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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finding a little kindness in dark time in NYC

I was planning to write an entirely different column.

It was still going to be based in New York City, but it was light and fun and silly. Much like me.

It was going to start with Foursquare. Using this social media tool, participants “check in” when they’re out and about, and over time, can become the “mayor” of locations they visit frequently.

I started using it when I got my smartphone. I’m not into it as much as others, who seemingly move about town at a frantic pace.

Mind you, I sometimes move around a lot, but I either forget to check in, or just don’t want people to know I was there. The latter was pretty prevalent during the holiday shopping season.

Why give that many hints, I thought.

The most interesting Foursquare check-ins occur when people are on vacation. I mean, I don’t really care that much when people hit Giant Eagle or Marc’s, but when they say they’re at Mall of America or a great restaurant in Washington, D.C., it stirs a little jealousy.

So, when I headed to New York, I figured it was my turn to make some folks equally as envious.

About 20 minutes after I checked into my hotel, I headed a two blocks over to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. My check-in there earned a response from a co-worker who didn’t even know I was in New York.

I laughed, of course, trying not to think about the fact that he didn’t even notice I wasn’t sitting about 10 feet from him.

It felt pretty neat to check in the next day at The Associated Press’ world headquarters two blocks the other way from my hotel, when I arrived for a meeting. That was even better than my name badge, which came complete with my picture.

But that night marked both my high and low points in almost a year of Foursquare use.

After walking around the Museum of Modern Art for about a half hour, checking out works both abstract and realistic, my friend and her daughter decided we’d dealt with enough crowds and needed to sit down, so we set off to get something to eat.

Jessica said she’d looked around before her mom and I arrived, so she was satisifed with her visit.
“I checked in on Foursquare at MoMA, so I’m good,” I said.

She let out a big laugh.

“Sadly, that’s going to be my column for next week,” I thought to myself.

And it would have been, had the snow not started to fall that night.

Flight delays and the accompanying frustration left me exhausted and trying to figure out what to do when our same fearless trio returned to the hotel Saturday night, a few hours before the third listed departure time of the day for my flight.

I sat down on a big leather couch in the lobby of The New Yorker hotel, and called my husband, seeking his advice about whether to head for the airport.

Before I called, I checked Twitter and Facebook on my work phone, using the time to relax after a brisk walk around Greenwich Village.

When we decided it was safe to head to LaGuardia, I walked over to collect my bags from the secure holding area. When I looked in my purse for my phone to check the time, I noticed one of my phones was missing.

It was the one with my work email on it, and my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and all the photos I had taken while in New York.

Those who know me best understand that I freak out when I lose something as simple as a paperclip. So you can imagine the meltdown that occurred at that hotel desk.

The bellman who had retrieved my bags stood with me and helped me retrace my steps and realize I’d likely lost it near that couch. A walk back over turned up nothing.

The freakout grew bigger and then included tears. The bellman called the security desk to ask if anyone turned in a phone.

Upon hearing “no,” the tears came on full-force.

About two minutes later, a security officer came running over.

“As I was hanging up the phone, someone walked over and said ‘I found this over by the couches.’ ”
He handed me my phone.

The bellman said it’s not an unusual occurrence in his hotel.

“People turn in things they find all the time,” he said. “Especially phones. They know how important they are, so they just take them over to the desk.”

“I’m lucky it happened here then!”

“Inside the building. No telling what would have happened if you lost it outside.”

I’ve always wondered about those stories of people doing incredibly kind things to help out strangers. It seems so unlikely in our world, which is so filled with hate and self-centeredness.

When it happens to you, it’s an incredible gift. It’s almost life-changing.

It’s certainly column-changing.

Sometime I’ll tell you about other moments from my trip, including seeing a flight take off to Milwaukee with only three passengers onboard. But for now, I’m relishing this gift of kindness that two young men bestowed on me in a hotel lobby in Manhattan.

It turned out to be a great trip.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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