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As the escalator crept up to street level, I knew immediately that I'd made a mistake. I'd just flown into Athens from Salt Lake City -- three flights, 20 hours, no sleep and luggage that felt like it had been dipped in cement. Rather than take a taxi to my Greek host's office, I had decided to save money and test the city's new light rail system. But when I emerged onto the street, I realized I was in a no-man's land, under a highway overpass with no sidewalk, no people, and no pay phone in sight.
Cursing, I picked up my bags to begin walking when I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face a security guard who'd just emerged from her tiny white booth hidden below the onramp. Blinded by the glare from the badge on her cap, I fumbled to explain my plight and asked for directions to the nearest pay phone. She started to point up the hill, but stopped short, reached into her pocket and handed me her cell phone with a smile. "Here, call your friend." And just to make sure he'd know where to find me, she insisted on giving him directions, repeating them twice. Relieved that I'd soon leave behind this awful, lonely spot, I began to feel sorry for this Good Samaritan who wouldn't be so lucky.
Before I could say anything, though, a small beat-up car pulled up and double-parked in front of us. Three people rushed out of the car as the guard jumped into her booth. In seconds, she emerged with plastic chairs and a small round table. A scramble of giggles, and presto! An instant Greek café complete with sandwiches, coffee, and flowing gossip. In a few minutes, my friend pulled up in his car, and the guard and her friends waved good-bye and wished me well, their laughter slowly drowned out by the rush-hour roar as we drove away.
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