“It’s okay, he’s a limo driver.”
That was the line I told myself when a stranger offered me a ride one dark December night in New York City. I was an 18-year-old college freshman, fresh off the farm. I was also freezing cold and running late to a housewarming party in Harlem. As I was speedwalking to the subway, a glossy black sedan pulled up next to me. The driver’s window slid down and a handsome face leaned out and asked where I was going. Without wondering why it was any of his business, I told him.
“What a coincidence,” he marveled. “I’m headed to Harlem to pick up a client. Care for a free ride?”
Now, I was no dummy. I knew not to take the gypsy cabs in Queens. But this was a limo. And I was in Manhattan. Plus, sharply-dressed, clean-shaven limo drivers aren’t crazy. Unless their name is Lloyd Christmas…
I practically dove into the backseat and once I had thawed out enough to peel off my gloves, texted my friend Josh.
“I’ll be there in a few. Guess who’s getting a free ride in a limo???” If emojis had been invented, I would have included the one-open-eyed smiley showing too much tongue.
My “free ride” turned into a terrifying ordeal. About 10 minutes into the ride, I noticed my chauffeur kept heading west when he should have been going north. Before I knew it, we would be in Jersey. I said something to that effect, and the next thing I knew, the driver had pulled into a parking garage. It was dark, deserted and miles away from the Harlem couch I was supposed to be sitting on, playing Guitar Hero.
My memory is clouded with adrenaline and fear, but I do remember going into fight-or-flight mode. My instincts were telling me one thing: FLEE. And fortunately, my driver’s were telling him the opposite: FIGHT.
That’s right. The only reason I escaped that night was because my driver, who made it clear he didn’t have good intentions with me, was engrossed in a fight he was watching on his phone. It was December 8, 2007: the night Floyd Mayweather Jr. returned from retirement to take on Ricky Hatton in a highly anticipated boxing match.
I couldn’t care less about boxing, but as I bolted from that car, I silently thanked Mr. Mayweather.
Later, when I reported the incident to New York’s Finest, the cops asked me how I could be so trusting. “I’m from Montana,” I told them. They looked down on me with pity, as if thinking, “She’s not going to last long in this world.”
But here I am, nine years later. And despite that harrowing incident, and a few others that I won’t go into here, I am still so trusting. In fact, I’m fascinated by the concept of social trust. The more I travel, the more I agree with the Pew Research study that found the following:
Whites are more trusting than blacks or Hispanics. People with higher family incomes are more trusting than those with lower family incomes. The married are more trusting than the unmarried. The middle-aged and the elderly are more trusting than the young. People who live in rural areas are more trusting than those who live in cities.
Most studies on trust find that Americans rank very high in social trust, while countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia rank the lowest. In a New York Times article from earlier this month, Stephen Heath writes that his Taiwanese in-laws call Americans “gullible” simply because we trust strangers.
In this context, if being gullible is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Why? Well, here are a few rewarding experiences I’ve had because I’ve trusted strangers, and more importantly, strangers trusted me.
- Biking up the Beartooth Pass
A couple weeks ago, I posted on Facebook asking if anyone would let me rent or borrow their bike to ride up the Beartooth Pass—one of the top five climbs in the U.S. according to Outside Magazine. In other words, I wasn’t asking for a Walmart Huffy. Cyclists have a reputation for being aloof, so I wasn’t expecting anyone to respond. But within an hour of posting, there was a comment from a man, Brent, who was willing to lend me his Bianchi road bike (i.e. $$$$). Now, Brent has never met me in person and I don’t know that he could pick me out of a lineup, but still, he was willing to let me borrow, not rent, his carbon horse for a serious ride. To top it off, he offered delivery and pick-up service! This is the perfect example of social trust, and it started with a social media post.
- Falling in Love with A Dog and His Family
Several years ago, while still in college, I was riding my bike through Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Racing down East Drive, I dodged, and silently cursed, the pedestrians in my way. Then I saw Apollo, aptly named because he was as magnificent as I imagine a sun god to be. Attached to the other end of his leash was a couple pushing a toddler in a stroller. I didn’t care that they had their hands full and were crossing a street. I violently squeezed my brakes and stopped them. Apollo was a Great Pyrenees, the breed I grew up with in Montana. To make a long story shorter, about two weeks later, Apollo’s family gave me the keys to their Brooklyn apartment and I got to spend my spring break under the watchful eye of this furry pillow with four legs and a tail. When his family returned from their travels, they even paid me! Apollo has since passed, but I am still in touch with his family, which has grown by two babies and one puppy, since that spring day I met them in the park. A few years ago, I even had the pleasure of visiting them at their home in Martha’s Vineyard where they kindly hosted me for a Memorial Day weekend.
Couchsurfing Across Countries
“You gave some random German dude keys to your apartment?” my mom asked incredulously. “Pretty much,” I replied before adding, “and I left behind a lot of valuables, like my laptop.” I was in the Catskills at my cousin’s cabin, making maple syrup over spring break. My room in Queens would otherwise have been sitting empty. Why not let a tourist visiting from Europe sleep in my bed?
Jul reached out to me on the website, Couchsurfing.com. I wanted to meet him before agreeing to let him crash at my place, so we spent an afternoon walking around Manhattan. He gave off a good energy, so I had no hesitation when I handed over my keys. Several days later, when I returned to my apartment, all was exactly as I had left it except I found a bouquet of flowers waiting for me.
About a year later, I reached out to Jul. My friend Merrick and I were backpacking through Europe and we needed a place to stay in his hometown, Hamburg. Jul wasn’t in Germany at the time, but he arranged for us to meet his father and stepmom who graciously gave us the keys to their apartment and recording studio in downtown Hamburg. We stayed several nights and our tour guide of the city was none other than Jul’s brother, Foeb.
- Co-signing with a stranger
It was the last two-bedroom unit in the luxury apartment building I’d had my eye on moving into for months. Obviously, I didn’t make 40 times the rent (about $3,500) so I needed someone to co-sign with me. I posted an ad on Craigslist and received responses from dozens of interested potential roommates. Time was of the essence, so I basically said whoever can meet me at the leasing office at 5 p.m. gets to live with me. I was hoping that whoever would be another 20-something girl. But all is fair in love and leasing, so I had to sign with the first person who showed up, even if she was a he. Erez was a 33-year-old Jewish guy from Jersey. On paper, we didn’t have much in common, although I’m slightly Jewish. But in person, I’d like to think we were a match made in Queens. He taught me how to make challah and homemade hummus. I put a creepy porcelain doll I found in the trash room under his comforter and sabotaged most of the dates he brought home. We even fostered a Shiba Inu together. We weren’t the best of friends, but he was a pleasure to live with—even when he ditched me during Hurricane Sandy. He did, however, leave me a care package. It was a suitcase filled with wine and condoms.