General Non-Fiction posted February 18, 2021

This work has reached the exceptional level
We were young, far from home, and in need of a helping hand.

An Unexpected Act of Kindness

by Lyn Peters

The year was 1978 the world was different in so many ways; we communicated face-to-face, cell phones were rare, the Internet was in its infancy and the ability to text, e-mail or instant message were not available to a couple of hapless kids trying to make their way home after a long absence.

My husband and I were returning to the U.S. at the completion of my husband's three-year deployment to Germany. We arrived in the States a few days early, and we were excited at the prospect of surprising our friends and family with our homecoming. No one in the States knew we were traveling. We did not own credit cards and our joint checking account was located in a Chicago based bank. We were traveling with little cash and our resources were limited. What could possibly go wrong?

We landed in New Jersey, expecting to pick up our vehicle, which had been shipped back to the States a few days before. We would have had time to get to the holding area where our car was...if our flight had landed on time. But, as I said, the world was a different place in 1978. The yard where our car was being held was not open 24-hours. We arrived thirty minutes after closing time and stood, fingers laced into the chain-link fencing, staring at our little green sedan. So close, and yet...

We had a few options -- we could return to the airport and sleep there (possible, in those days, but not terribly inviting either) or rent a car, which would relieve us of most of the cash we'd had on hand.

We opted for the rental, which meant we had transportation, but little else. Our car would be available in the morning, we were in a strange city and the cash we had would have to cover the cost of gasoline and food.

We could spend the night sleeping in our rented car or we could find a hotel that would be willing to accept an out-of-state check. In those days, cash was king. Travelers purchased traveler's checks and used those in place of cash or credit cards as few businesses were willing to accept checks written on accounts that were not held in local banks.

My husband, who was dressed in his fatigues, suggested that we stop at a chain hotel and plead our case. He thought the fact that he was a soldier might help to tip the scales in our favor. Though we fully expected to be turned down we had nothing to lose.

We found a hotel near the airport, parked the rental, and entered the lobby with our hopes high but expectations reasonably low and, while my husband headed for the front desk, I headed for the ladies room.

As I passed a bank of pay phones a stranger turned to me and said, "What a day."

I was young. I was shy. I was not given to engaging with strangers. Under other circumstances I would have scurried past this stranger without a word. But I was having a day of my own.
I stopped in my tracks and pointed a finger at the man.

"You think you've had a day?" I asked. "Let me tell you about my day." I ticked off my woes on my fingers.

One: I've just flown nine hours on an army plane after spending three years overseas. Have you ever been on an army plane? Our pilot's name was Rocky, and when we flew over Nova Scotia, Rocky got on the intercom and said, and I quote, 'Well folks, were back over land. At least now if we crash we won't be eaten by sharks.'

Two: We landed, late, and missed picking up our car by thirty minutes.

Three: We had to choose between renting a car, to sleep in, or hanging onto the little bit of cash we had.

Four: We're strangers, in this city. We have no credit cards and no, we did not think to buy traveler's checks."

I pointed to my husband. "See that soldier over there? That's my husband. He is trying to convince the clerk to accept our out-of-state check so we can spend the night in a bed instead of camping out in a rental car. Do you think the clerk is going to accept our check? I don't. But here we are. So, Mister, tell me, do you think your day has been as bad as mine?"

I stopped my tirade and took a breath.

The man smiled and held up a room key. "I was in the service too," he said. "I have to go back to Boston tonight, so I won't be using my room. It's paid for. Please, take the key and enjoy a night on me."

I stood there, wide-eyed, and speechless.

"Please, take it," he said. "And tell your husband I thank him for his service to country."

I thanked the man, took the key, and did not think twice about accepting his offer.

My husband and I enjoyed a restful night's sleep, picked up our car in the morning and continued our journey, refreshed and grateful for a stranger's generosity.

The memory of a stranger's extraordinary act of kindness has remained with me through the decades and I think of him now and again. I like to imagine that, though the world has changed in so many ways, there are still folks out there who would be willing to help fellow travels in need.

Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

I hope this stranger fully understood how much his unexpected act of kindness mattered to an exhausted young couple in need.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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© Copyright 2021. Lyn Peters All rights reserved.
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