A Town & Country Village employee searching for his glasses happened to be at the right place at the right time in Palo Alto on the night of Nov. 23, when he helped a 22-year-old man found badly beaten on a deserted bike path after a robbery.
"John," 67, had already experienced a series of events that day that took him away from his usual routine. (The Weekly is using a pseudonym as the employee requested anonymity out of concern for his safety.)
John almost never worked late, but it was Black Friday. His manager, who was off-site, had asked him to open and close the shop since he was the only employee with a key. After finishing his normal shift, he went home to check on his dog before returning to the store at 7:45 p.m. He took the trash down an alley to the compactor, then returned to finish vacuuming the store. But he realized he couldn't find his glasses.
"I thought I'd had them on top of my head and they fell off when I went to the trash receptacle. It was pretty dark," he said.
Retracing his steps, he didn't see anything along the pathway. But as he approached the garbage area, he heard yelling.
"I thought it was kids screwing around. Then I heard a scream and people ran off," he recalled.
He walked toward the sound to a parking lot gate that leads to the bike path behind the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, next to the Caltrain tracks. About 20 feet away under a dim light, he saw a young man standing with his head bowed. He asked the man if he was OK. He answered "no," raising his head.
"His whole face was red, covered in blood. It's one of those things that you never forget," John said.
The young man said three men had surrounded him and stolen his Air Pods and cellphone, according to John. One of the men had beaten him before they ran away.
The employee guided the 22-year-old man back to the shopping center and to a nearby bench.
"I just wanted to get him into a safe place," John said.
By this time the young man was shaking and crying. Without his glasses, the employee stared at his blurry cellphone screen. It took a few tries to correctly dial 911 emergency dispatchers, he said. Palo Alto police arrived swiftly, swarming the area in search of the robbers, but they were gone.
The employee still wanted to help the victim, even after an ambulance took him to the hospital. He drove to the Stanford Hospital emergency room, where police had also arrived. He comforted the young man until his parents arrived, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, sitting on the bench where he had taken the victim, the employee reflected on what made him not only step in but continue helping the 22-year-old. He isn't someone who makes a habit of rescuing others, but he doesn't like injustice, he said.
"When I see something like that, I get really angry. All fear goes out the window. I don't like a bully. I don't like people who take advantage of people who are weaker. When I see it, sometimes I get mad," he said, and that leads to action.
He wasn't afraid of walking into a dangerous situation because he'd heard the assailants running away. "They were thieves, and they got what they wanted," he said.
On Tuesday, the young man and his mother arrived at the store to personally thank John and give a "very nice card," he said. The victim's injuries were still apparent: the gash on his head was stitched closed and his eye was still swollen.
And did the good Samaritan ever find his glasses?
John smiled. After he left the hospital, he returned home to his dog. Right next to the door, perched on a stand, were both pairs of his spectacles, he said. And it was fortuitous that he had left them behind.
"Had I had my glasses, I never would have walked back there," he said.