Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Car Karma & the Limits of Altruism

When I worked for an unnamed large blue company located north of NYC, I used to have a harrowing commute. On days I went into the office (about 2-3 per week), I would get up at 5am, walk 4 blocks to Grand Central Station, get on a train that took an hour and ten minutes and was filled with night-laborers and petulant pre-teens heading to Westchester day schools in Chappaqua and watching porn on their over-priced laptops. Upon arriving at the Golden's Bridge stop, I would wait for a drunken obese woman in a 1980 Ford covered in cheetos to pull up and act as a "Taxi" to take me the 3 miles to my company. For some reason, which HR claimed was to do with "if we do it here, we'll have to do it in our Tibetan office and we can't afford that," the company was unwilling to provide a shuttle. Sadly, Cookie the Smelly Cab Driver was as tardy as she was filthy, so there were many days when that overpriced lift was either extremely late or nonexistant - leaving many of us stranded in the wet, cold train station hoping for a ride from some friend.

At some point, a good friend of mine, and local inhabitant, started picking me up at the train station. He must have given me hundreds of rides to and fro, and a number of others also helped, some even taking me all the way back to NYC. I was definitely in the hole, ride-karma-wise. And, while I could buy Luc and my other guardian ride angels their morning Dunkin' Donuts coffee, I never truly found a way to give back. So, I decided I should pay it forward.

Since then - 5 years ago now - I've tried to be generous with rides for people. My dear friend, RA, lived near me and came into the office every morning as well, on the subway, which must have taken her 45 minutes (we live 3 miles from the office. I've clocked it. It's faster to walk.) So, on days when I could, I'd get up a little bit early (she had to be here by 8:30) and take her in. And home, if possible. I love her company, so it was a pleasure. And, somehow, I felt like I was paying back the giant kitty of ride karma in the universe. (I feel the same way about market research karma, actually.) 

RA has since left the job and moved to NYC herself, and her replacement lives equally close to me. Unfortunately, while her replacement is a nice girl, I would never call her a friend. In fact, I find conversations with her oddly grating, mostly because I'm an intellectual snob, and she always manages to sound like an MTV VeeJay to me. I'd chalk it up to youth, but she's no younger than RA was. So, I'll call it personal preference. But, here's the thing - I feel equally compelled to offer her a ride. And I don't want to. And I know I'd resent waking up that extra 15 minutes earlier to get her. So I haven't. And I don't want to. 

Will the car karma bank be angry with me? Does this make me a bad person? Or have I already repaid my debt to society?

3 comments:

Rachel Ann said...

Call it paid. :-)

Priya said...

there may be others to dispense karmas to in the future. let this one go.

hornett said...

I don't believe in Karma. As an Agnostic, I don't really believe in god, and Karma is kinda like that. However, I you are a jerk all the time, sooner or later you'll run into someone who either, will not tolerate that behavior and responds with a disproportionate behavior of their own.