I spent four and a half hours today picking up a total stranger from the airport.
And no, I'm not one of those people who moonlights as an Uber or Lyft driver. I volunteered.
I offered to pick up a 21 year old UCLA law student who was landing at LAX on Air France at 4:20 p.m., in the thick of rush hour.
I said I didn't have any plans for the evening, but that's not entirely true. I certainly didn't brave the hour-long drive to the airport because I was bored or had nothing better to do. There are things I could've done. There are always things I could do. I can always occupy myself with something.
A couple days ago, I heard that my new neighbor across the hall was coming in from France and was trying to figure out the best way to get to our building from LAX. With no one to pick her up—no friends, no family—her best option was a taxi, and that's not a very good option after taking a long flight, going through customs, and retrieving three suitcases from baggage claim.
Before I knew what I was saying, I blurted out to my landlady, "Well, I might as well pick her up." And then it was too late to take it back.
But you know what? I felt really good about it. I know the pain I helped her avoid. I myself would've loved it if someone had met me at the Burbank Airport when I arrived for the first time from New York. I melt into a puddle of tears every time I fly back into LAX and have to take the Super Shuttle home. I want this girl to love LA like I do, and I didn't want that to be her first experience here. She might not have done anything to earn the gesture, but she certainly hadn't done anything to deserve the far more hellish transportation option, either. Maybe I can rebalance the Universe through a few good deeds. I don't know.
I had no obligation to this girl, but I had an obligation to myself. I felt the need to right the wrongs of the world—to do one nice thing for one person, one less person who would have to cry at the airport and be overcharged in a taxicab.
Hours went by, sending international text messages whose charges will probably bankrupt me. The airline forgot one of her bags in Paris. She got airsick from the turbulence. She didn't feel like eating.
But I got her here in one piece, in my cleaner-than-a-taxi Honda, safe and sound. I even bought her a sandwich and some chips. I lifted her luggage into my backseat. I let her borrow my motion sickness acupressure bands for the car ride.
Why, when I'd only just met her? Because I'd want someone to do that for me.
I can't fix the world, and I can't fix myself. I know that the next time I land at LAX, there probably won't be anyone waiting there for me. But I haven't always been alone: friends have accompanied me on my first flight ever (to London!) and on the drive from Syracuse to New York City. In a blizzard four and a half years ago, a friend dropped me off at JFK for my flight to LAX.
Regardless of what has happened to me, or what will happen to me, I still have some kindnesses to pay forward.
The Kindness of Strangers
Feeding the Multitudes
An Unnoticed Return