Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

Kenosha is famous as the home of
the Nash Rambler and Jockey shorts
The Cap'n wanted to hop a train back East, to visit his folks for few days.  So last Saturday found us navigating the harbor at Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few hours before train time, looking for a marina that--on the phone--had offered a low rate.

Said marina, on arrival, had no apparent slips open . . .  no harbormaster on duty . . . and no one answering the phone or radio.

So there we were, floating in the channel, checking our guide and dialing other marinas, trying to figure it all out.  Just then, we heard a friendly voice say,  "Why not stay here?"

A suntanned man in shorts and flip-flops gestured from his backyard dock, where a group was gathered around a barbeque--adults, kids, grandparents. "I'll move this boat to make room for you, he said. "Oh, and dinner's in half an hour!"

So thanks to the kindness of strangers, we had a safe place to dock . . . not to mention a ride to the train station for Bill.

At almost every marina where we've stayed, we've met strangers who are spontaneously and genuinely kind.  As you approach a dock, other boaters will literally dash to take your lines and help you land safely.  We've met people who, based on a few minutes' acquaintance, have offered us a ride to the grocery story--or held out the keys and said, "Take my car, please!"  We've been invited for drinks and been loaned guidebooks and been given very excellent tips on attractions and restaurants. Yesterday a neighboring boater popped his head in to ask, "May I take your garbage up to the dumpster for you?"

And we've already told the story of Fran, the boater we met back in the town of Mexico, on the shores of Lake Ontario, who was so enthusiastic about our adventure, he interrupted his day to drive home (half an hour each way) and gather up a bag full guides and maps left over from his trip on the Trent-Severn Waterway. He presented them to us along with a bottle of his homemade wine.

In the Tennesee Williams play "Streetcar Named Desire," the tragic southern belle Blanche DuBois famously says, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."  We set out on this trip with the opposite intent;  we aimed to be self-sufficient.  We studied our boat books.  We wanted to be competent.  We were sure we could figure it out on our own.

But the urge to connect is part of human nature.  Consistently, the vast majority of  people we've met have been spontaneously kind, and have offered help generously--sometimes at the moments when we've realized a little help would, indeed, be very welcome.

Since Colonial times, America has had a reputation as a nation of rugged individualists.  Consider events of the past decade:  terrorist attacks, wars, Bernie Madoff and Enron.  It's easy to find support for the view that the world is a terrible place and people are basically cruel.  But I'm voting with Anne Frank: I believe people really are good at heart.

While Bill was East with his folks, I visited my brother, who lives about an hour south of Kenosha. When I came back to the boat, there was a gift basket from our hosts on the stern deck, loaded with treats from a popular Italian grocery shop in Kenosha: pasta, cheese, wine, and other treats . . . plus home-grown tomatoes.

Dinner that night was delicious.  We lifted a glass to salute this phase of our trip, the coast of Lake Michigan, now drawing to an end . . . and especially, to toast the kindness of strangers.

1 comment:

  1. That's such a great story. It's so nice when you get to experience this type of kindness and friendship from strangers, especially when it's so unexpected.