I wasn't planning to meet him. I hadn't really thought about guardian angels much recently. My flight from Utah was uneventful, smooth, and actually quite relaxing. I even managed to grade a stack of student papers on the way. JFK was busy, but not overly busy...not like Chicago or Atlanta that last couple of times I've flown into those airports. I did have to wait 20 minutes for my luggage, but all in all I felt things were moving along pretty well. That's when I made the decision to NOT take a taxi into Manhattan, but to have an adventure instead. I decided to ride in on the subway.
At the terminal door, I asked a helpful young man (probably about 40 years old) how to get to Manhattan on the subway. Crusty...Mr. T. Russell Custer actually, but, I was informed, everybody just calls him Crusty, so that's what I called him...Crusty, whose family is from North Carolina and who has been working at the airport for twenty years and who was just about as wide as he was tall, told me he would show me exactly how to get to Manhattan on the subway, but that I would have to take the Airtrain first. And the best part was that he would take me to the Airtrain.
Crusty loaded my bags up on his cart and wheeled me across the street to the Airtrain terminal and right onto the train. He stayed right there on the train with me as it pulled out from the terminal. He was pointing to the map and trying to explain to me which connections I needed to make. When we got to the next stop, I was completely confused. Crusty had a way with words. When he said them, they sounded like they made sense, but when you really thought about what he had said, it made no sense at all.
But now I was committed. I was on the train and I wasn't about to go back and try and hale a cab. The Airtrain, which travels to all the JFK terminals, slowed as it approached the next terminal and I could see that Crusty had gone as far with me as he intended to go. As he got ready to leave, I asked him if $5 was enough for his trouble and he told me that he was hoping to maybe get something with a zero on it, so I gave him a $10. I didn't really mind. He was a very pleasant young man. He'd even tried to hit on a pretty young lady while helping me with my bags. "You never know when you'll get lucky," he said, and I agreed with him.
In fact, I was just about to get very lucky, although I wouldn't really call it luck. Standing near me on the Airtrain and watching me trying to interpret Crusty's instructions was another young man about 25 years old. He had a scruffy five-day beard, long scraggly dark hair that was tied into a ponytail, and the brightest, most welcoming eyes I have ever seen. He was my guardian angel...Jay. At least he told me his name was Jay. Somehow, before the train stopped at the next terminal five minutes later, we were close friends.
For the next hour, Jay made sure I got off at the right Airtrain station, offered to purchase my subway ticket (which I did not allow, but I did allow him to show me how to buy my own), made sure I got on the right subway train, helped me carry my bags that were loaded with graduate recruiting brochures, and talked to me about the beauty of southern Utah. When we arrived at my stop to get off the subway, he insisted on coming with me to make sure I got to my hotel safely. It was four blocks from the subway station to my hotel.
I wasn't sure what I would find in New York City when I left the comforting confines of Provo on Thursday. To be honest, I've always heard that New Yorkers are a little unfriendly and not very helpful. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I will never think of New York again without a smile on my face.
At the door to the hotel, I thanked Jay and told him to come and see me in Utah. He said he would, but I've met guardian angels before and they are usually too busy for follow up visits.