Jack and I were reminiscing about previous Valentine’s Day celebrations over the weekend and while thinking of love and appreciation, one in particular stood out. The various “small things” that occurred while we were in Philadelphia two years ago affirmed not only our decision to love each other forever, but also the presence of spectacular humans everywhere.
It was mid-semester for me in London and Jack was busily working in Utah. We had been apart (with the exception of two short visits) since the previous September. While we are both considerably responsible adults, we allowed emotion and spontaneity to rule just long enough to purchase plane tickets to Philadelphia. We had decided (oh-so-dramatically) that it would be impossible to go another day without seeing each other. One week later, I landed in the city that would soon become one of my favorites. I had to wait about 8 hours for the arrival of my sweet fiance, so I took the opportunity to explore the city.
The hotel I had chosen was close to the airport and therefore, a short train journey to the city center. I eagerly walked to the train stop (where I was told I could easily buy a ticket) and was disappointed to discover a “cash only” restriction. The train was approaching and my panic-stricken face must have prompted the 6’5″, tool-wielding man to my right into action. He gracefully maneuvered between other passengers to drop the requisite $5.00 into the hand of the ticket agent. I stammered a “thank you so much” and was halfway through asking how I could find him to repay him when he smiled and said, “I was happy to help. Come visit us again soon!”
I tentatively boarded the train and found an aisle seat while being very careful to not speak to anyone or look at them for too long (I was proud to be representing proper Tube etiquette). I glanced at the lady in the window seat who appeared pleasant. She greeted me and the train started moving. Now, this is going to sound like the most outlandish of all anecdotes, but I promise it’s the absolute truth. It had just started to rain and we suddenly saw bright flashes of light outside. Everyone assumed lightning, so there weren’t too many reactions. All of the sudden, there was a brilliant flash outside my window and a stream of sparks. The woman next to me instinctively dove away from the window and simultaneously covered her head while attempting to shield mine. Immediately after, the overhead lights went out and everyone screamed and froze. We waited. The car wasn’t on fire, so we assumed safety. The woman apologized over and over for her instinctive protectiveness and reestablished her personal space. At that moment, an employee came through and requested that everyone remain calm and that everything should be fine. A half hour later, we were again moving slowly. We were to be delivered to the nearest station in Philly, which offered only taxi and bus service. What luck.
After we disembarked, I attempted to decipher the bus schedule only to find my protective seatmate to my left. She asked if I was visiting and if I needed help. She then ushered me to the taxi line and offered herself as temporary city guide.While I’m inclined to suspicion, I could see that she needed me as much as I needed her at the moment. She was still clearly shaken up and I was certain I could win should a brawl ensue. We arrived in the city center and when I held out my credit card, she protested. She refused to allow me to pay anything and wished me a pleasant stay. The cab driver was clearly on her team and didn’t bother to hear of my protestations. She apologized profusely for my experience and assured me that everything would be fine from then on. I requested her email or address to send a thank you to which she agreed. I was left standing alone in front of Anthropologie clutching the small piece of paper she had handed me. I glanced down to find not her address, but a phone number and this message: “Enjoy Philly! Hope you weren’t scared away. You don’t need to worry about thanking me. It was wonderful to meet a new friend. If you ever visit again, give me a call! -Mary Ann” And with that simple act of kindness, I immediately felt fully welcomed to Philly and once again, assured of the perpetual good in people.
While it could have been easy to focus on the fear and unknown, these two individuals made it impossible to acknowledge anything but their kindness and generosity. The hospitality and friendliness continued throughout our stay and convinced us that never has a city and its citizenry ever earned a nickname more profoundly than Philadelphia.