Interactions with those who care (or don't) during my experiences of getting lost in New York
In the subway on my way to find Penn Station, I stopped to ask for directions from a gentleman who was working in the subway station. He had temporarily left his booth (which I thought was a ticket counter) to help answer a lost tourist's inquiry. He had not heard my several calls that had been not so surprisingly drained out from the sound of saxophones and jazz bands, evangelists and break dancing groups. Than, as he made a pivot turn and began to walk away having kindly answered the elder lady's question, I tapped him on the shoulder in hopes of catching his attention amidst the hustle and bustle and loud noises that came from the station. In all fairness, I could barely hear own voice or that from the friend accompanying me on my journey to 34thstreet, but never would I have imagined the man's response.
"WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? DO I GO AROUND TOUCHING YOU? JUST SPEAK UP IF YOU NEED SOMETHING!"
I walked away utterly annoyed. How could someone be so rude? I was entirely baffled. Here I was lost in a subway system that makes no sense to me. I have spent a lot of time in Washington DC, where the subway system map is very simple, just three or four routes that are differentiated by color; red, blue, orange, green. But here in Manhattan, the subway system is some crazy spider web of not only letters, but numbers!
Thankfully, a very nice Indian gentleman came to my immediate aid. Having overheard the rudeness of the employee, he apologized on his behalf, and said that he understood just how overwhelming and confusing the subway can be to people from out of town. He explained that all I needed was to take one of three routes, and that would put me at the 34thStreetstation, also known as Penn Station. MissionAccomplished.
However, sometimes I have been totally alone and lost in a maze of unfamiliar streets and sounds - and on occasion, I have found myself in a bit of unexpected danger. Every Wednesday, I volunteer with refugee and asylee youth that have come from war torn countries and have recently moved to the United States. Some of these students are involved in a special tutoring program at Brooklyn International High School, where I make my way to afterschool every Wednesday afternoon to help these children improve their English and serve as a familiar friendly face in an unfamiliar place at an inner city American high school.
This last Wednesday, I was running late for my first day at Brooklyn International. I had ended up in Brooklyn, somewhere, but it was the wrong stop and I had no idea where I needed to go. I (as a dumb person) grabbed my smart phone. It is my ever reliable GPS system, my go-to map in these ever frequent situations. The problem is too often this - one keeps his eyes fixed to the screen of the phone and oblivious of the many people and moving objects surrounding the phone. As I crossed the street, power walking bristly and eyes glued to my savior portable map, I got hit by a semi truck. The truck was backing up, very slowly so that it did not hurt very badly when I threw up my arm to protect my face. My elbow and forearm were covered in some sort of black substance from the back end of the truck, and I certainly would have been run over had it not been for the quick reaction of a young Asian woman walking at my side. As soon as I started to fall over, she grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me to the side of the semi onto the sidewalk.
She kindly went on with her day, refusing to make a big deal of the situation and offers to buy her coffee. How different was she than the cranky old man working in the New York subway who threw a fit when I was lost because I simply tapped him on the shoulder? And here is a woman, who in my opinion quite heroically pulled me from a potentially fatal situation and didn't think twice about receiving any sort of repayment.
These experiences have spoken to me quite deeply about the diversity of experience one can have in New York when lost. You can meet people who will not give you the two seconds of an eye look, who won't even budge if you were to ask for help much less go out of there way to offer in on their own accord. And then, more often then they afore mentioned group of individuals, you so often find in this busy city an array of individuals who not only help, but do so with pride. They find it their mission to take it upon themselves as cultural ambassadors of their own identity, and that of ambassadors to the city at large of which they live and love.