Today was gross, weather-wise that is. I left my apartment after work in a downpour and headed to my buddy’s house for a ride to NH. On the sidewalk about a block from my apartment I came across a women’s winter hat lying in the middle of the sidewalk. Initially I walked right by it lugging my hiking backpack with my headphones in my ears. After a few steps I stopped, turned around, and scanned the both sides of the sidewalk looking for a hat-less person who may have dropped theirs on the ground. Not seeing anyone, I went back and picked up the hat and put it on a fence post. Hopefully it was displayed prominently enough that it would be recognized, but out of the way enough so that no one would step on it. It must have recently been dropped because it was still in good (yet soggy) condition.
The pre-January Life Experiment in me would have just walked by it, “Not my hat, not my problem.” However, today I stopped to look around, pick it up, and get it off the sidewalk so in case the person came back looking for it, they’d find it in good condition, not ruined as it would have been had it stayed on the sidewalk. In Maine this is something I definitely would have noticed and done something about but for some reason I ignore these types of things in Boston with the “Not my ___, not my problem” type of attitude. This month I’ve been breaking out of that attitude quite a bit and I hope my new attitude is one that sticks in my post-January life.
We spent the entire day ice climbing in NH and on the way back we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts to get some coffee. We usually stop at White Mountain Bagel because they’re both awesome and local, however, they closed at 3pm so we opted for D&D literally across the street. While in line I saw that someone was at the drive-thru waiting at the window. I first asked the cashier what the order was for the car waiting outside. It was around $3 so I told her to put their bill on my card and then to tell the car that it was a random act of kindness.
It was cool to hear the conversation between the Dunkin Donuts cashier and the driver because I could only hear the cashier, “No you don’t have to pay for it. No, someone inside paid it for you. No I don’t think they know you, it was a random act of kindness.” I felt solid about this one because the driver truly seemed perplexed and not expecting it, definitely a random act. I also liked the reaction of my two new friends who I had ice climbed with that day. It’s one thing to help someone who is truly in need, that makes a lot of sense. However, to see someone randomly pick up the tab for someone else, literally for no reason, shocked them a bit I think. They weren’t ready for it, but they totally understood after I explained the life experiment to them.
The last time I paid someone’s coffee bill I was in northern Maine (read: pretty much Canada) and it seemed to go over well so I was really interested in trying it somewhere else to see what the reaction was. The reaction seemed similar from what I could tell except that this time I was with my friends instead of my family so it was definitely a different experience. Maybe some exposure to random acts of kindness will lead them to do their own random acts, or at least better recognize situations that warrant kind acts themselves, random or not.
Today it was half-raining and half-snowing, or as we call it in the Northeast a “Wintery Mix”. I was walking home and came across a guy trying to shield his smartphone from the elements while (stressfully) trying to find something on his smartphone. Classic tourist. He may have not been a tourist but he certainly didn’t live in Boston. This became even more obvious when I asked him if he needed directions. He said he was looking for the green line. I then asked him where exactly he was going and he said “North Station via the Green Line”. Another classic “tourist” mistake: taking a really roundabout way to get somewhere instead of taking a much more direct (but perhaps non-obvious) route.
He was probably a 15 minute walk from the green line and even then, only SOME trains go to North Station, most trains go only to Government Center and then you have to get off the train and wait for one to North Station. This was not something an out-of-towner would have known. From where he was it could have easily taken 40 minutes after all was said and done. Instead of this route I suggested he take the orange line (across the street) to North Station instead which would probably be a 15 minute trip. It took some convincing because he knew that the Green Line would get him there. Should he trust a stranger? So I told him that he would certainly get to North Station via his route, but that he could save half an hour at least by taking the Orange Line instead. By showing him he was correct, just perhaps not the most correct, he then decided to trust me and headed into the Orange Line T-Station.
I used to do that same thing all the time in Boston when I first moved here. Many of the T-Stations are so close together you might as well walk, but the shortcuts are non-obvious. Instead of taking the easy route, I’d often go far out of my way to get somewhere because I didn’t know any better. A good example was going from Somerville to Allston, a trip I made all the time to hang out with friends from home. I’d take the Red Line to Park Street and then take the B-Line to Allston, about 1 hour and 20 minutes after it’s all said and done, a classic n00b move. Instead, I should have taken the 57 bus from Harvard to Allston which was about 20 minutes. Finally someone showed me the light and I felt like an idiot. However, I was eternally grateful for saving an hour of my life every time I went out to Allston. I was glad to show this random guy that same light. Hopefully he found something worthwhile to do with his extra half hour.
As always it was getting late and I hadn’t done a random act of kindness yet. I was going out to the Tufts area to do a winter safety seminar after work and as I got on the T, I decided I’d pay for the fare of the person behind me. Previously in this month I’ve paid for people’s T-fares but I’ve never done it getting onto the same train with that person. So this time I was going to try and strike up a conversation with the person. Epic fail!
The guy behind me who I had arbitrarily decided would receive my random act of kindness for the day, turned out to be an almost non-functional drunk middle aged man. He had also packed a lip of chewing tobacco and was spitting into a Dunkin Donuts cup. I knew that he wasn’t homeless because he took out a wallet with credit cards in it and had been fiddling around trying to find his Charlie Card. I then told him I’d swipe him in as a random act of kindness and he grunted some type of approval, spit in his cup, and hustled away from me.
So I didn’t get the warm and fuzzy feeling that I was looking for: doing something nice and then having a great conversation about it with a perfect stranger. Instead I just helped a drunk dude get into the T-station. I suppose that’s a semi-valiant cause considering he was so drunk he couldn’t even get his card out of his wallet (someone should tell him he can just hold his wallet up to the machine and beep it). I doubt he’ll remember it and I doubt that it made a big difference in his life, but it’s the thought that counts.