The elderly woman in the purple blouse

Yesterday I had to travel to New York City for some business projects.  Rather than drive all the way down and all the way back, I rode Amtrak.  A little relaxation, a little scenery, this that and the other thing.  Plus, as I’ve said in this blog previously, I come from a long line of railroaders.

The NYC trip was productive – so much so, in fact, that I was was able to return to Penn Station a couple of hours early.  My original plan was to rtake Amtrak’s Empire State Limited 8:55 train, but since I was in Penn Station at 6:45, I tried to swap out my ticket for Amtrak’s 7:15 return train to Albany.

Of course, if you’ve ever been in Penn Station and tried to swap out your ticket or purchase a ticket or do anything with Amtrak’s ticket booths, you know it’s going to take a while.

Nonetheless, I patiently waited in line with about 25 other people, as Amtrak’s ticket window rivaled the Department of Motor Vehicles in their snail-like speed of customer service.

Okay, I’m waiting, it’s not the end of the world, I’ve got plenty of time to get a ticket change…

But behind me, I heard this voice.

“I’m not going to make it.”

I glanced behind me.  It was a woman in her mid-50’s, who was furiously manipulating her cell phone.  “I’m not going to make it,” she repeated, grimacing.

6:50.  The line inched forward.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

She looked up.  “I’m going to miss my train.”

“What one are you taking?”

“The Acela Express at 7:00 p.m.  And this line isn’t moving.”

She was right.  I’ve seen people advance forward in a game of “Mother May I?”

6:52.  Two people ahead of me, the woman in the purple blouse behind me.

6:54.  The two people finally get called to see a ticket agent.

6:55.  The light flashes to summon me to the next ticket window.

“Go,” I said to the woman in the purple dress.  “I’ll wait for the next agent.”

She looked up, astonished.

“Go,” I repeated.  “Don’t miss your train.”

“Th-thank you,” she replied, as she ran up to the ticket agent.

6:57.  I finally had my Amtrak ticket changed over to the earlier train.

“All aboard the Acela Express for Washington, D.C., final call, Track 14 West!” was heard over the PA system.

I glanced over.  The girl in the purple blouse was still at the ticket window, the ticket agent typing in her ticket information as quickly as he could.

I glanced over to Gate 14 West.  There were still a few people arriving and showing their tickets and walking toward the train.

With my ticket in hand, I ran over to Gate 14 West.

“You’ve got one more passenger,” I said to the ticket attendant.

“Let me see your ticket.”

“No, no, not me, I’m not taking this train.”

“Who is?”

“That woman over there.”


“Right there, purple blouse,” I said, as the woman in the purple blouse finally received her boarding pass.

“She’d better hurry or this train’s leaving without her.”

I quickly motioned to the woman in the purple blouse.  “Hurry, your gate is here!” I shouted, windmilling my arm as if I was a third-base coach encouraging the baserunner to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run.

She ran as fast as she could to the gate.  The Amtrak employee quickly checked her ticket, then motioned her to get on the train.

“Thank you so much,” she said as she ran toward the Acela.

“Have safe travels,” I replied.

Wow.  And it was at that moment I realized that in that very second, my simple random act of kindness – letting the elderly woman in the purple blouse ahead of me in the ticket line – helped her reach her train and, eventually, her destination.

I mean, let’s face it.  I could have been a clown from Clownville and told her at the ticket booth, “Hey, a line is a line, next time arrive sooner and you won’t be late for your train.”  But I didn’t.  The two minutes between the times the two ticket agents took our orders was all the difference.

And if there is some symbiotic balance in the universe, if there is some “the good deeds you give will return to you three times” – then that’s the chance I’m willing to take.

Because maybe someday I might need those two extra minutes.

And I hope someone else will help me gain those precious minutes back.