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People Who Need People

As a frequent traveler, when it comes to the newest technology, I am all in. Technology, when it works, seems to be tailor-made for the fast-paced life on the road. I appreciate all the work that’s gone into creating a hotel environment that allows me to check in without ever speaking to a real person. Even the little robot butlers offer a certain quaint level of artificial hospitality that’s at least intriguing, if a little Westworld-esque.  

And of course there’s my smartphone, loaded with the appropriate number of apps to make life on the road go smoother and more efficiently. At least that’s the idea.

But in reality, as I discovered on in my recent travels, there’s really nothing quite like a little human understanding and person-to-person connection to bring things back in line when life goes awry. The smartphone is at the center of my story, but more notable for its absence than for anything it actually accomplished.

Upon landing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ready for a week’s vacation, I found that my ride from the airport failed to show. A minor setback, but nothing the experienced road warrior can’t handle. I jumped in a cab and headed out to the resort town of Punta Cana. The ride took two and a half hours with a driver who spoke no English, forcing us to rely on my dubious Spanish to communicate. Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful and we shared some stories and some laughter along the way.

Though the journey had been pleasant, when I arrived at the hotel, I was more than happy to jump out, grab my luggage and pay the man. He motored off and as I turned to go into the hotel, something in my brain clicked and my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. I suddenly realized my worst nightmare – I had left my phone in the cab.

I started slapping my pockets, looking in my case; maybe, maybe – but no, it was well and truly gone. The bellman recognized my frantic searching and stepped up to help. After I explained my situation, he had security pull the footage of the car, and it so happens he knows a guy who is good friends with the cab owner.

It is now about 3:30 PM and my heart is still in my stomach. So the guy knows a guy who knows a guy – is that really going to help? But soon the links began to fall into place as a human chain was being formed to help me, a relative stranger. Within two hours the bellman told me my phone was in the hands of another friend of his, who just happens to be coming to Punta Cana. This friend would drop it by security late that night and leave it with another individual, and I would be able to pick it up the following morning.

So with the help of approximately nine faithful humans and after only 17 hours, I received a call in my room to come pick up my phone. None of these people were compelled to help; instead they all acted out of a shared sense of common humanity. One time or another we’ve all been there, strangers in a strange land and in need of a helping hand.

As I ponder the troubling stories about travel-related incidents that show people behaving badly, I think back to nine humans on a faraway island who chose to behave graciously and take it upon themselves to help out a fellow human in need. Maybe that’s the ‘secret sauce’ that will make all our travels – and indeed our whole world – get along just a little better.

By Ross Atkinson