I want to share a story from my trip last week to Long Island and New York City. If you missed my “wrap up” post from that weekend, you can catch up by clicking HERE .
I did something I don’t get the chance to do a lot and took my wife (Donna) with me. I was excited to be able to do so…. this would be her first trip to NYC.
I could tell she was excited and the train ride was just the beginning of our adventure.
We rode the train to Penn Station. From there, we decided to walk and made our way to Time Square.
Making our way through the crowd was hectic but also part of the excitement. Time Square was PACKED and was the perfect setting for a first time tourist.
I showed her all the typical spots and big name marques. We even took the time to step inside Toys-R-Us. We were both missing the Buckaroo plus I wanted her to put the size of these buildings into perspective by having seen the interior. They have a 4 story Ferris-Wheel INSIDE the Time Square Toys-R-Us!
We stayed on our feet and started making our way down to the site of the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. That walk turned out to be a little too much so she got to take her first ride on a NYC subway. Again, it was just another chapter in our adventure and I think she enjoyed the ride.
The site (and Memorial) was closed due to ice / snow falling from the buildings but we made the most of the night over dinner and a beer at Ohara’s next door to FDNY’s 10 House.
Again, the place was PACKED and Donna really seemed to enjoy “people watching”.
If you’ve never been, you’ll have to trust me that you see about every walk of life inside a New York train or subway station.
I was one of em that night. Me in a cowboy hat and boots, a good looking blonde on my arm and a slight accent kinda, somewhat stuck out in the crowd…LOL.
My head was on a swivel and I was trying to hide my nervousness from Donna. Then it happened …. we were approached. We had seen what I had assumed to be “homeless” people all night but none of them had spoken to or approached us up to that point.
My alert heightened as he approached and then spoke.
He was soft spoken and polite. He asked if I could give him $1.07.
We was exact … $1.07. Not a buck. Not two dollars. Not a dollar, fifty. Not “spare change”. I couldn’t figure out the amount. Why $1.07? He said he needed the money because he was hungry.
So I told him …. I was sure he didn’t know by my appearance but “back home”, I was a firefighter and people are always coming up to us asking for money. His request was not the first I’ve ever had for money. I further explained to him that I thought I had it all figured out and that the thing I resented the most was being deceived or lied to. Most folks ask us for “food” money but ultimately end up buying some sort of alcoholic beverage.
I told him that if he wanted a beer (or drink) to simply ask. They sold beer right behind where we were standing and I’d buy him the beer rather than handing over money. I’d rather him be straight up than lie.
He was excited to learn that I was a Firefighter. He explained how he was a Veteran and had been “down on his luck” for several years. He further explained how he knew he could always count on Firefighters and Vets.
We talked for a minute before he told me that the $1.07 was for a piece of chicken. There was a KFC behind us as well and he hadn’t eaten in days. I still wasn’t “sold” and told him that I wasn’t going to give him money. I would however buy him his choice …. a beer or the piece of chicken. HE PICKED THE CHICKEN.
A single piece of chicken cost $1.07 after taxes. I opted for the 2 piece meal that included mashed potatoes, gravy, slaw, green beans, a biscuit and drink. That total was just $8.13 and brought a tear to his eye.
Now I know there are some skeptics out there. He would just sell the meal or trade it off for beer etc right? Wrong.
He was excited … PROUD EVEN. He was proud that because he was the owner of that meal, he could sit at a table and eat it. I helped him to a table and what he did next is what caught me off guard the most.
In his prayer, he thanked God for firefighters and asked his protection over all of us.
At the “Amen”, I patted him on the shoulder and walked back to Donna with a lump in my throat. I know she didn’t hear all that transpired but I’m sure it was obvious.
How many times have I given men just like him a “NO THANK YOU” response and walked away? How many times have I turned a blind eye?
What if he hadn’t picked me? Was this his last good meal? Where is he now? This man is someone’s son. He may even be someone’s father, brother etc. How many people have I neglected to help throughout my life? As a Firefighter, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do… help others? Is that not what I “signed up” for? So many thoughts clouded my mind.
Walking back to Donna, I noticed that she too had a tear in her eye. I think she’s always known the compassionate side of firefighters (and me) but has never seen it so up close and personal (not lately anyway). I haven’t always been the best husband, father or even firefighter but I’ve always wanted to be.
I’m slowly climbing out of the darkness. I’m learning to live with my grief, depression and PTSD. I still have a ways to go but I’m working toward and finding my “New Normal” (link) . You’d be amazed at how something as simple as buying a chicken dinner can make a big difference. It’s the best $8.13 I’ve spent in a long time .
It’s easier than you may think …. Do The Right Thing.
Stay SAFE and in House!