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An Act of Random Kindness and a Saved Trip

November 24th, 2017 · No Comments · Travel

I saw this just the past day or two, on some website. “Describe an act of random kindness that you encountered.”

I think the point of this is … the act ought to be dramatic, unexpected and from someone you do not know. That is what the “random” is getting at.

I probably am forgetting all sorts of random acts … but I remember one clearly even though it happened a long time ago. Thirty-five years ago, actually.

We were preparing to return from London to Los Angeles, after our first trip across the Atlantic, and we were going to head to Heathrow after our “full English breakfast” at the B&B we had taken somewhere near (if I recall aright) Paddington Station.

When we got back to the room … well, disaster. My wife’s camera and wallet and, most important of all, her passport … were gone. And we were supposed to be in the air in a few hours.

First complication?

I was carrying my own passport … but my wife had most of the money in her purse.

We did the “backtrack through the morning” thing and remembered that she took her purse to the breakfast room and hung it over her chair.

When we were done with breakfast, she forgot to take the purse, and by the time we got back downstairs — no more than 20-25 minutes later — the purse with the camera and traveler’s checks (this was 1982) and the passport … were gone.

Clearly, not a whole lot of people could have taken advantage of the lapse. We were inside a private house and the time frame of absence was limited.

We had been served by a young woman with one of those almost comical British names. Entwistle. Moneypenny. Tricklebank.

All I remember now is that it ended in “worth” and was something like “Wigglesworth”.

We went to the manager, who immediately insisted that Miss Wigglesworth was honest as the day is long, and that we must have misplaced our things somewhere not inside his establishment. Which seemed ridiculous, but the clock was running. We did, however, report the missing things to the local constabulary; a man in uniform came to the hotel and took a report.

Which left us with a few hours to 1) go to the American embassy in an attempt to wangle some travel documents (all of my wife’s ID also was missing) and if we got a piece of paper that would allow he to board a BA flight … we then would hie on over to Heathrow.

This was pre-internet, but someone must have given us good directions to the embassy because we found it without a tremendous amount of difficult. (Maps; I was pretty good with maps, back in the day.)

We told the guard out front we had lost a passport and were looking to get a temporary replacement — and we were in a big hurry.

He sent us into the embassy. I remember it being big with lots of wood paneling. We got a number to be seen and sat in the waiting room, sweating it out. It was just us and a couple of other people, in a waiting room.

If we missed our plane it would be expensive to take a later flight, and one or both of us were due back at work the next day. We would probably have to stay another day, and all sorts of unpleasant issues confronted us. It was one of those, “and, oh, I forgot but” things where you don’t think of all the downsides at once. When they come at you one after the other.

I eventually got to the line for handling this sort of issue, and got some bad news that I immediately relayed to my wife.

A temporary document could be had … but it cost more than the money I had in my wallet. Most of it had been stolen, remember?

We were mulling our options when a man of about 50, who was sitting a few rows ahead of us, turned and said: “Are you folks in a bit of trouble? Maybe I can help.”

I gave him a quick outline of the situation. Missing passport, stolen money and camera, won’t be able to fly. Sigh.

He didn’t know us. We didn’t know him. I remember he said he was from Texas, and he told us his name, which was something evangelical-sounding, like Billy Sunday, but that wasn’t it.

Eventually he said, “How about I loan you some money, and when you get home you can send me a check?”

We were surprised and pleased and very grateful. This gave us a chance of making the plane. At least, it didn’t stop us dead in our tracks, needing to come back a day later after scrounging money from … someplace. (This was pre-ATM, I do believe. It wasn’t as if we could get money out of a machine.)

Back to the embassy window, hand over Billy Sunday’s cash, and my wife has a piece of paper that is not impressive looking (rather like a driver’s learner’s permit), but it will work with the plane.

And we nearly ran out of the embassy, carrying our luggage.

Did we take a cab to the airport? Probably too expensive. I think we took that interminably long Underground trip, all the way to distant Heathrow.

We hit the ground running, rushing to British Airways, which told us we probably would not make the plane but were welcome to try … and we pretty much ran (as fast as we could in an era that did not know wheeled bags) to the terminal — which also seemed an impossibly long journey.

Checking watches and clocks … “still have a chance, still have a chance, there’s the gate, they look like they are shutting down” as we run up … and “yes, you can get in the plane. Probably shouldn’t let you because boarding ended five minutes ago, but off you go!”

The whole episode was one of those weirdly exhilarating situations that at the same time almost make you sick to your stomach. But getting on the plane when we did not know how that would happen … well, it was thanks to the Texan back in the embassy who loaned us $100 or $200 or whatever it was.

When we got home, we promptly mailed away an envelope with a check covering the amount of money he gave us, and thanked him profusely, via note, for helping us make the plane.

He did not respond, but I remember his generosity and I remember him swiveling in his seat in the embassy waiting room and asking us “folks” if he could help us. Bless you, sir!

P.S. A few days later, we got a call from London. The thief had taken the cash and had kept the passport but abandoned the camera and the purse.

Someone had turned in the purse and camera to the police, who consulted their records and saw we had reported the theft and they promised to send everything back, including the camera.

The purse and camera arrived a few weeks after that and, eventually, my wife took the film out of the camera, to get the vacation pictures developed, and when she got to the bottom of the stack of photos, there were two or three in which the B&B breakfast-room worker, Miss Wigglesworth, had allowed someone to take her photo! With our camera. And there she was, in the photo!

We called the authorities in London, and gave her the name of the woman (which at the time we remembered well), and she faced some sort of official sanction. We also called back the operator of the little hotel, and rather than offer to make us whole he complained mostly about how our zealousness, and our negligence in forgetting the purse, had forced him to fire Miss Wigglesworth, and it was all our fault.

But, back to the key point … “Billy Sunday” from Texas, overhearing the “now we’re cooked/filled with despair” conversation and offering us a significant chunk of cash — with nothing more concrete, in way of getting repaid, than a handshake and a promise.

A random act of kindness.



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