Give me your tired, your poor

My first trip to New York City was a 30-hour layover on my way from Montreal, Canada to Helsinki, Finland. I had been at a sports fair in Canada, and had somehow managed to convince my boss that it was a good idea for me to travel through JFK, and, well, did it really matter if I stayed there for three hours or thirty? He didn’t think it did.

That’s how I arrived in New York City late on a Friday night. I was going to stay at a friend’s place in New York, and not only had he welcomed me to his home, he had also arranged for a driver to greet me at the airport.

Ain't that America.

My flight had been delayed a couple of hours in Montreal, which not only cut my time in New York from 32 hours to 30, but also was too long a time for a driver to wait for some Finnish guy – who obviously wasn’t going to show up.

But I did. I walked out of the baggage claim a little sour, and when I didn’t see anybody wait for me, I was deflated. I walked back and forth a little bit, making sure that the driver hadn’t just gone to the bathroom for a second, or that there wasn’t a fed-up driver sleeping on the seats somewhere around the corner, with a cardboard sign with “Pekareenen” written on it hanging from his fingertips.

No such driver sleeping anywhere, and nobody in the restroom, either. I sat down. I got up and walked some more. I walked in circles, and I walked in straight lines, back and forth, until a young man walked up to me.

“Hey, how you’re doing? Can I help you?” he asked me. He was wearing a uniform, which made me feel better. Surely he was an official New York person.

“Um, yes, I … I just arrived from Montreal, and we were delayed, and … somebody was supposed to be waiting for me here, but he’s not,” I said.

“No problem, we’ll get you a ride. Where are you going?”

And that’s when the true depth of my problems became clear to me.

“I don’t know,” I said because I didn’t.

“Do you have phone number or something?” asked the young man.

“No,” I said, because while I had spoken with Bryant on the phone, I had always called him at the office, a place he wouldn’t be at on a Friday night.

“No problem, man, what’s your friend’s name?”

“Bryant. McBride,” I said.

“Excellent,” he said, and picked up the phone. I stood a few steps away from him. Far enough not to disturb him, but close enough to hear everything.

He dialled the directory.

“Hi, how you doin’? Listen, I’m trying to find a Bryant McBride … Ok, and where does he live?” said the young man. The last part was meant for me.

I cursed myself. I didn’t know anything.

“Maybe … Queens? Or Brooklyn.”

“Ok. Yeah, maybe Queens. Let’s try them all,” he said, now to whoever was at the other end of the line.

“Not Manhattan?” he then asked me.

“Maybe,” I said sheepishly. “Probably not,” I added then because when Bryant and I had talked about a job opportunity for me, he had mentioned that the salary I’d get, which was what I had in Finland, wouldn’t get me very far in Manhattan.

“Even Manhattan,” he said into the receiver, and wrote down the numbers he got.

And then he started dialling the numbers, always with the same greeting.

“Hi, how you doin’? Listen,” he’d say, and then, “were you expecting a friend for a visit? No? OK, sorry,” he said, and hung up, before dialling again.

“Hi, how you doin’? Listen…”

“Hi, how you doin’? Listen….”

He’d tell my tragic story to all the different Bryant McBrides in Queens and Brooklyn, and maybe even in the Bronx, leaving the one on Manhattan for last.

“Hi, how you doin’? Listen…,” he said, and that time his face lit up. “Yes, I have him here! What’s the address? Excellent, I will make sure he gets there,” said the young man, and hung up.

“Got it,” he said, and then started to walk me to the front door. “Let’s go.”

He walked me out, hailed me a cab, put my suitcase into the trunk, and told the cab driver the address: “57th street”. Very much Manhattan.

He hopped and skipped back and forth, making sure everything was OK. I pulled out a few bills from my pocket. I’d like to say it was twenty, but I might have been fifty. I had been desperate, and he had rescued me. I would have given him all my money.

“No, no,” he said, and put up his hands in protest.

“Welcome to New York, buddy,” he said, smiling. Then he walked away.

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