Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Double-U. T. Hotel.

If my travels abroad have taught me nothing at all, it's taught me to love my fellow man, including those tourists whom I used to loathe. They're everywhere in DC, especially during the summer months when people bring their summer break-ing kids with them. And growing up in Hawai'i, tourists were a part of the landscape. Hated 'em.

But now having been a tourist several times now -- a few times in cities where I don't speak the language well -- I have come to appreciate the kindness of strangers and feel the need to reciprocate if and when at all possible.

Every so often I'll see a random hapless person on a street corner in DC poring over a map. I try nowadays to take the time to stop and ask them if they need help finding something. God knows I've been lost before.

Tonight, as I walked back from the Metro, I was approached by a random man. At first I was a little wary -- was he going to ask for money? Or worse yet, was he just going to rob me? -- but then this conversation ensued:

Guy: Ex-cyooze.
Me: Yes? You need something? [I am still poised to bolt if necessary.]
Guy: Where is 15th Street? [He has an accent.]
Me: This is 15th Street. What are you looking for?
Guy: 1515.
Me: 1515 15th Street? [I seriously don't know where that would be.]
Guy: 15.
Me: Huh?

Clearly, English is not his first language, and he's not doing too well. And I take it he's lost. So I engage my good Samaritan nature and continue the conversation:

Guy: 15.
Me: Uh, what are you looking for? Maybe I can help you. Do you know a cross street? [This phrase is totally lost on him, of course.]
Guy: W hotel. 1515.
Me: The W?
Guy: Double-U. T.

I gotta tell you, I don't even know if a W hotel even exists in DC. And I know most of downtown DC like the back of my hand, so I would know if there was a W somewhere.

"You know what? Let me see what I can do." I pull out my cell phone and dial 411, looking to ask for the number to the W hotel for purposes of finding directions for him. Then suddenly the last thing he said hit me.

Me: Wait, what did you say?
Guy: Double-U. T.

I hung up the phone and instead opened up a text editor. I typed in a word and showed it to him. "Is this what you're talking about?"

"Yes!" the guy responds. I had typed the word "Doubletree." Which is located at 1515 Rhode Island Avenue, NW.

"Oh, good. You're heading in the wrong direction. Just come with me."

At which point, because it's well on my way, I walk him to within a block of the hotel. Along the way, I tried to engage him in conversation, but his English was so severely limited that it simply wasn't working. I even asked him if he spoke Spanish or French, but that didn't take either. We ended up walking about three blocks in complete silence.

At my corner, one can see the hotel. I stop at my corner and point it out to him. "It's right there," I tell him. "Cross the street here, then cross the street to there. Then turn that way, and the hotel is right there."

He thanked me (if there's only so many words you know in a foreign tongue, I would suggest that "thank you" must be at the top of your list for words to know), we shook hands, and he went off on his merry way. I presume he found what he was looking for.

And now I hope I'm getting karma points off of this effort.

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