Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Once Upon a Time: The Kindness of Strangers, long ago…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 3:00 pm on Thursday, December 27, 2018

Here is an inspiring true story about the kindness of strangers. It is forgotten Chicago history, but not by me: 
When I was in my battle between my tiny independent magazine distribution company (1975-1980), against America’s largest distributor, as time went on I was becoming overwhelmed by the impossible odds.

I drove one truck and my wife, Joyce, drove the other one with our newborn son David (now 40, this week) sleeping in a cardboard box lined with soft blankets next to the step van’s vibrating stick-shift, helping me servicing 60 accounts. 

I won’t say any details except when my situation was at its worst, I wrote a somewhat dramatic but true full-page explanation using the last of our funds, about the consequences of my losing the battle to stay in business, and all the money we had invested in trying to make our lives better. It would also end Bob’s Newsstand after twelve years in Hyde Park. 

I had learned that in life, if you really need help, don’t worry about pride or embarrassment, damn-it, just ask for it.

I asked the Hyde Park Herald and the University of Chicago’s Maroon newspapers to please put my plea for help from the surrounding community on their back pages for two issues. I know that today, no one remembers any of this, but I will never forget what followed, and neither did Joyce.

The response of support, both financial and emotional, even from the U of C cops, was so sudden, so incredibly overwhelming, that Joyce and I couldn’t believe it. 

One man offered to pay for the Sunday New York Times in advance for a year. The sales at the newsstand, by then a brick store, became almost too much to handle.

I had to hire more kids to work the drive-up newspaper curb service, then I had to build a new counter for a cash register, and then hire more cashiers–all from the neighborhood–to keep up with the mob of new customers. 

The financial losses stoped. 
The situation swiftly turned around

We were able to buy a larger truck to handle more accounts in one day and I hired another area man to help me carry the heavy bundles of magazines in and out of all the stores.

The outpouring of money from my sales at the newsstand and also Chicago accounts from all over who read the story and decided to switch sides in the competition not only helped me survive an impossible situation, but created employment for a number of kids and adults in Hyde Park.

The intense competitive distribution battle lasted three more years, and ultimately, we won.

Bob’s remained in Hyde Park for five more years, and Joyce, gone almost two years now after forty-two years together, had a second child, Rachel, now thirty-eight. 

The concept of “kindness of strangers” was a real thing, not just some phrase from a movie, and that letter printed in a total of four newspapers was the most effective thing I ever wrote. So many people gave a damn.

“Rocky” was playing in the movie theaters at the time. I saw it alone several times, because his fictional fight against great odds mirrored my real one, and gave me a feeling of hope, that impossible things were still possible.

I have never really gotten over the tidal wave of kindness and understanding coming at me and my store from all sides, and I never want to.  But one of the single most amazing moments in my life about the kindness, and this case real heroism, was not discovered by me until years later.

To read about this phenomenal man, go to “Silent James”: https://www.differentslants.com/?p=607

You may not be able to accept what this man told me as real. It is his story, and told in his voice. If the link doesn’t work, type it in.

There are so many good people out there. If you ever are in my long ago circumstance, desperate and hopeless, if you really need help, just ask people. You might be be surprised what happens. More than you know, people want to help. 

Merry Christmas to any of those long ago people who are still alive and remember, and to those who read this heartfelt story today. Uncountable strangers read my story, wanted a fair fight, and with their help, mine became one. God bless them.

I hope readers will share this story. People need to believe in something. I sure did.


Comment by SCOTT

December 27, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

Hi Bob-
A great tale of a wonderful happening it took a lot of guts and know how to do this remarkable thing.It is true that at your worst good things can happen to you.

Comment by Charlie Newman

December 27, 2018 @ 5:51 pm

Well said, as always.
You’re a more positive person than I am,. Bob.

Comment by Donald Larson

December 27, 2018 @ 8:51 pm

Great story, Bob.

I’m going to post the link on my Facebook Wall.

Warmest regards,


Comment by Christy Hoff

December 27, 2018 @ 9:15 pm

Great seasonal story and true thoughts. We need to realize that people want to do good. We have to let them know we need help.

Comment by brad dechter

December 28, 2018 @ 5:36 am

Hope is always a great catalyst on which to base the thoughts of our future. You have lived the Rocky story- in many ways, on many levels. I too watched Rocky numerous times- it’s a great inspirer for us all.
You have always been a Rocky- it’s something I identify with you.
Keep writing Rocky!

Comment by Jim Payne

December 28, 2018 @ 3:17 pm

You make a great case for asking for help. As Christy notes we need to let people help us. They want to.

Comment by Catherine

January 13, 2019 @ 11:50 am

I grew up at 51st and Blackstone leaving for college in 1978. I’m pretty sure my dad bought the Tribune, Sun Times and NYTimes from you every day.

Comment by Paul Eisenbacher

January 13, 2019 @ 4:20 pm

Bob: Greetings and Happy New year from a good friend who lost contact from another good friend. Forgive me. I have enjoyed your stories,as always,and this one about friendship moved me. Through your life of trials and triumps, one word comes to mine regarding your life and that is Character. That comes our in all your stories.It has been a great addition in my life when I walked into your Magazine store looking for a particular Mad magazine. I wish you continuous good health and happiness always. I am in Arizona now untill Jan. 31st.
Hope to talk with you when I get back. Take care.

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