This is the story that bounced around the world: In a city famous for indifferent inhabitants, an ordinary man performed an extraordinary act of heroism. Autrey was praised, thanked, and heralded as an inspiration. He was given $10,000 by Donald Trump, a $5,000 Gap gift certificate, an undisclosed sum from an anonymous patron, and a whole lot of swag: Knicks and Broadway tickets, a jersey autographed by Derek Jeter, a fur coat, a week in Disney World that he hasn't had time for, another Jeep he doesn't need. President Bush told Autrey's story in his 2006 State of the Union address, and B.B. King knelt before him after a concert to say, "You don't know what you've done to and for America."
But the spoils of heroism fade. Those year-long freebies expired Jan. 2. Today, a bus or train ride to work costs the Subway Hero $2; the parking space, $240 a month.
These are the first days of the rest of Wesley Autrey's life.
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Autrey's brand of heroism is all-Americana: one ordinary man's daring feat of selflessness; the kind of thing politicians like to get near, institutions like to ritualize.