Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.
But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.
He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.
"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,’" Diaz says.
As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.
"You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help," Diaz says.
Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.
"The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi," Diaz says. "The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?’"
"No, I just eat here a lot," Diaz says he told the teen. "He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.’"
Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”
"Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way," the teen said.
Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.
The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.
When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ‘cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”
Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”
Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”
"I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world."
2.5 minutes after it happened: I don’t want to forget this moment. Standing on the bow of the 115 foot Star of the Northwest, the captain pulls within less then a foot of a hundred plus foot cliff. A few small spouts of water that were previously falling into the cove are now falling sixty or seventy feet down onto the bow of our vessel. Its 10:45pm in Resurrection Bay, Alaska, and the sun is setting for the few hours of night.
This is actually a bit early for a summer sunset, but it is still May after all. Captain Kirshman is the only other person standing on the bow with me. Chloe (a coworker) and a few of the high school students (we are running the high school graduation evening cruise) begin to trickle onto the bow as we begin pulling back from the massive cathedral cliff. To my left is a yurt perched not far on the hillside from high tide, its front door connected straight to a dock ramp, then a dock, then finally a boat. To my right is the bay with a massive island playing the backdrop further in our line of sight. The terrain here seems to play in angles, only seemingly vertical rock usually covered in moss-covered trees on tree-covered lush hillsides (it is a temperate rainforest after all) and higher still, vertical jagged snow-capped rock past the treeline. The ocean is the horizontal around all these islands and surrounding the Kenai Peninsula. If you had paintbrushes that could only paint one thing rather then one color, you could paint a fairly accurate picture of Resurrection Bay with three: lush green trees, rock, and the ocean. Imagine Hawaii, add really cold, grey weather, subtract yellow sand- this is what the Kenai Fjords look like. From the bow of the SNW this is my view.
Captain Rodney turns the boat 45 degrees to starboard and points her out of the cove and begins to pick up speed, maybe ten knots now, back towards the bay. The island is in front of us, which I think is Fox but not for certain. The back of what I think is Fox Island is another green cliff maybe a mile ahead of us. The sun is beginning to set behind it creating a slow motion visual volcano of red and pink skies slowly moving over the top of the cliff. With 110 feet of iron, steel, and diesel beast behind me- I am on the front of the bow still, about 30 feet down to the water, which I can see below me- its not quite the Titanic but I am having my own personal Leo moment anyway. The cool Alaska air is running over my jacket, my face- we are picking up speed, maybe 12 knots now- and I can’t focus on anything else except how beautiful this bay is, or how beautiful this moment is, or how lucky I am to be standing right here right now. Captain Kirsh has gone inside, and the high school boys have trickled back in to the warm cabin, since they are all local and this is nothing new to them. Its funny how living in tourist towns has taught me to loathe the necessity of tourists, all the while thinking that by being local and choosing to live in a place I am the true owner of that beauty, I appreciated it more, and I enjoyed it more. The truth is, sometimes as a local, you take it for granted. Sometimes maybe you have to be a tourist to really appreciate a place.
Back to my moment. I am still standing on the deck. Chloe is new here too, so she hasn’t gone inside yet. We have a rare moment of silence on the normally crowded tour boat and we both know it. We stand on the deck, taking this in, looking at the pink sky over the green cliff over the black ocean. It is a full vertical 180 degree palate of three colors: as far as you look up, the sky is pink marbled with a few wisps of white clouds and blue sky, but mostly pink. Tilting your head down to straight, all you see is an immense cliff of vibrant dark green of the cliff side. Keep looking lower, and you can only see black ocean, all the way to the bow of the boat as your chin drops, then 30 feet up the bow to my feet on it where I am standing. We both just stare out. I guess for good measure, Chloe says it anyway: ‘Gus, we live here.’ I smile, but don’t respond. We both know.
Chloe leaves, back to the heat below. I stay. I am trying too hard to fight a losing battle of having this moment for longer. I stand on the bow of the beast, the air is now cold on my face, the ocean and cliff all slowly fading to black as the sun is going down. I don’t want it to end so I stay, but staying isn’t stopping time. Good things end, you have to enjoy them and move on. As everything gets darker, I become as acutely aware as a person of limited engineering knowledge can be of how monstrous and complex this machine I am stand on is. It feels so quiet and beastly, a silent killer on the seas. I am still desperately trying to hang on to the moment fully aware its not gonna happen. I try anyway. I take everything in as much as I can, every once of the air, every millisecond of time, every whiff of fishy seas salt diesel smell that I am blessed to be able to have. I know when it is over, it is gone forever. Even 5 minutes later, when I originally wrote this down in my journal in the galley of the boat I should have been working on, I wrote, ‘the moment will never be as intense, as vibrant, or beautiful’. Memories fade. I like to write because it is the closest to preservation as possible, a mental formaldehyde. Those moments are rare, and seldom, and unique- I wrote this at the time, but here I sit a few weeks later, and I have had two more since. I don’t say this because any were devalued. They were all as much rare, seldom, and unique as the rest. These moments are why I came to Seward. They make life worth living for me. They are why I put up with crap like living with no money in employee housing, dealing with homesickness- in essence, travel- and not having an ‘adult’ career. I get to have these moments.
I am not good at being deep, my mainstream masculinity makes me have issues with sounding lame, (then again I guess I just wrote a page about how a sunset made me feel) but these moments make my life, and enable me to love it. I feel a responsibility to myself to commit these moments to text in hopes that it will help me reminisce later. Words are the best preservative of sensory perception. I feel responsible to live my life trying to have these wherever and whenever I can. There’s a part of me that feel these moments are what I am supposed to live for.