paying it forward: mr. sydney

Several years back, I was rescued by a couple in Lichtenstein. After being thrown out of a hostel for having the audacity to show up at 9:08 when the reception closed at 9pm, they drove from the next town over to pick me up and let me couchsurf at their place. They also gave me chocolate.

Since that time, I’ve kept a keen eye to help out a traveler in need. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate enough to have this happen accidentally.

Not long ago, a man walked up to my friend and I and asked if we’d be able to call him a cab – his phone had just died and he was visiting friends in town. Since Uber and Lyft both require a credit card to be attached, I didn’t want to play that game. After looking up taxi companies and realizing that all of the ones nearby were limousine services, I grabbed my keys instead.

“Come on, I’ll drive you.”

My friend pulled me aside. “Remember,” she admonished, “No means no. Don’t let him hurt you!” I shrugged. “I’ll be fine,” I thanked her, and walked with the stranger to my car.

We drove to a big box store so he could grab a charger. “I’m just visiting a friend in town,” he apologized. “I don’t really know where she lives. Somewhere with a big green space down the middle of the road.” I could hear a tinge of an accent, but couldn’t place it.

“So where’s home?” I asked as we pulled into the lot.

“Australia. Sydney. I’m here for a marketing contract.”

We picked back up on the conversation as he returned with a charger and breathed life back into his iPhone.

“Yeah, I was in Sydney once. I saw more things that could kill me in five minutes than in three weeks in New Zealand.”

That touched a nerve. The stranger exploded, “All you Americans think is Australia is so dangerous! That we’re all kangaroos and poisonous spiders!”

I backpeddled a little bit, but the stranger calmed down. “Sorry, sorry,” he said. “Also, thank you so much for the ride.”

“Hey, man, I get it. I’ve been lost in another country before and had some great people help me out. I’m always looking to pay it forward.”

“No, but seriously, thank you. This is so much better than finding a taxi and figuring out where I’m going.”

By this point, we’d driven halfway across the city. The stranger told me he and his friends had been out drinking – plausible. But where he’d wound up? A little less likely. The cafe he’d run into me at was off the beaten path, far away from any of the arteries of the city. Then again…

As we pulled into the driveway where his GPS told him was his current home, he reached into his bag and pulled out a handle of Jack Daniels. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Want a swig for the road?” he offered.

“Nah, I’m good…” I put my car into gear. Maybe it wasn’t so strange that he’d wound up so far from home.


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