Published on February 13th, 20117
Pay It Forward: Helping a Fellow Wanderlust Here at Home
Sometimes travel serendipity can happen right in your own backyard. Leastwise it did for me today (albeit somewhat in reverse), right here in Left Seattle, just down the street in my neighborhood shopping center. It was near dark and pouring down rain. A somewhat rare torrent unlike our usual pathetic Pacific Northwest drizzle. Really WET out there with gusts of wind and sheets of rain. I was doing errands (hair cut, groceries, post office – you know the drill) and getting cranky running to and fro the car.
Rushing out of Rite Aid, I bumped into a stranger – a middle-aged man in work clothes standing in the rain. I paused just long enough to mutter “Oh, sorry!” when he soundlessly proffered a crinkled slip of paper with some writing on it. Staring at the damp smudged note it read: “Chelan’s – West Marginal Way and Delridge”.
He hardly spoke a word of English, but I gathered he wanted to go to this “Chelan’s” place. Unfortunately I had no idea what it was, and the Marginal Way/Delridge location was a fair ways away down amid the convoluted labyrinth under the West Seattle Bridge. “Do you have a car?” I pantomimed, and he replied “No”. I wasn’t sure if any buses went to that obscure area, and I was already late to pick up a friend for a class at 5:30.
“Do you know someone at this Chelan’s?” I asked. “Do you have their phone number?” He then rummaged through each and every one of his pockets, and finally unearthed another slip of paper with the word “Lonnie” and a phone number. Hooray! I swiftly dialed the number and happily Lonnie answered. I briefly explained the gentleman’s dilemma and told Lonnie I was but a stranger trying to help. It turns out that “Chelan’s” is a restaurant that Lonnie owns and he likewise had only recently met the stranger (who I learned is a merchant seaman named “Perara”) while traveling in Sri Lanka. Lonnie said he’d be happy to come pick up Perara, but unfortunately he was a good hour’s drive away in rush hour traffic. So I suggested I stash dear Perara at the nearby McDonald’s (with a Happy Meal to keep him company for good measure) where he could wait for Lonnie, all warm and dry.
Fine. So Perara and I drive over to McDonald’s and I get him all nicely tucked into a booth. I ordered him some grub and advised the folks behind the counter that Perara spoke little English but was waiting for his friend to pick him up in about an hour or so. I then waved goodbye to Perara and headed out the door back into the rain.
But Perara was soon right behind me! He had his camera out and was dancing around in the rain trying to tell me something. Ah… he wanted me to take his photo – with the AMERICAN FLAG there in the background beside the McDonald’s!
Such a simple random encounter with a fellow traveler, and I was happy to lend a little help. But more importantly, it reminds me so of my own dilemmas in distant lands where I too, don’t know the language and haven’t a clue which direction to go. So I’m just thankful that I could be there for Perara – a little “Pay it forward” for all the times total strangers have been kind enough to help me.