Monday, December 22, 2008

The Last Leg

Christmas is now only a few days away and it's about this time every year that I'm reminded of my first experience with an extraordinary act of selflessness. It's been twenty nine years and I still can't fully explain it.

The year was 1979 just days before Christmas and I was en route from Oakland California where I had been living and was now travelling via bus to Toronto. I was a teen aged student living by my wits and trying to get home for the holidays. I started out from California on a Wednesday afternoon and was scheduled to arrive at Toronto's Union Station on the following Saturday night.

The trip was an adventure but took its toll physically and mentally due to the fact that I had been trying to sleep sitting upright for several days and had no access to a shower. My money and food ran out by Saturday morning which wasn't a problem that was insurmountable since I would be rolling into Toronto within ten more hours.

We pulled into the Detroit terminal at around 6:30 a.m. Saturday where I was supposed to change buses for the last leg of my trip across the border into Canada and ultimately Toronto. No problem until I got to the counter of the bus line and was told my connecting bus was about a twenty minute drive away in a different terminal and it left in forty five minutes. I was stunned. I couldn't think clearly. And I was broke.

Once I explained my dilemma the young guy behind the counter pointed out the window and said "those people are going to the same terminal...ask them for a ride". Through the window I saw a couple hurriedly arranging their luggage in the trunk of a cab. I legged it outside and approached the couple all the while blurting out my situation and requesting a lift. Not surprisingly they shut the door in my face and drove off.

I re-entered the now desolate terminal almost resigned to my fate which in all honesty wasn't looking good. In addition to my teetering situation I had drawn the attention of three gang members. They had been shadowing me while eyeing my travel gear. Now after living in Oakland I recognized the routine well...I was being sized up. I had enough street smarts to bluff for a while but I was cornered and I knew it. I was definitely prey. At the very least I was going to lose my case and my wallet and it was going to happen any minute. The sense of dread was overwhelming.

Suddenly the same young guy re-appeared, very animated this time, and said there was another cab and to hurry I didn't have a lot of time. He physically grabbed my arm and led me out the door of the terminal. Struggling with my case I started to lag behind as he then ran ahead of me to talk to the driver of the cab.

Everything now began to go very fast. Faster than I could respond. The driver quickly got out and met me halfway. He took my case and heaved it into the trunk. He also relayed that I only had a few minutes and to "hurry up and get in". And get in I did. I was relieved to be extricated from the situation inside the terminal. The driver took off like he himself had a bus to catch.

I began to stammer that I didn't have any money to pay for the fare. When the driver didn't respond I figured he hadn't heard me because of the thick plate glass between the front and back seat. So I leaned down to the cash slot and repeated that I didn't have any money. The driver half looked over his shoulder and bellowed "your friend paid your fare" then directed his focus back to the road ahead.

It took a second for me to realize he was talking about the young guy from the terminal. I twisted in my seat but saw only empty sidewalk behind us. I slumped back as it all sank in.

Without any explanation he had pulled me from a bleak situation in the terminal, placed me into a paid cab and then disappeared. He might have very well saved my life. And not only did I not thank him but I was ashamed to realize that I had barely paid attention to what he looked like.

Suddenly I was no longer tired or hungry. My mind instantly felt the sickening weight of what had just happened and what could have happened. And that's pretty well the way the rest of the journey went. I tried to make sense of it all but it was beyond my life experience repertoire. And I've never experienced anything like it since.

Every year at this time my thoughts are with that person. I hope that he is safe and healthy. And if I could have my way I'd simply like to be able to say thank you.

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