i stepped off the plane. fried. bleary-eyed. 4-hour red-eye flight. SFO to ORD. finally wrapping up two intense weeks of a wicked work schedule.
cramped quarters in coach. no room to stretch. ready to crash in my own big bed.
i trudged down the endless hall, the spinning wheels of my bag propelling me forward. down the escalator. through the rainbow walkway. around the corner to the tunnel. “trains to the city.” keep on walking.
when i finally got to the CTA turnstyle, i reached into my purse for the train pass. right pocket, nope. left pocket, nope. inside front pocket, no. big back pocket, still no.
missing phone, déjà vu. here we go. i propped the purse on top of my luggage and started the search in earnest. receipts, keys, lipstick, compact, shuffling around in my cavernous bag.
after about a minute of watching, he spoke.
“ma’am, are you from chicago?”
“yes, i am.” half smile. “i’ve got a card…it’s in here somewhere.”
i looked back down to continue to hunt.
“don’t worry about it. come on over.”
i looked up.
“it’s all right. you look exhausted. i’ll take care of it.” he proceeded to put his pass into the slot, and waved me over to walk through the gate.
his words were clear but did not compute. train fare from the airport to the city had recently been raised from $2.25 to $5 so surely there was no way he was just going to pay for me.
“come on through!” he said with a warm, reassuring smile. “just remember me…and have a great day.”
and that was it.
it woke me up. an unexpected jolt. he paid it forward, asking nothing in return.
for all that is bad in the world, sometimes people are simply good…and that is something i will never forget.