The kindness of strangers

Bozontee wallet

One of many beautiful wallets from bozontee's photostream on Flickr

Losing a wallet is a full-time job until everything is canceled and replaced. So when Carole said she had lost her wallet in downtown Vancouver, B.C., we all gasped.

Carole and husband Wayne were on a weekend getaway from their home in Kelowna. They were on their way to a family dinner when Carole realized she no longer had her wallet. Her reaction was normal: panic. A lot can happen with a lost wallet full of cards, and none of it is pretty.

What she couldn’t know until she had spent an hour and a half repeating the worst-case scenarios was that Vancouver was home to a couple of very determined Good Samaritans.

Carole and Wayne had been parked on Vancouver’s West Broadway when her wallet slipped unnoticed off her lap and into the gutter. When they drove away, the wallet stayed behind.

The mid-afternoon timing was fortuitous. At 3 p.m. any vehicles still parked on that street are towed so the street can be cleared for rush-hour traffic. A tow truck was just backing up to a parked car when a passerby, Jim, noticed someone asleep in it.

Jim tapped on the window. The man drove away. So did the tow truck. What stayed behind was Carole’s purse, lying in the gutter.

He picked it up and took it into the nearest store, Broadway Camera.  Jim is a familiar customer there. So he asked Henry, a staff member, to help him look through the wallet for identification.

Jim had lost his own wallet a while back. He knew just what this one’s owner was going through. He was determined to let her know the contents were safe.

Tracking Carole down took some detective work. Jim and Henry first came across her senior centre membership card. They Googled the centre, called the number, and got an answering machine. They tracked down her home number. Answering machine.

Leaving a message was not good enough. Jim knew Carole would be frantic. He searched through all the cards and found a friend’s business card. Jim called the number.

Al was in. His wife, Chris, knew Carole and Wayne were on their way to her brother’s. Two calls later, Chris had tracked down her brother’s phone number.

English Bay

Vancouver's English Bay, taken from the Burrard Street Bridge, from JamesZ_Flickr's photostream

By this time it was getting closer to the hour Carole and Wayne were supposed to show up at her brother’s. Carole was trying to figure out how not to spoil the family gathering with her bad news.

She took a deep breath as they walked up to her brother’s door. But when her brother opened the door, he said, “Chris is on the phone.”

Chris had both Jim’s and Henry’s home phone numbers. She knew where the purse was, at Broadway Camera. Carole called both men. Next day she picked up her wallet, with everything intact.

What started as a nightmare became a story, one Carole, and all her friends, will tell over and over.

We’ll tell it endlessly because Jim’s and Henry’s act of kindness enlarges us all. We want to trust strangers. We want to believe we live in a friendly world. We want the security of knowing when we make a mistake, any kind of mistake, we’ll somehow land softly instead of crashing and burning.

Bad news is part of our daily fare, part of the flickering images and newsprint pages of our lives. And we have our own share of bad news right at home, with accidents, losses, betrayals, diseases, and life’s usual reversals.

But if we stack up the minutes one by one, count the hours, the the days, the years, and then subtract the bad news, what most of us are left with is a life heavily weighted on the side of the Jim’s and Henry’s of the world.

They remind us of the grace of our lives.

Thanks, Jim. Thanks, Henry.

N.B. When I sent the draft to Carole, she sent back more details. I edited the draft, including the corrections, but there’s a coda to the story. Carole writes:

“Admirable men! I picked up the wallet the next day from the store owner Milan. Another fine fellow. Please, all who read this frequent this establishment if you have camera needs or just want to met good fellow humans. We had a great family dinner that evening thanks to these good folks.

“To add to this we did go back to Army and Navy store on West Hastings which we had been to earlier to see if the wallet had been turned in there and received great sympathy and as much help as they could do, taking my address and phone number, etc.

“From the time I dropped the wallet to the time I was notified the wallet had been found was about 1 and a half hours! All in all our four days in Vancouver were a very memorable experience. The people we met and chatted with made me realize that if you are friendly and ask one question Vancouverites will make you feel right at home.”

  • More photos from bozontee’s photostream can be found here.
  • More of JamesZ_Flickr’s photostream can be found here.
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11 comments for “The kindness of strangers

  1. Anne
    May 5, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    What a lovely story Cathryn. You too are a good samaritan by sharing such hearwarming tales across the land. It beats out the bad news we regularly get!

  2. Carrie B
    May 6, 2010 at 12:06 am

    I love it! Wayne and I once saw a wallet fly right off the top of a man’s car when we were visiting Salt Spring. We picked it up and tried to chase him down but didn’t find him. We spent the afternoon investigating and tracking him down – it was actually kind of fun! He lived in Ontario and was visiting his daughter who was at school in Victoria. He had left the wallet on top of the car while he was gassing up and drove away. We were leaving the next morning so we left it with the visitor info centre. He called later to thank us and was very happy to get it back. I love a happy ending! :o)

  3. Chris Bischoff
    May 6, 2010 at 7:09 am

    What a good idea to include this. Can you send it to Broadway Camera Shop? I’m sure they would like to see the happy feelings that came out of this story. I don’t know if Carole got Jim’s e-mail, but I’m sure he would like to see it too!
    Thanks so much, Cathryn!

    Love Chris

  4. May 6, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Thanks, Anne. It’s comments like yours that keep me going – that and all the good people in my life.

  5. May 6, 2010 at 8:00 am

    What a great story!

  6. May 6, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Yes, good idea. I’ll send it to Broadway Camera and ask if they can let Jim know as well. I know where I’ll shop for camera accessories next time in Vancouver.

  7. Geraldine Bush
    May 6, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Michelle
    May 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    A fabulous story. We recently found a mobile phone in our local park – we picked it up and scrolled through the text messages to find the latest text had been sent only 10 minutes before and it was arranging to meet up with a friend. So we called the “friend” saying that we’d found the phone and left our details. The next day, the owner came over to pick up the mobile phone and handed us a big bunch of beautiful flowers! Not only did we feel good about reuniting the guy with everyone he knew, but we were rewarded with his thankfulness too. Those flowers seemed to live longer in the vase than any other bunch. 🙂

  9. May 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Carrie & Michelle – what wonderful stories you added here. You’re the kind of people who make me happy to be on this beautiful planet.

  10. peggy
    May 12, 2010 at 10:23 am


    i went to palm springs with forever friends
    we stopped to eat, guess my wallet got kicked from car, all my i.d. my money was in pocket any way i agonized about my stuff,
    well i really thought it was done i would never see it all again. a couple of weeks go by and i recieved a box by mail with. all my stuff uin it. so we underestimate human goodness

  11. May 12, 2010 at 10:36 am

    You’re so right, and that reminds of a story that would be a good addition to Catching Courage. I’ll write myself a reminder. Thanks!

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