Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The kindness of strangers

New Yorkers have a reputation as being rude, heartless and cold. And some of it is well-deserved, I suppose. But I think New Yorkers are sweethearts when it really counts. Look at what happened during the 2003 blackout. Or after September 11th. Yeah, we're tough cookies here, but we have hearts of gold.

Yesterday I met up with an old work colleague for lunch. We chowed at Bread Bar and then decided to walk around Flatiron a bit to catch up. There was chilling in Madison Square Park. There was wandering up and down 6th Ave. After an hour W had to head back to work, so I walked him to the subway station. As we said our goodbyes, he reached for his wallet to grab his MetroCard.

Only it wasn't there. His wallet was gone. Initially we figured he left it at Tabla. But we went back and they did not have it. The maitre d' gave W a card, but when he went to put it into his pocket it fell right through. That's when we realized someone had slashed his back pocket. It wasn't totally obvious -- they'd slashed just the bottom and not a very big hole.

"Didn't you feel it when they grabbed your wallet?" I asked him. "Not at all," W replied, face in hands. Not only were his license and credit cards gone, but he'd just taken $500 cash out of the bank to put down a deposit on a guitar. I asked if maybe his jeans just had a hole but they were pretty new so he doubted it. We had bumped into a few people walking but nothing out of the ordinary. So many streets had been crossed. We retraced some of our steps but there was no sign of his wallet. Not that we really expected to just find it laying on the sidewalk. But in New York you never know.

W put on the brave face, but I was seething. Suddenly that cold-heartless reputation seemed to fit. I bought him a $20 MetroCard and lent him some cash to buy groceries. Back at work, he cancelled his credit cards and called his bank to let them know what happened. W kept things in perspective -- it was mostly the cash that was bothering him.

Then today, he got a call at work. It was the police. Someone had turned in his wallet the day before. He called me from the station. They made him identify his wallet (I asked if there was a lineup and he joked yes, he couldn't decide between 2 and 5) and once he was able to he got it back. He quickly checked inside and was flooded with relief as he found that all of his cash was still in there.

The police told him that another guy caught the crook slashing his pocket. The almost-victim grabbed the thief and started yelling at him, but he managed to wriggle free and escape...directly into the clutches of two NYPD officers who witnessed the scuffle. Ha! The guy had something like five wallets on him. W offered some of the cash back to the police, but they wouldn't accept and the almost-victim hadn't left his name.

"All of which proves my theory that New Yorkers are the best people in the world!" Native W said to me.
"Except for the guy who slashed and stole," I said.
"Nah, he was obviously a transplant."

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