Would You Break The Rules To Help A Stranger?

This morning I headed out to JFK airport, for my Global Entry interview (it’s a pre-screening program that gets you through customs and TSA checks quicker).

As I drove toward the parking lot for Terminal 4, I saw a few people hanging out near the kiosks where you get your parking ticket. As I pulled up and opened my window, a boy who looked to be about twenty walked up and pleaded with me to help him. He’d lost his ticket, and the guard had told him that the only way to get out was to convince someone else to get him a ticket, drive around, and then get their own ticket.

There was ZERO chance that I was going to do this. I mean, for one thing, what if they were trying to scam their way out of paying what they owed? What if they’d been parked there in short-term parking for three days and owed $100, and didn’t want to pay it?

I also couldn’t see how this could work: if I drove through and got a ticket and gave it to them, how would I get out without a ticket? And you can’t just back up and go through again to get another ticket, there are those spiky “Don’t Back Up” things.

This can not be how it works if you lose your ticket, right? There has to be some kind of procedure, I’m sure this isn’t the first time this has happened!

I told him he was putting me in a bad position by even asking. In fact, he probably would have had more luck asking me for money to pay his ticket. And I got my ticket and drove away.

And yet, even though I had done nothing wrong, I felt guilty. Was there something  I could have done to help him?

I was only in the terminal for about fifteen minutes, and when I came out the three of them were gone. Hopefully they found a solution that didn’t put someone else in the position of breaking the rules.

I’m a rule follower. Always have been. I take instructions literally and warnings to heart. I try to teach my kids that rules are only made to be broken if they are putting someone else in danger. This definitely didn’t qualify. So I can’t figure out why I felt bad (and still do, a little) for not helping total strangers.


  1. says

    One day, a guy came up to me in the parking lot saying he lost his wallet, he needed to get to the airport, and needed money for the bus. It was a pretty good story. Maybe it was a scam, maybe it was legit. Either way, I had $5 so I gave it to him. I figured either way, he probably needed it. In your case, it probably would be more than $5. If you feel guilty, buy someone a cup of coffee in the line behind you tomorrow. Or pay someone’s parking meter. Teach your kids life has made it hard for us to be nice to each other. So find a way to change that and be nice when you can. Sometimes you can’t, but maybe you can the next time or create your own nice moments.

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