New Yorkers truly are honest, generous and unselfish. Even more so when you bribe them to be that way.
This lesson came after my day had started, hung over and early, at the train station where my wife dropped me off and I vowed never again to overindulge until the next time. As I stepped aboard Metro-North, the first raindrops splattered the platform like eggs hitting Ol' Man Crotchky's porch on Mischief Night.
We arrived with a leisurely 39 minutes and a mere five subway stops to go from my national syndicated talk show debut. Katie Couric, America's Perkiest Journalist, would soon be grilling me and a panel of other at-home dads about our being guests at our children's tea parties rather than captains of industry like, you know, our wives.
I walked unhurriedly through the over-caffeinated, under-deodorized crowd in Grand Central Terminal to join the queue for subway tickets.
Plenty-a' time, I heard my satisfied, suburban inner voice say.
And, there, I stood.
Without forward progress. For 15 minutes.
Ticket machines sputtered about failed payments; fellow commuters muttered familiar obscenities.
I fumbled for my smartphone to research other transportation options as my antiperspirant started to fail.
"I think you dropped some money," a colorfully dressed woman said to me.
Indeed, a waded twenty had fallen by my feet. I said "thanks" into the humid wake left as she rushed by with her pre-purchased subway pass.
I weighed alternatives.
Cab? Not during a rush-hour rainstorm.
Different subway line? Crapshoot with those machines, too.
Jump on the tracks and put myself out of my misery? Not without purchasing a ticket first, you don't, Pally.
Suddenly, the line next to mine moved. One kiosk had starting spitting out tickets.
"Excuse me, could I possibly cut in front of you?" I asked the Weeble in pinstriped dark grays beside me. "I really need to be somewhere at nine."
"Buddy," he said, "we ALL need to be somewhere at nine."
"Yes, but ...," and in hindsight the words I spoke next out of desperation wouldn't play in Podunk, let alone New York City, in this media savvy age, "I'm going to be ON T-V!"
I'm grateful a harsh stare is all he shot at me.
The layer of talcum under my dress shirt began melting. I dug out my emergency pack of sugarless gum from my jacket.
"I think you dropped that," said a man with Indian accent. He pointed down with his magnetically striped, magnificently golden MetroCard. The crumpled $20 bill again lay by my shoe.
Moses had his burning bush; John Denver, a typewritten note from George Burns in his mail; me, I had a wavy-haired Andrew Jackson staring up from the contagion-laden cement.
I held the bill aloft like Lady Liberty's mighty torch, lighting my path to freedom from these huddled masses yearning for transportation at $2.75 a pop. From the sweaty depths of my diaphragm I bellowed:
"I will give this $20 bill to anyone who lets me in front of them in line for I really -- REALLY -- need to be somewhere at nine o'clock!"
He stood all of 5-foot-6 in Chuck Taylor's. Dark, close-cropped hair. Clark Kent glasses. Backpack straps over both shoulders. He stood at the very front of the line. He shrugged and pinched the money out of my hand with a single, indifferent "OK."
Rather than simply let me slip in ahead of him and the angering herd behind him, he turned without another word.
He walked toward the unseen end of this line of perspiring humanity and disappeared into the big, beating heart of the greatest city in the world.
If only the ticket machine he left me in front of accepted credit cards instead of just cash.