The Day We Met an Angel in NYC
My family followed me down the steps into the busy underground enigma that is the New York City subway system. The sounds, the smells, and the visuals are like no other experience on earth. The mass of humanity and the stale air can be daunting to outsiders, like me and my family.
We wanted to see the Statue of Liberty that day, a must-see experience for every American. I decided to lead my family underground and try my hand at NYC’s infamous mass transit system. I stared at the signs and attempted to make sense of it all. I was confused as I tried to decipher the signs and the colorful maps that seemed to mock me. My wife, Alia, and my kids stood patiently behind me as I tried my best to put on a confident demeanor and hoped that they didn’t pick up on the fact that I was clueless.
“You need some help, Buddy? Where are trying to go?” A determined voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked up to find a man in his mid to late 40s standing a few feet away and staring at me with an impatient look on his face.
“Um, yeah, I’m trying to get to the Statue of Liberty.” I respond meekly.
“Follow me, I’ll take you where you need to go.” The mystery man responded and turned away and confidently motioned me to follow. I paused and looked back at Alia. She shrugged her shoulders. I found myself following the man as he weaved around other travelers navigating the platform of the subway tunnel leading us to the train that would take us where we desired to go.
The stranger, an average sized man about my height, was casually dressed in flip-flop shoes, loose fitting designer shorts, a Tommy Hilfiger long sleeved blue collared shirt, and a white fedora hat with a colorful band wrapped around it just above the brim. His hat was jammed on top of his disheveled peppered grey hair that playfully peeked out of the bottom and haphazardly laid over his ears. He looked like a retired mob boss, and dressed like he should be betting dog races down in sunny Florida. His playful smile and kind eyes drew me in, so I continued to engage with him. He found a seating arrangement on the train for my family and proceeded to plop down next to me and engage in conversation.
He introduced himself as Matthew, or “Macky”, as most call him. He’s a writer, a Vanderbilt University graduate, and a lifelong New Yorker. He asked where we’re from and what we’re looking to see on this trip. I explained all the sights we were attempting to take in that day, at which he enthusiastically responded, “Look, I’m off work and heading home. If you like, I can show you around the city, from a New Yorker’s perspective, are you interested?”
Alia and I made eye contact and were skeptical, what did he want from us? “Hey, I’m not here to scam you, friends.” Macky smiled, as if he read our minds, “You seem like nice people, and I’ve got nothing else to do until about 5 pm, when I’m scheduled to meet up with the boys for a few drinks!” He peeked over at me and winked, then playfully jabbed me in my ribs. I decided to give Macky a try and I agreed to allow him to escort us around the city. “Great!” Macky claps his hands and briefed us on his plans and the various stops he would like to show us.
We found ourselves in the heart of Chinatown with Macky explaining various facts and interesting tidbits about the area. Macky was a congenial fellow and seemed to enjoy showing us his city. He pointed out various landmarks and carefully explained where we were going next and why. He slowly gained our trust as he shared more about himself, joked with my kids, and expertly navigated us through the various obstacles of the city. He seemed to know exactly when to jump on the subway and which ferry to take and the best route that would maximize our tour. He stopped and took pictures for us and found the best New York hotdog in town for us to feast on and keep up our strength. At one point during the tour, my son, Adrian, puked due to over stimulation and low blood sugar. Macky didn’t miss a beat. He guided Adrian to the nearest bathroom and took care of him. After he returned, he gleefully announced, “I think Uncle Chuckles is going to be ok!” We all laughed at Adrian’s new nickname and continued our tour.
Eventually I asked Macky how we could compensate him or return the favor for his generosity. Macky smiled, “No need, I’m happy to do it.”
“But, why? Why would you take your time to show total strangers around town like this?” I asked.
“All ships rise in a high tide, my friend.” Macky turned towards me and gently patted me on my back. “Visitors, like you and your nice family, are critical to our city and it’s important to me that you have a good time. I hope your kids will remember this and one day go out of their way to help those around them too!”
Macky took us through Chinatown, over the Brooklyn Bridge, past City Hall, and on a Ferry, that sailed us right next to the Statue of Liberty, allowing us to take great pictures along the way. Whatever we wanted to see, he obliged us and took us on the best and most fun route he could find. Over a four-hour period, Macky entertained us with jokes, educated us on fun facts about certain landmarks, humored us with our silly New York questions, and did it all with a joy and kindness that I was not expecting from a native New Yorker.
When it was time for us to head back to our hotel, Macky guided us back to the Subway and got on board with us and made sure we knew how to get back to our hotel. When the subway car slowed, and stopped where Macky would depart us, he shook my hand, patted my kids on the head, and politely kissed my wife goodbye on her cheek. He tipped his hat to me and my family, winked at us as he stepped out of the subway and yelled back, “Until next time!” and then he disappeared among the mass of humanity exiting the train.
My wife turned and smiled at me as our train car jerked back to life, “I miss Macky already!” I nodded and agreed with her. What an experience and a life lesson Macky taught us that beautiful day in the heart of one of the busiest places on earth. Despite being busy and having his own life to lead, Macky chose to slow down and show up in our lives and extend a kindness that left an impact on my family. I’m sure Macky had several things he could’ve done that day, but he spent his afternoon with us instead. Hundreds of people passed us by in that Subway, but Macky chose to stop, to slow down for just a moment, and to sacrifice for us.
The ultimate expression of love is through sacrifice. The most precious commodity we have on earth is our time and our health, both are perishable gifts that we must steward and carefully expend on things that matter. What better way to spend one’s time than to spend it loving another human being. Macky didn’t know my family and had no reason to stop and help us, but when he did and proceeded to give us four hours of his life, he showed us the greatest example of love and made a life-long impression on us.
The world can be very dark and there are indeed evil people that walk among us, but for every evil soul that occupies this world, there are dozens of Macky’s spreading love and kindness that will ultimately defeat all darkness. New York is a better place because Macky lives in it, and my family and I are grateful we had the pleasure to experience true kindness and love from a lifelong New Yorker that we’ll never forget. Thank you, Macky!