01/03/2012 08:41 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2012

Experiencing The Kindness Of Strangers In San Antonio

Every year around this time, I remember a brief encounter I had in 1973 with a ticket agent at the main bus station in San Antonio, Texas.

I had just spent Christmas and New Year's running 264 miles of the Rio Grande River from Presidio to Dryden, Texas. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, the locals were smuggling cheap gas across the river from Texas to Mexico.

The rest of the group was driving to California; I was going to New York. They left me on the highway in Dryden to flag down a bus. To give you an idea of how things don't change, the Border Patrol stopped the bus and checked IDs. The two young men who they handcuffed and took off the bus looked resigned.

I got to the bus station in San Antonio early evening. My flight was the next morning. Since I had nothing better to do, I thought it would be a fun adventure to walk from the bus station to the airport.

I asked the ticket agent how far it was. He said about 20 minutes. I told him I wanted to walk. He said, "You can't walk from here. It's at least seven or eight miles." When I insisted I wanted to wanted walk, he looked dubious but gave me directions. I put on my pack and headed out.

I was on my way out of the parking lot when I heard him calling me. He said, "Son, you don't want to be walking around this neighborhood after dark." He offered me a $10 bill for a taxi.

I said, "I've got money. I just wanted to walk. But if you say it's dangerous, I'll take your advice."

For years I enjoyed telling the story about the nice man who offered me money that I did not need.

Then one time, while I was telling the story, I saw in my mind's eye the look on the ticket agent's face when I did not accept his offer. It moved me so much that for a moment I could not continue. I realized that I had missed the whole point: How much more generous would it have been of me to have simply thanked him and taken his money.

Years later I found the following quote from Tanya Shaffer:

Here's what I love about travel: Strangers get a chance to amaze you. Sometimes a single day can bring a blooming surprise, a simple kindness that opens a chink in the brittle shell of your heart and makes you a different person when you go to sleep -- more tender, less jaded -- than you were when you woke up.

Sure wish I'd read that before I arrived at the bus station.