Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
Your stories evoked appreciation for not only strangers, but for your cities at large.
Last week, we asked readers for their best stories of strangers saving the day, and several (including a couple of CityLab's own) wrote in to contribute. Especially great were the tales that evoked an appreciation for not only the kindness of strangers, but for your cities at large. Below are some of our favorite random acts of urban kindness from 2014, to carry into the new year.
Wilder S. in Los Angeles:
Melissa L. in NYC:
While I was walking down Lexington Avenue on a busy, crowded afternoon, I crossed paths with a lovely woman who was pushing her baby in a stroller. She seemed hurried, like most people in New York. But in the midst of all the chaos she stopped her stroller, looked me in the eye and smiled, and motioned to me that I needed to button my shirt. Sure enough, my shirt was unbuttoned and my undergarments were in plain view for all to see.
Despite the fact that there are so many people in New York who are so wrapped up in their own worlds, this woman, baby in tow, full of responsibilities and short on time, took a moment to save a stranger from embarrassment. Little things like that remind me why I love this city.
Michael A. in Boston:
I was working late in Boston last year, and, as any Bostonian knows, the subway stops running fairly early. So, I finally left work and entered a tunnel to a platform that's about 200 yards long—just as the last train of the night pulled into the station. I broke into a run but inevitably slowed as I realized I wouldn't make it: All of the disembarking passengers had exited. However, just at that moment, one good Samaritan who had exited the train and walked 20 feet laid eyes on me and my futile effort, turned, SPRINTED back to the door, and propped it open as the subway conductor yelled at him to stop.
I know you're likely to say that propping the door messes with delicately balanced schedules and can be dangerous, but that stranger was the heroic highlight of one long and terrible night of work. And that moment has stayed with me long after those numerous troubles that were plaguing my night.
Shane A. in NYC:
Michael W. in San Francisco:
I'm passing through and I hear a bunch of spooky echoing noises. It turns out to be a brass band of somewhat older dudes with that kind of burner/pirate Bay Area style. One of them calls me over and asks about the bike.
They tell me about how they practice down there every week because they can be as loud as they want, since the cars passing over are loud enough already. One of them shows me the right way to fix a flat, which I'd never been that good at. His technique is still what I use, and it's great.
I stayed and listened for a while and just totally loved SF in that moment. When I turned to ride off, the guy who called me over shakes my hand and says, with total seriousness, "Ride fast and take chances." While that sounds a little hokey now, it was really wonderful to hear in that moment from this kind stranger who, with his overpass brass band, had obviously figured some things out in life.
I love San Francisco.
Dmitry D. in Moscow:
Shauna M. in Washington, D.C.:
One day, when I was running for the bus, I ran by a very old man who was walking very, very slowly with a cane and sunglasses. I asked if he needed some help across the major road we were about to cross, and he was very surprised that a young person stopped at all, and said so. Well, it took us about 30 minutes to get up the tiny hill to even get to the street. He told me his name was Ulysses, and that he was 90 and had lived on our street his whole life.
I was really late for work that day, but grateful to feel more connected to the neighborhood. Ulysses is still around, but I don't see him very often.
Warren. L in NYC:
Super Bowl week last year. Bicycling from the office to yet another Super Bowl press event at the Sheraton, I dropped my wallet en route.
Tal F. at West Village General Contracting picked it up. He could have ignored it, or kept it, or at least the money in it, or sold the credit card numbers on the black market, or dropped it in a drawer after the first couple of attempts to reach me online did not pan out. He did not. When I offered a reward, he just said, "Pay it forward."
So during the colossal cock-up that was the transit getaway from the Super Bowl that Sunday, when a couple of Broncos fans found themselves not only disappointed by the outcome of the game, but marooned at the Secaucus train station well after midnight without any clear way to get to their hotel 12 miles away (despite being within sight of the Empire State Building, the Secaucus train station is in the middle of nowhere), I bundled them into my car and took them.
I also unreservedly recommend West Village General Contracting to anyone who needs a Manhattan contractor. I've never needed one, but they’re good. They must be.