It was a typical morning on the Upper West Side. I was late for my workout at the JCC and, though I normally walk to work, it was once again freezing and I had a small suitcase with me. Time for a cab. After waiting for what felt like an eternity, it was clear that I needed a plan B so I began walking, stopping every so often to see if a cab was coming behind me. At one point, as I paused to check out the traffic, a woman walked by me angrily accusing me of “stealing” her place in the imaginary “cab line.” I was mortified. I hadn’t seen her waiting, and I quickly mumbled an apology and kept walking.
This kind of interaction probably happens all the time in this crowded city, where resources often feel so scarce. And it’s always unpleasant to feel that somehow you have behaved selfishly. But as I was ruminating (and shivering), a cab suddenly appeared and I went right back into aggressive New Yorker mode to snag it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man (also with a suitcase) looking defeated as I got into the cab. The driver shrugged at him and apologized: “I saw her first, man.” I got into the cab, relieved to be warm and unencumbered. Then there was a knock on the window. The man on the street asked if I was going to the airport. While I wasn’t, I suggested we share the cab, since I was only going to 76th Street. It was as though I had offered him the moon. He was rushing to catch a plane and wearing only a light jacket because he was headed to the west coast.
As we rode downtown, exchanging the usual words about the weather and how hard it is to get a taxi on the Upper West Side in the morning, I began to notice how much better I was feeling. It wasn’t just that he had given me the opportunity to be generous instead of stingy, though that did feel really good. It was also that, in this city of strangers, we became two people sharing more than a cab.
Turns out, my new friend also runs a non-profit—the American India Foundation, which helps build bridges between India and the United States. Turns out he was familiar with the JCC. Perhaps we’ll find a way for our two institutions to collaborate in the future.
When we arrived at the JCC just a few minutes later, he refused to take any money from me. But that was the least of it. I was reminded that small acts of kindness and real moments of connection can turn a cold day into a warm one.