The kindness of strangers is sometimes surprising but always appreciated. On a trip from San Jose to Belleville, Ill., my 80-year-old uncle experienced extraordinary stranger kindness, perhaps stranger than fiction.
The story of my uncle’s trip focuses on one person, who works for the St. Louis Airport Taxi service, but it also involves several people who work for Southwest Airlines.
The story begins on a Saturday night, the day before my uncle’s trip home to Illinois after visiting his relatives in Northern California. I had made a call to my niece in St. Louis, Missouri, who was scheduled to pick up my uncle at 2:45 p.m. the next day and drive him 25 miles east to his home in Belleville.
I discovered, however, that heavy, drifting snow was forecast in the St. Louis area on Sunday, and I didn’t want my niece to experience the stress of driving through a snowstorm. I called St. Louis Airport security, and a kind man recommended the St. Louis Airport Taxi service.
The next morning at 8 a.m. (my time, 10 a.m. Midwest time) I helped my uncle by calling the taxi company, talking with a dispatcher whose first name was Naveed. I asked if he could have a taxi driver at the airport at 2:45 p.m. later that day to pick up my uncle and drive him to Belleville.
He said his company would indeed do this, even though it was snowing hard in St. Louis and would probably keep snowing into the afternoon. I asked for the cost; he gave it to me (a reasonable $65) and I prepaid with my credit card.
At 10 a.m. my time (noon in the Midwest) I got a call from my uncle at the San Jose Airport. He had missed his non-stop flight to St. Louis, but he had been helped by some understanding Southwest Airlines agents who re-booked him on the next available flight.
Unfortunately his trip would involve an hour’s stop in Phoenix and a two-hour layover in Las Vegas with a change of planes. He would be arriving in St. Louis not at 2:45 but at 9:30 p.m.
I called back the taxi company and Naveed once again answered. “My uncle missed his flight,” I said. “He’ll now be arriving in St. Louis at 9:30 p.m. Could your taxi driver pick up my uncle at 9:30 p.m. instead of 2:45?”
“Sure,” said Naveed, showing more compassion than I was expecting. I gave him the Las Vegas flight number and my cell phone number, as well as my uncle’s.
Fast forward many hours. At 9:30 p.m. Midwest time I got a call from Naveed. “I’ve been tracking his flight. It arrived early, 20 minutes ago, but there’s no sign of him and he’s not answering his cell phone.”
I was surprised Naveed was still on duty, almost 12 hours after I had first talked with him. I asked him if he, as the dispatcher, was in close contact with the taxi driver in the airport.
“I am the taxi driver,” Naveed said. I was stunned. He had taken it upon himself to make the drive to pick up my uncle late in the evening and drive at least another hour round trip to take him home.
“Are you waiting in your taxi at the airport cab stand?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I’m inside the airport, holding a sign with your uncle’s name on it.”
Finally, at 10 p.m., I got a text from Naveed saying he had found my uncle and was driving him home. I exhaled a sigh of relief and gratitude.
Later my uncle called from his home and filled in a few details. He told me the reason Naveed had trouble tracking the flight: my uncle’s plans had changed and he had taken a different flight.
Another stranger, a Southwest Airlines employee my uncle had met on the flight from San Jose to Phoenix, said he would help my uncle by finding a direct flight from Phoenix to St. Louis, bypassing Las Vegas altogether, to save my uncle both physical and mental stress.
My uncle also told me his 25-mile ride from the airport to his home in Belleville was pleasant. He and Naveed talked a lot, mainly about religion. My uncle, a Catholic, and Naveed, a Muslim, spent most of the time comparing the two religions and realizing how similar their doctrines were, especially related to compassion for others and kindness to strangers.
I don’t know how much longer Naveed will be working for a cab company, since most taxi services are losing income from the increase of Uber and Lyft services. I do know that if anyone needed a ride from the St. Louis airport, I would recommend St. Louis Airport Taxi, and I’d especially recommend Naveed.