At the very moment millions of people were digging themselves out of a blizzard unofficially dubbed Nemo, a pair of university professors from Boston named Mary Beth Curtis and Nancy Mehlem were wrapping up an all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic.
But before you let envy get the better of you, consider what happened when the good professors turned up at the airport in Punta Cana for the flight back to Boston.
“We didn’t know about the storm. We called to check our flight, and it was still on schedule, so we headed to the airport,” Curtis said. “But when we got to the airport, they told us the flight was canceled. This was Saturday, and they said the next flight out was Wednesday.”
Curtis explained to the airline folks that she and her friend didn’t know a soul in the Dominican Republic, that they didn’t have a place to stay, that they didn’t know where to go. The airline folks smiled and shrugged.
Pablo Castillo, who had been standing in line with his brother, was on that same flight, and overheard the women’s plight. He stepped forward and introduced himself to Curtis and Mehlem.
“Listen,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll find you a place to stay. I can take you back to the hotel where we were staying.”
Now, in Spanish or English, that line could be taken the wrong way.
“I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Curtis said. “Two single, AARP-eligible women, suddenly stranded and the first thing he mentions is a hotel?”
Castillo sensed their apprehension. He pulled out his business card, which showed that he owns the Castillo Electronics stores in Chelsea and East Boston. He said he understood their reservations, that it’s hard to help people sometimes because they are suspicious. It wasn’t a hard sell. He just offered.
“At some point,” Curtis said, “you have to trust your gut. He seemed like a nice guy.”
Castillo brought them to a place not reserved for tourists, but for the working people in Higuey, the very people who work in all those marbled resorts a few miles away in Punta Cana.
Castillo got Curtis and Mehlem into a hotel and brought them to a restaurant where there were no tourists but the food was great, the people friendly.
From their hotel room, Curtis and Mehlem watched as the workers boarded buses for the short ride to the resorts. Castillo returned the next day with food for them. As kind as he was, he was almost apologetic.
“He’s been in this country for something like 25 years, but he is Dominican, and he was concerned what we thought about the Dominican Republic, would we want to return,” Curtis said.
They all were able to book flights to Boston a couple of days later that connected through New York, so at dawn Castillo loaded his brother and the professors into a car and drove them 2½ hours to Santo Domingo to catch a plane.
“I bet you wonder why I’m doing this,” Pablo Castillo told them at one point.
The women nodded.
“I travel a lot,” he explained, “and all around the world people have helped me when I needed it. I could see that you were in trouble, so I helped you.”
Mary Curtis and Nancy Mehlem looked at each other.
“How can we repay you?” Curtis asked.
Castillo shook his head.
“You don’t owe me anything,” he said. “Just pay it forward. Forward the favor to someone else.”
On Monday, Pablo Castillo was standing behind the counter of his store on Broadway in Chelsea, embarrassed that someone would think being nice to strangers is remotely newsworthy.
“I didn’t do anything special,” he said. “They were nice ladies. I hope they had a good time in the Dominican.”