If you have ever wondered what one person could possibly do to have any sort of effect — or have ever thought that one person couldn’t possibly have any sort of impact, read on.
I recently was rerouted on my way to the office — I typically take the F train to Lexington and 63rd street and walk the rest of the way. For some reason I didn’t have my headphones with me and so I was reading while listening to the general silence of the train. When we got to a certain stop, the train made an odd beeping sound that generally accompanies unusual announcements, and the train conductor told us that all F trains were going to be running on the G line from that station forward due to something or another that I cannot recall because the why of it was irrelevant compared to the what. The what, of course, was that if I wanted to get to work that day I would have to get out of the train and get on an E train. This is because the G train does not grace Manhattan with its presence.
The first Manhattan stop of the E train is Lexington and 53rd street, and that is where I got off. I spotted the escalator pictured above (it was not closed for maintenance at the time) and saw a steady stream of people getting on and walking up the escalator. If you can’t tell, the escalator is exactly wide enough for one person — and so as each person got on the escalator, they started walking up. I too got on the escalator and started climbing upward, and continued to do so… until someone decided to stop walking.
Once that person decided to stop walking, every single person behind him could not continue walking upward.
Because each person that got on the escalator could no longer step forward, the effect was that even after the initial person stopped walking, the entire escalator went from being one on which everybody was walking forward to one on which nobody was walking forward. It occurred to me that the only way that the escalator would go back to being a walking forward escalator would be if the traffic subsisted enough for there to be either a large enough gap for people to start walking forward, or enough that people could start the cycle anew of walking forward on the escalator.
One person can make a big difference.
A second example was this last weekend, though I wish it hadn’t happened at all. I was at the Disney Store with my wife and two children and we were in line to pay. A gentleman didn’t see the line and cut in front in an effort to return an item. One of the cashiers explained to him that there was a line and he claimed he had not seen the line. The next thing that happened I somehow missed — he referred to her using a racist epithet. My wife told the cashiers that he could go ahead and return the item since he was up there already and we were the only people that were next in line.
As I approached the register and put up our things I could tell that the cashier ringing us up was upset, but I could not understand why. She kept looking at the person who was now making a bit of a scene in returning an item. I told her a story about when I had worked at the Disney Store in 1998 and someone returned something that had been purchased many years prior, and was outraged at how little they were getting back for it. (I ended up buying it as it was a nice sweater in my size and also a good deal — under a dollar!) She told me that rude customers were one thing, but she could not have expected someone to be racist toward her in the store. Her eyes welled with tears and she excused herself to go in the back and attempt to compose herself after the completely hostile situation.
As we left, I told the manager of the store that we wanted to make sure that she knew that we really appreciated her help and that we thought she was terrific! He assured us that she would definitely be informed. I almost feel as though there is so much more that I could have done, but what? Call the person out in front of the store? By the time I found out what had happened, he was long gone. My heart aches thinking of how much wrong could be perpetuated by one person in the course of an afternoon.