself how uncomfortable the soggy, muggy bus ride to NYC was going to be. This, of course, is not an important bus stop and therefore provided no shelter (thank you, Portland, for having covered stops!) so, not wanting to bother anyone or get kindly asked to leave someone’s front porch by way of a shotgun in my back, I tried to make myself as small as possible and cowered under a tree. While I was there, longingly looking back at the three porches behind me, all of which would provide shelter, a woman in a white van slowed down and rolled down the passenger window to ask where I was heading. I told her I was going to Union Station and she asked if it was the same direction as DC General, to which I replied that I had no idea. Either way, she offered me a ride. I politely declined, too stubborn about my planned bus route, but it warmed my heart.
My last day in NYC started out grandly, I must say. After a fairly long subway/bus ride out to La Guardia from the outpost of Inwood (with helpful people on the bus, of course) I arrived to check in. The automated kiosk wasn’t working for me, so I waited in line. The wonderful woman at the desk, though helping another person get her things in order, took my ID and got me through in the most friendly, efficient manner I’ve experienced at an airport. And I’ve been to a lot of airports. She asked why I changed my flight, though not at all unhappily – more out of simple curiosity. She laughed at my bad jokes, she explained how to get to the gate, she made jokes of her own, and she was extremely smiley. Not so smiley that’s annoying and makes you think to yourself “You won’t earn more money by showing me more teeth”, but a genuine smile and laughter that made me feel as if my decision to fly United really made her day. The attitude was totally different when I got to Chicago, but that’s ok because she made the most lasting impression on me and made my day of travel mainly enjoyable.
Other examples include people letting me “sneak through” a turnstile with them when the magnetic strip on my card decided to stop working even though I still had credit on it; a kind gentleman who showed me a shortcut into the La Guardia terminal instead of waiting longer than necessary on an interminably crowded bus; a lovely woman who let an entire group of drunken twenty-somethings pet her dog as she was attempting to cross the street (in all fairness, the dog was – literally- straining at the leash to get some lovin’ from each individual) and so on.
Now this isn’t to say that I didn’t encounter some unfriendlies, most clear in my mind is the gentleman at a DC train station who thought I was attempting to scam the system when I foolishly answered “I’m not sure” to one of his questions regarding my ability to figure out the DC system, but they weren’t as memorable.
So thanks to all you east coasters who, by chance or on purpose, are changing our views of you and your cities one tourist at a time!
Much love and many hugs,