Lost In Paterson, But Not For Long


After working as a librarian for more than 20 years, I recently embarked on a new career: I am a freelance court interpreter. This career change has been easy because of my facility with languages. The assignments are sporadic, but they are interesting and sometimes even fun.

The only drawback is that assignments often require me to drive to courthouses and law offices in areas of my town and state that I have never seen before. Compounding the problem is my legendary aptitude for getting lost, which is the source of many jokes among my family and friends.

I recently received a new interpreting assignment. My worried husband, painfully aware of my poor sense of direction, carefully explained the directions.

When he finished explaining the route, he added: "Since the neighborhood is not safe, if you get lost, do not stop any strangers; stop at the nearest gas station and ask for directions."

I tried my very best to follow my husband's directions. Apparently, I made a wrong turn somewhere, or missed a sign, and soon found myself squarely in the middle of nowhere. The area was sparsely populated, a few deserted buildings, a few dead ends, no gas station in sight.

After some maneuvering, I found myself on an empty street. Empty? Not really. One beaten-up car was parked on the side of the street.

The driver was taking advantage of the fine weather and, seated on the grass beside the road, enjoying his lunch. He was a young black man in his late teens or early 20s. His nude torso displayed many tattoos, a bright bandana circled his head, and a long earring dangled from one ear; certainly not my idea of a knight in shining armor.

I slowed my car without stopping, carefully locked the doors, opened the window just a crack, and asked for directions. He tried to explain the intricate route. Then, sensing my desperate attempts to grasp it, he offered: "Wait a minute, I will take you there."

My young savior put a lid on his paper cup, put the sandwich back in the brown paper bag, jumped into his truck, and proceeded. I followed a few blocks until we came to the necessary exit. The he stopped, waved his hand, and wished me a nice day. After such an unexpected act of kindness my day was nice indeed.

And all this in a dangerous and secluded neighborhood with an unconventional-looking young man, I reflected. As a proud mother of professional, well-educated children, I wondered if they would act that way under similar circumstances. I certainly hope so.