The Kindness of Strangers

Although we live in a world that can feel terrifying more often than we would like, sometimes it is the kindness of strangers that reminds us that on balance, most people are truly kind and helpful. I am in the middle of a two week family trip in Mexico. We spent the first part of the trip with my wife’s family in Nuevo Vallarta. That gathering ended on December 31st. But, we extended our stay in Mexico because my cousin Beatriz is getting married in her home town, Los Mochis, Sinaloa, on January 6th. While we would have flown from Puerto Vallarta to Los Mochis on December 31st, there were no flights available.

This left us with the challenge of finding a place to stay in the Puerto Vallarta area for one night on New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be very challenging. Since it is peak season, like just about everywhere else, the place we stayed with my wife’s family was booked solid. So, I decided to try Airbnb, which also proved challenging, as during peak season, most places required a minimum of more than one night stay. After a lot of searching, I finally found a place, but the hostess cancelled on us due to a family emergency, so I had to renew my search, and by that time the options were few and far between.

I finally found a small place in a village, San José del Valle, a half an hour from Puerto Vallarta. Since it was just for one night, I assumed it would be sufficient for our needs. We took a taxi there, and the village is remote enough that the taxi driver was not confident he could find it, so he called the owner and with her help on the phone while he was driving he was able to find it. Given the small size of the town, I was concerned that we might have a hard time getting a taxi to the airport the next day, so I asked the driver if he would pick us up at noon, and he agreed. He even gave me his phone number just to be sure.

The Airbnb hostess told us that if we needed any help, we should ask the next door neighbor Noe. Given the small size of the town, it was not immediately obvious where we might find a decent dinner. So, after we unpacked, I found Noe hanging out with his friend Hector and I asked them if they had any suggestions for dinner. I relied on my less than fluent Spanish, as they spoke virtually no English. They told me that there were no restaurants within walking distance, but they could take us to a good seafood restaurant when we were ready.

Although my wife and son were somewhat reticent to have strangers take us to an unknown location for dinner, they realized that our other options were pretty much non-existent, so they agreed to go with them. Although I saw a car in Noe’s driveway and assumed they would drive us, it must not have been in working order, as when it was time for dinner, we all started walking to the main road. When a mini-bus pulled over, Noe and Hector told us to get in and then we all travelled 2 more towns down the road until they told us to get off. They paid our fares and then we walked across the street to a seafood restaurant, which turned out to be fantastic. Of course, we bought them dinner and we got to know each other better. After we finished, we noticed that the restaurant had a foosball table and we had a lot of fun in friendly competition.


We asked Noe and Hector if they knew where we could buy some eggs to cook for breakfast, so when we returned, they told us to get off the minibus at the closest grocery store to the Airbnb. After we bought a few things for breakfast, we all walked back and said good night.

The Mexican music that permeated the atmosphere all night seeped through the walls and lulled us to sleep. The next morning, I discovered that our Airbnb was even more primitive than I thought as there was no hot water, so we just took quick chilly showers and after breakfast, we relaxed and packed our luggage for the trip to the airport. Just to be sure, I called and sent text messages to the driver who had agreed to pick us up at noon. He did not respond, which caused me some concern, but I also didn’t want to give up on him because if he honored his word, and we left before he arrived he would have driven to this small town for nothing.

But, noon came and went, and by 12:10, we determined that we had to look elsewhere, so we tried to get an Uber. Despite numerous attempts, however, no Ubers were available and we now started to fear that we would miss our flight. I knocked on Noe’s door and asked if he had any suggestions. He told me it is difficult to get a taxi in his small town, but he agreed to walk out to the main road to see if he could find one. While I appreciated his effort, it offered me no assurance that he would find a taxi in time.

Since I am a solution minded person who never gives up, I looked around the neighborhood, and noticed a house a few doors down with a car that seemed big enough for my family and our luggage, so I knocked on their door. A woman answered and I once again relied on my Spanish to explain our situation and asked her if there was any chance she could drive us to the airport. I assured her we would pay her. She asked me to wait a minute, after which she told me that her daughter would take us but needed 20 minutes to get ready. As it was now 12:30 and we calculated that we need to leave by 12:45 to get to the airport in time, I pleaded with her to ask her daughter to get ready as fast as she could. She agreed to do so.

We brought our luggage over to their car and loaded it in the back while we waited for her daughter to freshen up after a night of New Year’s Eve festivities. Her mother joined us for the ride, and both of them, Alondra and Laura, were gracious and kind and very happy to help us on our way to make sure we got to our cousin’s wedding. They allowed me to take this lovely picture of them when they dropped us off at the airport.


What could have been a disaster turned into an experience that restored my family’s faith in humanity. We will never forget Noe, Hector, Laura and Alondra. They are a reminder that most people are generous and kind and will help strangers in need. The challenge, of course, is to turn the kindness of strangers into public policy. The struggle to do that continues.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


Mexican brother, Mexican son

I have previously written about my Mexican family and the efforts we make to stay connected despite thousands of miles between us. Recently, I had yet another wonderful opportunity to reconnect, this time in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico’s two largest cities, which are both vibrant and fascinating with a rich history. On this occasion, my cousin Miky’s daughter Natalia, was getting married. Since I consider Miky a brother, as we lived together in 1973-74 in Oak Park, Michigan, when we attended 9th grade together, despite having recently returned from Israel, we certainly did not want to miss Natalia’s wedding. In fact, my wife and I also flew my son in from Israel, where he is attending college, so he could attend the wedding. To further cement the family bonds, I convinced my brother and sister to bring their families to the wedding as well, as neither had been to Mexico to see our family there in a long time.

There are many reasons why I consider Miky as a brother. Not only did we live and go to school together for a year, but we share many attributes. We both work for ourselves and seek to make our own way in the world. In addition, we both prioritize family connections. We married the same year (1982) and both continue to have happy and fulfilling marriages as we approach our 35th anniversaries. As you can see below, my wife and many others also think that Miky and I look a lot like each other.


Mi hermano Miky

Of course, the wedding was beautiful and so much joy was shared by those in attendance. In fact, at one point during the party, my wife turned to me and said,

“Mexican people are the nicest people I know.”


Father/daughter dance: Miky & Natalia

While we could have returned home after the wedding, we had another important stop to make in Mexico. In 2008, Miky and his wife Alma asked my wife and I if they could send their son Miguel to live with us for a year and attend 8th grade in our local middle school. We were glad to do so and continue what is now a 3 generation tradition of having a Mexican family member live with one of our family members (Miky’s Aunt Nitchy lived with my mother for 2 years as teens). Now, Miguel is on the verge of finishing his undergraduate degree at the Panamerican University in Guadalajara and we wanted to see his life in Guadalajara.

It was well worth the extra time and effort to visit Miguel in Guadalajara. Not only did we enjoy Guadalajara, with side trips to Tequila (yes, that’s where they make it) and Tlaquepaque (a beautiful artisan town), but more importantly, we saw where and how Miguel lives and goes to school. We got to know his lovely and charming girlfriend Vanessa, and it warmed our hearts to see how he has grown into a truly fine young man with a bright future ahead of him.


Miguel with his second mother, my wife Sheryl

On the last evening of our stay in Guadalajara, the breaking news popped up on our phones that the U.S. had bombed a Syrian air base, as we were going out to dinner with Miguel. Sheryl and I expressed our fears of how this bombing could potentially unravel into World War 3, if Russia and Iran reacted violently. Listening with a son’s concern, Miguel said, “you can always come to stay with us in Mexico where you will be safe.”

My wife and I were deeply touched by Miguel’s genuine offer in many ways. First, he truly understands that we are family in the deepest way. We will always be there for each other to protect each other. In addition, perhaps without intending to make a political statement, he made a very profound one. With all the anti-Mexican bias coming out of the White House, thinking about the possibility that we might actually be safer and better protected in Mexico was both ironic and heartwarming.

We will continue to maintain our strong family bonds with my Mexican family. After all, with a Mexican brother and a Mexican son, how could I do otherwise?


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.