Just one little tale of gratitude to a stranger, in Buffalo.
Tuesday was one of those days, a string of things going wrong, most of them due to my own stupidity. I ended up working late, and at 11:15 p.m. or so reached for my car keys on my desk at The Buffalo News, ready to go home and start over.
I carry a big, heavy set of keys. This is strategic. I lose things, and carrying that many keys is a kind of protection; they're noisy, and if they fall from my pocket, I usually feel or hear it. I couldn't imagine I dropped them, so I tore the desk apart several times before I borrowed a flashlight from the guard, retraced my steps to the parking lot and shined the light in my locked car.
It was 11:30 p.m. on a Buffalo night, with that mighty wind howling off Lake Erie, and my keys – both to my car and my apartment – were nowhere in sight.
It occurred to me that I'd stopped at the Canalside Tim Hortons for coffee, but it was long closed. Still, colleague Dale Anderson told me the cleaning guys were often in there late, so I walked over - with the wind careening along Scott Street – and knocked on the window.
One guy came over to the door, and I told him what I was missing. He looked everywhere, held up empty hands.
He suggested I check with the staff at the nearby Courtyard Buffalo Downtown Marriott, but a guard there shook his head. So I basically gave up, that big wind blowing through my jacket like it was a sail, clock now pushing out toward midnight. Without keys, there'd be no car and no place to stay, and I was already thinking about who I'd need to call that night - and accepting that I'd face a few days of chaos trying to put everything on that key chain back together.
Before I returned to the newsroom, as a kind of Hail Mary, I made one last stop. The 716 Food and Sport, a restaurant and tavern at Washington and Scott, was still open. I didn't have much hope, and the busy bartender said she didn't know about any keys. Still, she said she'd call the manager, put the phone to her ear ….
And told me: "He thinks he has them."
Unbelievable. In a minute I was greeted by David Clark, who said a guy he'd never met had stopped in a couple of hours earlier. Crossing Scott Street, he'd found my keys in the middle of the empty road, where they must have dropped from my jacket pocket in a wind so noisy it obscured the sound.
The guy wasn't quite sure what to do, so he looked around and brought the keys to 716, the nearest open place. He gave them to Clark, who left them near the door on the chance someone might stop in.
So I was lucky once that the keys weren't crushed by a car or a truck, and I was lucky twice that the guy cared enough to bring them in, and I was lucky a third time that Clark figured someone might come looking.
That's a lot of lucky, on what I'd mistakenly thought was a bad day.
I thanked Clark again, and told him it seemed like a Buffalo thing. He thought about it.
"I guess you could call it a Buffalo thing, or even a 716 thing," he said.
In the big picture, he said, it was more of a human thing.
Exactly. And such a human thing demands that a stranger, somewhere, hears this:
A million thanks for what you did, on one windy night.
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News who wonders: Have you had a similar moment where a stranger helped you out? You can email kirst at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below, or read more of his work in this archive.