I had just gotten off a subway train at Foggy Bottom and was adding money to my metro fare card, vaguely noticing a woman standing nearby. When I finished the transaction and started to turn to leave the station, this woman approached me.
"Are you in a rush?"
"What do you need?" I asked.
"Could you help me add money to my card? I see that you just did it."
I gestured to the booth where metro employees hang out. "There are people in there who know everything about these machines so you might ask them." She hesitated and she didn't look toward the booth, she looked down at the ground.
"But if you prefer that I try to help you, I have a minute."
I was being too nice, I thought, but it was too late now. So we found an available machine and I walked her through the process. She was young, red-haired and pale, and spoke English perfectly but with a strong accent. Thankfully, she was also a quick study.
"I see now that I could do this if only I just followed the prompts!"
I laughed and shrugged.
"But it was nice to have someone helping me so thank you. I am from South Africa, going to a college visit day at George Washington U," she said. And she talked at a fast clip about how she was meeting up with a group in about 15 minutes, wondered if there was coffee nearby and if she had time to explore a little. I answered the coffee question and otherwise listened politely.
We walked to the escalator together and when we got on, I stood on the right, and she stood (wrongly) on the left. I didn't correct her for her choice (where people expect access to rush past those on the right). I figured if she did attend this school, soon enough her behavior would be shaped out of that choice! I just hope it wouldn't be done with too much rancor.
We quickly reached the top of the escalator and were at street level. A lot of traffic, people, and noise greeted us. She stood and looked around as I slowly headed toward the street crossing to be on my way at last.
"If you choose GW, I hope to run into you again some day," I said. She smiled broadly. And with that, we parted company.
My initial reaction to her request for help had been to refer this lady to the station agent but I'm glad she persisted and that she wanted my help. Who knows why she engaged me – maybe just because I was conveniently there at the machines or maybe she thought I might have time for a short talk before her visitation day. She clearly was taking a big step that day and maybe she was a little apprehensive.
In the end, I was happy about that short-lived connection, whether or not I was in a rush.