My eyes wandered around the Canary Wharf train station in London as I waited to say goodbye to my nephew, and I decided to take one more look at the map of the Underground while he messed around with his smart phone. I walked over to the prominent display board and stared at the brightly colored lines depicting the various routes on the tube. The map makes the London Underground look like a series of straight lines and sharp angles when in reality it’s a mass of slow curves and unexpected twists. Like life. I followed the Jubilee Line – the grey line (or were they thinking silver?) – from Canary Wharf to Green Park, where I had to change trains, and a woman standing next to me, her young son turning circles around her legs, asked if I knew which station they needed to get to the Natural History Museum? I wasn’t sure so I offered to ask my nephew, thinking if he didn’t know, he could look it up on his phone.
My nephew obliged after frantically finishing up the last of his e-mails, provided me with the answer, then gave me a disparaging, “Why d’you always got to play the Good Samaritan?” comment before we hugged goodbye. My nephew is a love and would generally help anyone with anything but, like all rising star business people, nothing gets between him and his Blackberry. (I seem to remember Brooke Shields saying the same thing about her and her jeans back in the 80s. My, how times have changed.)
My nephew’s comment rang in my ears as I lugged my suitcase down the escalator and onto the first tube and I thought back to my time in Ocean Park, Washington, when in an attempt to do what I’d seen other people do (never a good move on my part) I drove my van down onto the beach. And, of course, unlike all those other people I’d seen do it, promptly got stuck.
It was late evening when this happened, and instead of being able to revel in the moon shimmering on the ocean, my husband and I peered at the front tires, half buried in the soft sand, wondering how we might salvage the situation. Since it was late evening no-one was around to help push us so we tried a couple of things that turned my van into more of a sand sculpture and then watched hopefully as a little red pick-up bounced insouciantly down the beach in our direction.
“You guys stuck?” called the driver after coming to a stop on a hard strip of sand not two feet away from us.
“Yeah. I don’t s’pose you’ve got some way to pull us out, do you?” my husband replied.
“Not on me. But I only live a block away. I could go get a rope.”
“If you wouldn’t mind…”
He drove off with a nod, and my husband and I turned to each other, wondering what we were going to do if he didn’t come back.
The tube rumbled to a stop in Green Park and I hopped up and hefted my suitcase onto the platform. I looked for signs for the Piccadilly Line – the blue line – and focused on wheeling my heavy suitcase through the maze of narrow, tiled tunnels that connect the underground tube stations, hoping fervently that my nephew had been right and there wouldn’t be any stairs along the way. But of course, thinking about it brought them to me and I came around a long curve in the tunnel and groaned at the sight of two flights of stairs with no escalator. I gritted my teeth, grabbed the handle on my suitcase and began lugging it up the steps. “Can I help you with that?” asked a male voice with a slight German accent. I turned to see a strapping young man in a business suit and patent leather shoes, who ignored my half-hearted protest that I could manage, relieved me of my suitcase and carried it up the steps. At the top he handed it back to me, then disappeared down the tunnel, his shoes clicking rapidly on the tiled floor.
This time, as I wheeled, I allowed my mind to go back to Ocean Park and the driver of the little red pick-up, who did indeed return, not five minutes after he’d driven away from us, armed with a length of rope and a flashlight. He hopped out of his truck and whipped back and forth around our van, like a ferret in a chicken coop, detailing a course of action that involved the rope, his pick-up and a specific turn of the steering wheel. He was slight but wiry with shoulder length dark hair that was thinning on top, and he was wearing a loose cotton t-shirt and jeans. He bent, to tie the rope under the bumper and, the next thing I knew he was lying on his stomach, tossing sand away from the tires with his bare hands while gradually exposing parts of his anatomy to me that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be seeing. The sand flew out into the air behind him but it also flew into his hair, his clothes, his mouth, his eyes and I watched, uncomfortably, thinking that should be me clawing at the beach to free my vehicle. Before I could act on that realization, however, my husband and the fellow had found a place to hitch the rope, had liberated the tires of the majority of the sand and were going over, one more time, just how far to turn the steering wheel. Then it was done and the fellow was driving away, a little richer from having helped us while we felt richer from having been helped.
The thought of this good deed lifted my spirits as I navigated the interminable corridors leading me to the Piccadilly Line and then I felt my shoulders slump as I came around yet another corner and discovered more stairs. I was mentally preparing for the burn across the top of my back when I saw him – the strapping young man with the slight German accent. He was standing at the bottom of the steps, looking back in my direction. At me. Like he was waiting for me. And when he saw me see him, he reached out his hand for my suitcase.
This is why, I told my nephew in my brain, as I trotted up the steps behind my suitcase toting Good Samaritan. This is why.