With a snowstorm headed to the northeast just in time for Thanksgiving, I feel compelled to share a story:
My first night ever living in Washington DC was spent in a hotel room with a stranger from Colorado in the middle of a snowstorm.
I had moved to DC in January 2011 in the dead of winter. The day before, I had driven my car from Florida, spent the night in North Carolina, and woke up to continue my journey to DC. But I neglected to check the weather report…
Fast-forward to 11 pm that night and I was 10 miles from my destination but on a voyage that seemed endless as I sat deadlocked in the snow. (Fun detail: This was also my first time driving in the snow, in a car I had purchased three days prior.)
My destination was the home of an old colleague who I planned to stay with for a couple weeks until I found a place to rent. Knowing that the 10 miles to her home could take several hours, and that the drive was anxiety-inducing to say the least, she directed me to a nearby hotel.
I arrived to a full parking lot and as I walked through the lobby, I noticed that each couch was taken by fellow snow-avoiders, curled up under blankets trying to get some rest. I walked up to the concierge, hopeful, only to be quickly rejected.
“I’m sorry ma’am but we’re all full. Every hotel in this area is full. My suggestion to you is to just keep heading to wherever you were going.”
“Thank you, but that’s not an option for me. I think I’ll just sleep in my car,” I said. And with that I walked back outside to stare at my snow-covered vehicle.
So there I stood in the cold, staring at my car while I tried to brainstorm more appealing options. A few minutes passed and a voice came from behind me. She asked:
“Hey, are you the girl who is going to sleep in her car?”
I turned around. She was taller than me, with short blonde hair and a gray beanie hat. Approximately early 40s.
“Maybe. Why?” I responded.
She explained that she was in the DC area for a breast cancer awareness conference and thought she might have an extra bed in her room. She had just arrived. “Would you like me to go up and check?”
“Sure,” I said, “if you really don’t mind. That’s very nice of you.”
Her name was Carol or Cathy or something else with a C. She had been stuck at the airport with other conference attendees and expected to spend the night there, but a stranger picked them up in a shuttle and brought them back to the hotel. She wanted to pay the kindness forward.
She came back down a few minutes later. “I have two beds. Come with me.” So I did.
Carol (or Cathy) and I got ready for bed and shared stories about the recent life events that had shifted our perspectives. Without explicitly saying it, we knew these stories were the reason for our openness and trust. I spoke of my recent two-month trip to Southeast Asia, which I had just returned from and which I had embarked on to heal—both emotionally, following the passing of my father, and physically, following a recent car accident. I said I was moving to DC for a job. She spoke about her prior travels to Asia, and then about her battle with breast cancer and her new mindset as a survivor. I wish I could remember more details but we spoke only briefly before fatigue overtook us and we went to sleep.
She was gone when I woke up, already at her conference. On the counter, she had left me a free breakfast ticket with her number jotted on it. I offered to pay for the room the previous night but she emphatically refused and said it was taken care of by her company. What a generous person, I thought to myself. I wrote her a thank you note and headed to breakfast.
I never spoke to her again. I lost her number during my move and we didn’t exchange full names. But I think of her often. And I still laugh whenever I share the story of my first night in DC, and how it was spent in a hotel room with Carol or Cathy or whoever she was, from Colorado, with a gray beanie and an open heart.