Why it pays to be nice if you’re an idiot

I had a long day of traveling home earlier this week from a conference in Orlando — all together, it took me about 11 hours. And at the very end of it, I did something monumentally stupid that really capped off the evening.

I also discovered that sometimes it really pays to be nice.

Short background: I left the Orlando convention center (where I was attending a conference) at about 1:00pm to go to the airport.  Checked my gigantic suitcase in, despite me hating to check luggage — I was staying for five days, I needed more wardrobe than I felt I could comfortably fit in a carry-on.  Besides, when changing planes, it’s nice to not have to drag luggage around.

Got to Charlotte, and was delighted to be boarding for my second flight in just a few minutes… And then the first text message from the airline arrived, saying the flight would be slightly delayed.

It was the first of many such text messages throughout the evening.

We finally started to board the plane three hours after we were originally supposed to.  And this was hugely frustrating, for a number of reasons. First, I had planned to go surprise a friend at his 30th birthday party, just to say goodnight before I went home and collapsed. And more importantly, Sal was leaving before dawn to fly home to Texas, and I desperately wanted to see him for every waking minute between my arrival and his departure. So, imagine my frustration at the many, many delays and the subsequent ruining of my plans.

Still, I knew damned well that the rest of the passengers were just as cranky, and so were the gate agents and the crowd crew. So I kept reminding myself to smile at people, say thank you, and in general keep a cheerful disposition — getting cranky wasn’t going to help anything, right?

As I was boarding, I encountered one of my personal pet peeves — people walking very slowly, and taking up the entire walkway as they did it. But before I could huff and puff and get cranky, I realized it was a somewhat elderly woman who was obviously having some challenges with her mobility.  She was very carefully holding the handrails as she walked, and clearly was taking her time because she just plain couldn’t move quickly.  She noticed me behind her, and tried to move aside so that I could hurriedly rush past her like most people do.

Not this time.

I smiled broadly at her, pointed out that after waiting three hours to get on this plane a few more seconds wouldn’t hurt, and joked that I had feared we would end up sleeping at the airport that night. We had a lovely chat as we boarded, and I wished her well.

After the countless delays and frustrations, the flight itself was uneventful. (Other than the fact that I ended up flying next to some very senior executives from my company, but that’s another story.) When we landed, I hurried off to baggage claim to get my suitcase and get the hell home. Imagine my frustration after all of this when my suitcase took seemingly forever to arrive, and my relief when I caught a cab quickly and got home.

Then, imagine my shock when I opened my suitcase and a large pair of women’s shoes fell out, followed promptly by bags of makeup.

Yeah, it turns out that my very unusual (“plum” colored) giant suitcase was apparently one of two identical bags on the plane… and I grabbed the wrong one. And for the first time in recent memory (no doubt because of the late arrival), there wasn’t a LaGuardia employee checking names and luggage tags before passengers left the baggage claim area. So I went all the way home with someone else’s suitcase.

I frantically checked my phone, which had been charging from a dead battery, and discovered that I had three missed calls from the airport. The owner of the stolen suitcase was there with mine, and waiting for me. I called a cab and hurried back to the airport to exchange our suitcases.

gigantic man saw me rushing toward baggage claim with the suitcase in question, and came to greet me. “Are you Kevin?” he asked, and warned me that his mother was waiting for me and was going to give me a piece of her mind. I stammer through an apology and rush over to find his mom.

I round the corner… and it’s the sweet old lady from my flight. She saw me coming, pointed at me, and said “It’s you!” while starting to laugh. Her son was perplexed — this probably wasn’t the reaction he was expecting — but when he saw she was in good spirits he relaxed.

I gave her a hug, told her how sorry I was for the mix-up, and confessed that I’d tried her shoes on and pranced around the apartment in them. (For the record, I was kidding.) I walked outside with them, arm-in-arm with her, laughing about how stupid I’d been. By the time we parted, her son was thanking me for being so nice and rushing back, and she was laughing and grinning ear-to-ear.

A lousy, lousy day of travel… and a ridiculously stupid mistake on my part, but in the end it turned out to be a really lovely reminder of how great it can be to simply be nice to random people you encounter.

One Response to Why it pays to be nice if you’re an idiot

  1. Micki says:

    Best. Story. Ever.

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