STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And on this Friday morning, it's time once again for StoryCorps, the project that records Americans talking about their lives. Today we hear the story of 31-year-old Julio Diaz. He's a social worker from the Bronx in New York City and he has a daily routine. Every night he 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 Mr. Diaz stepped off the train and onto a nearly empty platform his evening took an unexpected turn.
Mr. JULIO DIAZ (Social Worker): So I get off the train and I'm walking towards the stairs and this young teenager pulls out a knife. He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him here you go.
He starts to leave and as he's walking away I'm like, hey, wait a minute, you forgot something. If you're gonna be robbing people for the rest of the night you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.
So, you know, he's looking at me like, what's going on here, you know. And he asked me, well, why are you doing this? And I'm like, well, I don't know, man, 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 go get dinner and if you really want to join me, hey, you're more than welcome. But I'm like, look, you can follow me if you want. You know, I just felt like maybe he really needs help.
So, you know, we go into the diner where I normally eat. We sit down in a booth and the manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi, you know. So the kid is like, man, you know everybody here. Do you own this place? I'm like, no, I just eat here a lot. He said, but you're even nice to the dishwasher.
I'm like, well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody. So he's like, yeah, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way. So I just asked him, I'm like, you know, what is it that you want out of life? He just had almost a sad face. Either he couldn't answer me or he didn't want to.
The bill came and I looked at him and I'm like, look, I guess you're gonna 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. He didn't even think about it. He's like, yeah, okay, here you go.
So I got my wallet back. And I gave, you know, I gave him $20 for, you know, I figure maybe it will help him, I don't know. And when I gave him the $20 I asked him to give me something in return, which was his knife. And he gave it to me.
You know, it's funny 'cause when I told my mom about what happened, you know, no mom wants to hear this, but with her she was like, well, you know, you're the type of kid that always if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.
I don't know, I figure, you know, you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world.
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INSKEEP: That's Julio Diaz at StoryCorps in New York City. His interview will be archived along with all the others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to this project's Podcast by going to npr.org.