Friday, June 5, 2009

on feeling useful

On the SEPTA bus. A tall, white man with glasses walks on. Jeans, t-shirt, and a backpack. The bus driver tells him the fare. He pulls out his wallet, and after sifting through it, he asks the bus driver for change, which no SEPTA bus has. I also detect an accent from where I'm sitting. The bus driver lets him go with a dollar and coins.

You're not from around here, are you? I ask. Cliche, but, in the spirit of everyone else who has helped me in the same circumstance, that is, being disoriented in another country, I couldn't resist. I figure now is a good time to return the karma.

I learn he's a German scientist touring the area in the days he has free before a conference downtown. Today he's looking to visit Valley Forge Park. He's equipped with maps and bus schedules, like the good European travelers who seem to be so much more directionally gifted than myself. He has a strong accent, and struggles just a bit to speak and hear English clearly. The funniest part was when he asked if I could tell when he got on the bus that he was not from here. To which I said that, aside from barely hearing his accent from that distance, most people who live in Philadelphia know that SEPTA buses don't have change, so at least he wasn't from the city.

We talk about different things, how to get to D.C., what's good to do around the city, how hard it is to understand English, and how American breakfast portions are excessively generous, and how, so long as I call myself an American, not everyone eats in quantity or quality the same as a typical diner fare. I help to clarify some things about his itinerary and orientation, and tell him he can call me in case he has any problems.

I helped a helpless tourist! I tell everyone. Ok, not helpless, but if the situation were reversed, I definitely would have been, and it was nice to be on the other side for once.