Roller bag? Check. Briefcase? Check. Boarding pass? Check. Wallet?
I started to search through my car, the bags, and coats like a squirrel looking for long lost buried acorns. No luck. With just my passport and an old checkbook, I headed toward the gate to catch a meeting with a national partner on our education work in New York City — without cash or credit card.
Upon my arrival into the terminal at LaGuardia, I made my way to the first Delta representative.
“Excuse me, I just landed without my wallet and I have no cash. I do have a checkbook. Do you know of any bank terminal here or store that would cash a check?” I asked.
The Delta associate said, “There isn’t a bank within this terminal. I am not even sure you could find one in the airport. You might check at one of the stores to see if they would cash your check.”
I reached a store inside the terminal and asked the clerk, “Excuse me. I am wondering if you would be able to cash a check.”
“No, we can’t do that,” she replied, looking quickly at the line of customers behind me waiting to buy their newspapers and snacks.
I bumped around the terminal in this fashion for another 15 minutes without any luck. I knew I had to find a solution quickly since the clock was edging closer to my meeting time. Finding myself in these kinds of situations is not unfamiliar to me, as I seem to have a knack for being so focused on something in the future that I miss the essential ingredient I need for the moment. But usually, something happens and a pathway opens.
I decided to make one last stop. I walked into the Sky Club of Delta and looked for the most sympathetic eyes I could find.
“I am in a bit of a pickle. I have to make my way into the city for a meeting, but I don’t have any cash since I left my wallet back home. I know there isn’t a bank in this terminal, but I am wondering if there is any bank inside the airport or if you have any ideas on how I can get some cash?” I said with a true sense of loss of direction.
The Delta associate looked at me like someone who has seen this movie before, and understood my frustration. She said, “I am not sure if there is a bank nearby. You could access the Internet from here and check for any branches of your bank if you would like. How much money do you need?”
“I am thinking $100,” I said.
“Why don’t you research the banking option and I will see if I can find a solution,” she said as she began to move from behind the counter and walked out of the Sky Club.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Anna,” she responded.
“Thank you Anna. I really appreciate the help.”
I started searching the web, but I wasn’t having much luck. I began to think about how I used to hitchhike my way around during a period of my life. I could use my thumb if worst came to worst. Realizing I was going to have to move to a whole new plan, I started to close up my laptop when Anna came walking up to me.
“I couldn’t find anyone that would cash a check so I went to the ATM and took $100 out of my own account. I want you to take this and go make your meeting,” she said as she handed me five $20 bills.
I was stunned. I thought, “No way!”
“Anna, I can’t do that,” I responded.
“No, take it. If you want, you can write me a check for $100, or you can just pay me when you come back through here on Thursday. I will be working then and you can bring me the $100 then,” she said.
“What would you prefer?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter. I trust you.” she replied.
I wrote Anna Castano a $100 check, thanked her profusely, and grabbed my bags to go make my meeting. As I sat in the cab looking out to the city I wondered, “Would I have done the same thing?” I hoped I would have, but there was part of me that wasn’t sure. Anna reminded me of something I believe: Life is better lived when we believe in the good in each other.
Upon my return to the airport on Thursday, I walked back into the Sky Club at Delta. I scanned for Anna, as I wanted to give her a gift I bought as a thank you. She was busy with several customers, solving more problems I am sure. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to wait as I once again was rushing to catch my flight. I slid up to the counter and placed the gift next to her. She looked up with a smile. I mouthed a big “thank you,” which she acknowledged before moving back to the customer in front of her.
I am convinced Anna does great deeds all the time in the service of others. It would have been easy for Anna to doubt my story or question if the money would ever be repaid. Yet, she believed and acted on her instincts. Customer service in organizations seems to soar when individuals empower themselves to solve problems or exceed expectations. Anna’s action let me get to a business meeting, but more importantly, she modeled what every organization aspires to do: exceed customer expectations. Easy to say, tough to do. Thanks for the hand, Anna. Thanks for the reminder.