During a 5-week trip to Canada and the United States, we experienced late night snow-shoeing, glorious snow-capped mountains, and hours spent snowboarding down the best runs of our lives. However, as fabulous as all that was, NONE of it compares to our chance encounter with a kind and generous stranger.
Three weeks into our trip…
…we found ourselves in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a few hours to spare before our bus to Park City departed. We walked the streets in the early morning cold, looking for a coffee and maybe a bite to eat. A shop window caught our eye. It was a travel accessory store, and my partner noticed that they sold Eagle Creek packing cubes, which had proven to be a god-send in ensuring all our thick winter clothing fit into our suitcases.
I hesitated, then decided to go in and have a look — we might not have time to come back, after all.
When a local goes above and beyond for a stranger
The shop assistant, a well-dressed older gentleman — who we later learned was named John* — instantly attempted to engage us in conversation. We muttered polite but short responses while perusing the shelves (as you do), and questioned whether we really needed ANOTHER packing cube (we really didn’t).
On discovering we were visiting from Australia, John immediately broke into enthusiastic chatter about one of his best friends, who hails from Geelong.
My partner casually mentioned a snowboard store he wanted to visit, which we knew was slightly out of town. After getting out his mobile phone and plugging in the address, John exclaimed that it was much too far to walk, and not at all close to any public transport stops. He sensed we weren’t going to give up that easily, and proceeded to research the matter further online.
After a short while his colleague arrived for work, and they discussed just how difficult it would be to get to this place. I could see the wheels in John’s head turning as he wondered out loud whether he should just take us there himself. They both agreed that the shop was quiet that day, and unlikely to get very busy. So after processing our unnecessary purchase, and thinking some more, John decided it was settled. Our feeble attempts at protest fell on deaf ears as he strode out to the back of the shop, returning minutes later with his coat and hat on; his satchel slung over his shoulder.
And off we went…
We followed John out to the nearest tram stop, where he instructed us how to purchase a day pass so we could get to his car, which was parked a few stops away; and then make our way home later on in the day. He was genuinely interested in us, asking lots of questions, and our conversation flowed freely.
John pointed out landmarks of interest, providing us with some history of the city. He also let slip that he was in remission from Cancer, after a tumour had been located in his brain. Our sympathetic murmurs and looks of compassion were instantly dismissed; and I got the feeling that the traumatic experience was a life changing one for John, who now looked at life through new eyes, and took every opportunity offered to him.
We learned that he used to be a travel agent, and that he visits Australia often. Once we got to the snowboard store — which really was in an isolated part of the city, nowhere near any public transport — he came in with us, and was quite happy to sit and watch television while we looked around. He insisted that we take our time, and seemed to rather enjoy the experience.
Going above and beyond…
It was nearly lunchtime when we were ready to leave, and once back in John’s car, he asked if we wanted to get lunch. We were starving, having not gotten that coffee earlier; so consented to joining him for a meal. He drove us to a nearby shopping centre, pointing out where we could catch the tram back into town; and listed some worthy restaurants in the area. We settled on Wingers, which was a favourite of John’s, and with his assurance that the lunchtime special was a good deal — settled down to a plate of delicious chicken wings.
He told us a little more about his battle with Cancer, mostly to highlight his readiness to help others in need. He felt lucky to be alive, and that he technically shouldn’t be here today. John gushed about his Australian friend, who through his own generosity, instilled a love of Australia and Australians in John himself. He refused to let us pay, insisting that it was the least he could do, although he had already done so much for us. We swapped details and promised to write to him once we were back in Australia.
We said our goodbyes and my partner and I looked at each other in awe.
Here was a person who was so kind to us, random strangers who just happened to walk into his store out of the blue.
The moral of the story…
This experience made me really appreciate how locals can, and often do, go out of their way to help tourists with anything from figuring out directions, and understanding the public transport system, to pointing out the best coffee shops and places to eat.
Although it can feel awkward to approach a stranger and ask for help, most people are more than happy to assist, and really feel of value by having the local knowledge to set you on the right path.
After all, the best person to help you out in a foreign country is someone who actually LIVES there.
If not for the kindness of John, we would have spent most of the day trying to find and get to that snowboard shop! I can only imagine how the day could have panned out, and we are so grateful to have met and spent time with such a wonderful human being. It really restored our faith in the human race.
Next time you see a tourist or lost soul wandering about, why don’t you ask them if they need help?
Not only will you make their day by pointing them in the right direction, you’ll also score some ‘pay-it-forward’ brownie points to use on your next holiday!
Have you ever needed help, as a tourist? Or, have you helped a tourist find their way?
Let us know in the comments, below.
*Name changed to protect privacy.