Wednesday, February 9, 2011
"Good luck, guys!"
I was standing knee-deep in a drift in the center of the street with a bucketful of powder and slush. My partner stood nearby.
A plow had driven through earlier and piled the snow high against the line of parked cars. We had been tasked with digging free our friend's car, armed only with a plastic bucket each. Previously these buckets had been catching the drips in the pipes in the bathroom. Now they were makeshift shovels because all the neighborhood stores had sold out of all the more efficient digging implements. We had twenty minutes to be out of there and on our way to a photo shoot. It was starting to snow again. We might have looked despairing to the casual observer.
A blizzard had blown through the day before and given our city a post-apocalyptic vista of shuttered storefronts, deserted streets and cars abandoned at the mouths of alleyways. The color of the sky matched the color of the snow, tricking the eye into thinking that you might step out on the lake and walk until you hit the horizon. Everything was quiet. Even the airplanes had stopped flying. So I was, in reality, pretty stoked.
At the shout, I looked up to see a bearded man walking purposefully toward the red line station. He wore a sparkling purple ski hat. He waved at me.
"I'd stop to help, but I'm in a hurry," he said.
I told him not to worry. We were able-bodied people.
But he broke his stride. He turned around and came back. "Use my shovels," he said. "They're over there on the porch."
He pointed to a nearby building and I thought the shovels would be leaning against the outside wall. He dug in his pocket.
"Here," he said. "This is the key to the front door." He put the ring of keys in my hand and held my eyes. "Just leave it unlocked and drop the keys through the slot when you're done." After advising us to use the good shovels and not the janked ones, he turned back around and kept walking to the train station.
I think I thanked him. I was stunned. This man had just trusted me with the keys to his home and his shovels and who-knew-what-else. There was a notice tacked up in my partner's tenement building requesting that thieves please return the shovels they had stolen. The tools were in short supply.
This is, of course, because shovels are far superior to plastic buckets.
We finished the job in a few short minutes and, with time to spare, we thanked our mystery man with an illustrated note and a bag of candy.
Stranger danger, indeed.
Every so often someone comes along and knocks me off guard with their kindness. It's all too easy to let the city face take hold. That is, the face we put on to protect ourselves when we have to pass a thousand strangers every day. A thousand people who might want or need or expect or wheedle something from us. Something to shake us off schedule. It's easy to let so many people fade to scenery. White noise.
As someone about to embark on a two-year journey to become a stranger in a country still strange to me, I couldn't help but think: would I trust a stranger with my keys?