in observations

Chivalry isn’t dead yet.


It was raining in Seattle yesterday. Not the usual Seattle rain – dreary, tired and barely wetting. This was real rain caused by a storm that is passing through the state. The rain was loud, wet and forceful. I went to Safeway last night after work, hoping to get some groceries and head home to play Fallout 4. I imagined it would be like any other time that I’ve done groceries and walked home – I buy the food, pack it in bags, haul everything in my hands and take a nice, thirty minute hike.

I was wrong. I saw the rain before I got out of the store. I was aware of it. What I was not aware of was that paper gets wet in rain. Seattle implemented paper bags for groceries a long time ago. So no grocery store inside the city is allowed to bag your groceries in plastic. Instead, they bag them in thick paper bags, which seem almost indestructible. That is, until paper meets water.

I should have remembered this. It’s a basic fact. But I didn’t think much of it and started walking. I was smart enough to separate the food into three bags, to reduce the weight and possibility of tearing. I told myself that if the weight turned out to be too much or if one of the bags tore, I could always get a cab home. I was also smart enough to hold the bags in one hand while I cowered under my umbrella for the duration of the walk. I was not smart enough to realize that doing so meant that the paper was now getting wet. I had gone a full block before my fingers strained. So I stopped, changed hands and moved on. Another block later, the fingers of my other hand strained under the weight. I eyed a nice, open garage nearby and moved into the dry shelter. It was well-lit and cool. That helped soothe my senses. I also placed the bags on the dry floor, hoping that my fingers would recover quickly. After a minute or two, I decided to head back out and so I picked everything up and got ready to move. I walked two steps out of the garage and the middle bag gave way. The straps had come off. I labored to bring the bags and myself back to the safety and dryness of the garage. Once there, I assessed the damage. The rain had temporarily subsided and I could easily pick up the bags in my arms and walk the rest of the way. But then I decided that this was enough.

I fired up the Uber app and found my location. When I hit the ‘call an Uber’ button, the service reminded me that the fare was two point four times the usual rate, due to high demand in the area. I opened the Lyft app and it said the hike was one point five times. I was about to hit the request button when I noticed that the app said “one point five times over the usual amount”. In other words, more expensive than the Uber rate. I went back to Uber and guiltily hit accept. At least they have more drivers. To add salt to my wounds, the Uber app asked me to explicitly enter the numbers two and four into the app to make sure that I understand the higher cost. I entered them and asked for a ride. One quickly found me and was not too far either. I tracked as the car slowly found its way to me. Just as the car reached the road I was on, I got a call from the driver, a lady, asking me where I was standing. I directed her to me and told her to stop as I brought my baggage with me. She waited as I rushed in the now-light rain towards the car, with the three bags held precariously between my hands. I pried the door open with my fingers and tried to shove everything, and myself inside. In the process, the second bag gave way. and the contents spilled on the road. I apologized to her profusely, first for my tardiness and then for making her car wet with the bags. She asked me to make sure I was safely seated and when I was, she moved the car onwards. She asked me to confirm my name and destination, as is customary for all drivers of such services.

Almost immediately, I started apologizing, half to myself, for the foolish decisions I took today. She heard me out and asked me not to admonish myself, because it would be of no gain. I didn’t relent, as I wanted to pacify my own hurt ego and I said as much to her. She simply stated that mistakes happen by everyone and the important thing is that I found a solution to my problem and acted on it. Since the solution was working in my favor, I didn’t need to apologize for anything. After a few minutes of driving, she found an empty spot on the side of the road and got out. I watched as she went to the back of the car and take out a sturdy grocery bag. She came back to her seat and handed it to me. She switched on the lights inside the car and, shifting into gear, told me to tell her when I was done moving the now discrete contents into the bag, Sir.

That’s when I registered the accent – it was British with a hint of something else. I busied myself with the goods while I listened carefully, trying to ascertain her origins. She told me that while the ride was a short one, she still wanted me to listen to good music of my choice. She offered a selection – jazz, classical, country, folk and a few others I didn’t bother listening to. I asked her to put anything she liked. She said that my interests were more important here and so her choice did not matter. I asked for classical. She countered, asking if I wanted New York metropolitan symphony or the New York opera. I asked for symphony and she got on with setting the channel. She set the volume to a medium high, so that it engulfed the car, and asked me if I wanted it lower. Over the course of the car ride, I asked her to lower it to a conversational level.

I then asked me where she was from. She answered, Jamaica. “Oh,” thought I, quizzing myself about the history of Jamaica and how long did the British rule there, since they most certainly did. I could not come up with an answer, so I moved on to other questions. I asked her if she was polite by nature or was it something she saw as a professional courtesy. She said she didn’t quite understand the question. She’d been extremely polite and respectful throughout the ride, something I don’t often see in Uber drivers. Of course, I don’t get talked back at in any such ride, but the level of respect and regard she displayed is not something I see every day either. I certainly don’t get called Sir in my taxi. I explained this to her, in not so many words and she simply responded that she treats others with the same respect that she expects them to treat her with. What a delightful answer!

Finally, we reached my building’s doors. She parked and told me that she’s waiting right there for me to come back and return her bag to her. As a social contract, I left my backpack there and told her I’d be back to pick it up. I rushed back home, in the process of which, my third and final bag also gave way and so I shifted everything into her bag before I got home. I unlocked, dumped everything on the table and rushed back. Mind you, I didn’t know if she was still charging me for the ride and the expense was two point four times, so it was prudent that I rush back. I got there, knocked on her window and returned her bag to her, folded neatly to consume the least space. I thanked her for her excellent service, Madam, which brought a smile to her face and I took out my backpack from the back. In doing so, I started cleaning out the bits of my paper bags and the water drops I had left in the back seat. She told me that she’d do it, but seeing the best in people often brings out the best in you, and I told her that since I’d made the mess, I was the one who had to clean it.

I thanked her once again and walked back to my building. The interaction was a short, but fruitful one. She came and rescued me at the moment when I needed it, though for a price. She displayed kindness and respect where none was needed or deserved. A lesser person might have scowled or laughed in my face. She displayed a deep-seated professionalism which was more nature than habit. You know what? Chivalry isn’t dead yet. It has just moved on to better people.

Photo by irinaraquel