Yesterday I met a very sad looking young street kid. He wasn’t asking for money, he was asking for advice. He was in San Francisco for a criminal trial, and looking at 2-4 years in prison. To make matters worse, he is from Montreal and doesn’t know a thing about American law. His crime?
“Oh, yeah, actually it’s really fucked up. Someone gave me an ounce of pot and I don’t really smoke, so I was giving it away to a busker. An undercover cop passed by and asked if she could have some, and of course I said yes. I’m just a kid, I don’t even really smoke pot!”
When I met him, his trial was scheduled for nine the next morning. He didn’t know where his trial was held, he didn’t have a place to sleep, he couldn’t use his Canadian cell phone, he desperately needed a shower, a bed, and some sound legal advice.
Flashback: two years ago. Matt and I were in Montreal for a music festival, and we planned to sleep in my car for the weekend. (This was in January!) The first night was hellishly cold, but on the second night I lost my keys. Our cell phones, our computers, my cash, our coats, our food: all locked in the car. We got a hotel room the first night, but we could not afford to do that again. With no cell phone or computer, we had to figure out how to a) call a locksmith b) pay for a locksmith, and c) find a place to stay for the next night. So picture us dressed in multi-colored light-up festival craziness, going from cafe to cafe to ask strangers if we could make just one call or send just one email, pretty please? I was so sad, but my clothes were so crazy that strangers kept stopping me on the street to take my photo. To make matters worse, the car was to be towed at 8 am the next morning.
Then Montreal saved us. Within four hours, someone offered us a place to stay. AAA of Montreal paid for and scheduled a locksmith, and some stranger helped us break in to the car for our belongings. I wrote a nice note to the police officer who might tow our car:
Please have mercy on us. We have a locksmith coming as early as possible, and we would never be able to bail our car from impound. We can’t move the car, but I promise we would if we could.
Our car wasn’t even ticketed.
So of course I helped this son of Montreal. I spent about an hour looking up hostels and legal advise with him. Someone else happened to know a lawyer who talked with him for another hour. It was such a small thing, but he went home feeling better, and the next day he escaped incarceration.
Every one of us travelers needs help sometimes. Especially when we travel with a low budget and by the seat of our pants. When we arrive home it is easy to forget the kindness that saved our lives on the road. Would I have helped him if I didn’t owe a debt to Montreal? I’d like to believe that I would, but it didn’t hurt to be reminded of a kindness done for me. Sometimes we jaded travelers all need a reminder of how much we owe to strangers.