By Michael Watt
This afternoon wasn’t really dark but it was definitely stormy. Howling, blinding snow. Slush. All-around horrible driving conditions. So I knew what I had to do when I saw the person up ahead of me walking just to the side of Route 109 in West Babylon south of Sunrise Highway, struggling in the snow with her umbrella and trying to keep her footing.
I pulled up alongside her and said, “This is no weather to be walking in. Hop in – I’ll take you to where you want to go.”
She looked at me, looked at the weather conditions, looked back at me and then got in the car. As soon as she did she started shivering.
“Where you headed?” I asked, thinking she might need a ride to the nearby Babylon train station.
“Hempstead,” she replied. “I take the bus but it never come.”
She was Haitian, frightened and spoke very little English. I don’t think she was afraid of me, mind you, just at the prospect of not being able to get home. I never did learn her name, but she had been out in the snow for over an hour.
My car radio hasn’t functioned for more than a year. Because I have come to relish the silence I have never gotten around to rectifying the situation but I could have used the news right then. I had no way of knowing whether the buses were still running, nor did I know how to explain to her that she was walking in the wrong direction (south-east) if she wanted to get to Hempstead (north and west).
With thoughts of the expression “no good deed goes unpunished” waltzing through my head, I made a U-turn on Route 109 and explained to the woman that we were going to go to the Suffolk County Police Department’s First Precinct, which is on Route 109 just north of Sunrise. “The cops will know what to do if the buses aren’t running,” I thought. “At the very least they can help me deal with this total stranger with no local contacts, a language barrier and no cash for a taxi.”
I explained the situation to the officer behind the desk and he shrugged. “We don’t know if the buses are running,” he said.
“Can you look it up for me?” I asked, giving up all hope that the SCPD has a special Good Samaritan that drives wayward Home Health Care workers (that’s where she was coming from – her home health care gig) home to Nassau County.
“Sure,” the officer said. Boop boop boop on the keyboards and he prints a bus schedule. I see that there’s a bus due to come by on Route 109 and stop a little north of the precinct so we hustle back out to my car to get to the bus stop.
We find it. No bus. We wait. No bus. The weather’s getting worse. I call my wife Sharon to see if I can confirm that the buses are running without having to explain why I need to know in front of the reason why I need to know. I can’t. So I tell her the whole story. She vows to keep watching the news and to let me know if she hears anything.
We wait some more. Still no bus. My new friend has been in the country over two years. It doesn’t snow in Haiti. She lives on Belmont Street in Hempstead with her “auntie.”
Just when I thought I was going to have to bite the bullet and find out for myself where Belmont Street is in Hempstead, we see a NICE bus GOING THE OTHER WAY. “At least they’re still running,” I think.
I also noticed that the bus’ destination was the Babylon Train Station. “Duh. That’s where most of the bus routes originate from,” I say to myself.
So I explain to my new friend that the plan is to take her to the Babylon Railroad station with the hope of finding a bus to Hempstead there. Driving is still treacherous, though, so it’s slow and steady. We get to the about 100 yards from the train station and I can see a NICE bus with Hempstead flashing in the destination window above the driver.
“Perfect!” I think, and make a beeline for the bus. Except the bus is starting to pull away from the curb.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said, driving my car right to the front of the bus to block him in, honking my horn and flashing my lights because that’s the international symbol for “I tried to do the right thing with this stranger in my car but now it looks like I am going to have to drive her to Hempstead unless I can get her on your bus.”
Apparently the bus driver was not familiar with this symbol because he simply drove about my car, even as my friend was getting out.
“Get back in,” I called out to her. “We’ll catch up at the next stop.”
So we follow the bus west bound on Park Avenue, and I figure he’s got to stop at the traffic light there. I tell my passenger, “As soon as the bus stops at the light, I’ll pull up behind and you jump out to catch up with him.”
He does, I do and she does. I watch as my passenger runs alongside the bus in her black coat, black hat and black pants. The bus blocks my view for a few moments and then pulls away, and there she is. Black coat. Black hat. Black pants.
“Dammit,” I thought. He wouldn’t let her on.
“I’ll show him,” I said. “We’ll catch him at the next stop and I’ll make sure he stops for her.” So I pull up to the passenger standing on the side of the road. I open the door and bark, “Get in, get in, get in,” because the bus was pulling away I did not want it to get too much of a head start.”
“I can walk home from here,” the passenger said to me in English so perfect it startled me.
“Have I been scammed this whole time?” I wondered.
Then I realized…the woman in the black coat, hat and pants was NOT the woman I had befriended less than an hour ago.
She was just a woman who had gotten off a NICE bus and wanted to get home in a storm and would do so the minute this creep in the Camry closed his car door and went on his way.
All I can say is thank God she did not carry mace with her.
I pulled away from the curb with the car door still open and made the right onto Route 109. Then I started laughing. My friend whose name I did not get and will never know was heading home on the bus to Hempstead and I was fortunate that the lady who didn’t need a ride hadn’t called the cops.
Like I said, no good deed goes unpunished.