It’s 8:30 and the subway is down. Hundreds of anxious commuters stand outside the station, unsure of how to find alternate transportation that isn’t a bike or car. Each shuttle bus that bothers to stop is filled beyond capacity and not many taxis mill about this neighborhood. We pay for our suburban, green-loving lifestyle with a distinct lack of the city’s major conveniences.
I’m about to consider going home and telling my manager I’ll be working from home when a minivan cruises the street, its driver, a woman of indeterminate age with silver hair and bright eyes set in an open, expressive face, does not scrutinize us for our wares so much as asks if anyone trusts her enough to let her drive them downtown.
This is how I find myself sitting in a stranger’s minivan with three other women. My feet are awkwardly wedged into a battlefield littered with car seats, athletic equipment, and a random smattering of gender-specific toys: half-battered, scattered evidence of your average soccer mom’s trusty steed. Cracker crumbs line the trenches of the seats like WWI soldiers. Days-old trash still sits crumpled inside sticky cup holders. I’m too stunned by this woman’s generosity to care.
“Thank you so much,” one of the other women gushes to our Good Samaritan chauffeur and we all chime in to agree, falling all over ourselves not to appear ungrateful.
“Yes, thank you so much! Not many people would do this.”
“It’s so kind and generous of you. I wondered for a second if I was still living in Massachusetts!”
Indeed. We’re mean people in this city, state, and general region of the United States, forced to maintain a thick barrier of standoffishness by the sheer fact that there are a lot of us existing in a relatively small area of land. We are constantly surrounded by each other. Our bodies press up tight against one another on a crowded bus, on the train. The moisture from our hands cling to the surfaces we touch, mingling with the residue of others. We slide past each other on the sidewalk. We are condensed and living on top of each other. We are impersonal and reserved because if we were not, we would all have been broken wide open by now.
So when someone smiles at me warmly or does something so unbearably kind like braving rush hour traffic and going into the heart of the city simply to transport three strangers to work, I am taken aback. My worldview is shifted so abruptly on its head, I am dizzy. Pay it forward, I resolutely think to myself. But in the next moment, I still become too easily annoyed at people who don’t obey the unsaid but common sense pedestrian rules.
Fucking assholes, I furiously think at them, hoping the message is transmitted through my entitled glares. What I really want to say is, Be more convenient for me.