By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Nice American story in a time of crisis

I know this blog has many non-U.S. readers, and I wanted to share especially for the benefit of non-U.S. readers (but I think this will interest Americans as well) something I experienced today, that gives some insight into the United States in January 2009.

I am in New York right now helping my mother out with cancer treatment she is receiving. I left the hospital mid-day to head by bus and subway to Columbia University, for a ceremony where my younger daughter was being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa after her first semester. (Some old-time procurement professionals may remember her as the Chuck E. Cheese-loving daughter whom I spoke about, when she was 6, to illustrate the importance of using past performance to incentivize vendors to treat customers well.)

My mom suggested taking the bus to the subway to get into Manhattan, knowing her son's addiction to public transportation.  We didn't know how much the bus fare was but suspected you needed exact change. Armed with three one-dollar bills and all the change (only 30 cents) my mother could locate, I headed to the bus stop. It turned out the fare was $2, but you could pay only by prepaid Metro card or with coins. No bills accepted.

One passenger toward the front heard the conversation and piped up, "I think I have quarters for you."  It turned out the man was blind. He took all his coins out of his pocket. He had four quarters. I took them and gave him a dollar bill. I then asked out loud whether there was anyone else on the bus with change.  After a few moments, an elderly man in a Sikh turban said, "I think I do."  He took out four quarters, I gave him a dollar, and my trip was in shape.

The blind man then smiled and said, "With Obama as president, people are being nice to each other again."

The country's obviously going through a very tough time.  But here's a nice story about people helping each other, even in New York -- whose people aren't necessarily known as the friendliest in the U.S.  And some hope about what may be happening with Barack Obama as president.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 28, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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