I'll never say another bad word about New York. Despite its universal image as a harsh and forbidding place, on a recent trip to Manhattan I experienced an act of incredible kindness.
I inadvertently left my billfold (bulging with cash and every credit card known to man) in a taxi. But although my wallet contained nary a hint as to how to reach me during my stay in New York, I had it back in my hands within 30 minutes.
Adding to the unlikelihood of my wallet's safe return, the hour was late and I had asked the driver to drop me about 10 blocks from my actual destination, not a hotel, but a friend's apartment. Should the driver have stumbled upon it, he would have no way to pinpoint my whereabouts.
Here, as they unfolded, are the series of events. I hailed a cab at New York University to take me to the upper east side. As I approached my destination, I looked at the meter, took out $20 and — while juggling my money, briefcase and several newspapers — left my wallet on the back seat.
When I exited, I sensed immediately that it was gone. After searching the sidewalk around me in vain, I looked up to see the cab's taillights grow dim as it headed toward the East River.
After an initial panic surge, I quickly realized I could borrow enough money to return home. But I also knew I faced the ordeal of canceling my credit cards, getting a new driver's license and all the other attendant headaches associated with lost identity.
Still standing on the street corner, I called my wife in Pittsburgh on her cell phone to tell her the bad news. No sooner had I started my tale of woe than I heard our home telephone ring in the background.
When my wife answered, I heard her end of the conversation: "Yes ... what, speak louder please ... yes, he's my husband ... you have his wallet...? He's on the corner of 90th and Lexington Avenue ... ."
A few minutes later the driver appeared, and my wallet and I were reunited.
I had placed the odds against getting my wallet back at 1,000-1. Among the variables were that it would have to have remained visible on the back seat and not fallen to the floor, have been discovered immediately by an honest passenger who in turn would have given it over to an equally honest driver. Most of all, my wallet would have to have ended up in the hands of someone with enough creativity and determination to get it back to me.
How did it happen?
Putting together the pieces, here's the solution I've arrived at: The driver couldn't have found it since he was busy cruising. So the passenger who followed me must have had a smart phone with the White Pages app. He found my name on my Pennsylvania driver's license, looked it up, and gave my listed phone number to the driver who then dialed up my wife.
Despite the improbability of finding my wallet, my story had a happy ending. By retelling it hundreds of times, I've become an unofficial Manhattan goodwill ambassador.
The moral of my tale is to put your mobile phone number prominently in your purse, wallet and briefcase. Since tracking a cell phone number back to a residence is hard if not impossible, you'll make it easier to have your valuables returned to you should you ever have my same misfortune.
Joe Guzzardi, a former Manhattan resident, now lives in Pittsburgh, Pa. In 2008, Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.