Paying the fare with kindnessWritten by Steve Hartman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever wonder what happens when people get on the turnpike without the money to pay the fare at the end of their trip? Well, I found out the hard way. Last week I drove to Wauseon, and as usual, I had too many things going on. Shortly after I got on the turnpike, I realized I had no cash to pay the toll. To make matters worse, I had just cleaned out my change cup for a cup of coffee at Downtown Latte.
For a brief moment, I thought about how to wiggle myself out of this quandary, and then for a longer moment, I thought about how stupid little things become stupid big things when we try to avoid responsibility for our actions. OK, I also realized that there was really no way to get off the turnpike without going through another toll booth, so it wasn’t just my sense of responsibility at work here.
Knowing I had no other choice, I approached the toll both near Wauseon and confessed to the operator that I had done something stupid. She looked at me quizzically until I told her my story. With an understanding smile, she said it happens more often than one might think. She didn’t even make fun of me, which I richly deserved. She asked if I had any change in the car, as most people do, and I showed her my now-empty coffee cup, explaining that there were only about 40 pennies in my console. I thought they might be able to take a credit card, because after all, who doesn’t take a credit card? Well, the Ohio Turnpike doesn’t. They can take a personal check, which would have been helpful if I’d had my checkbook. We were at an impasse.
I offered to the woman, whose name I did not know, that my business would only take an hour, and that I would be coming back through the toll booth to get home. I did have an ATM card, and I was sure I could find a cash machine in Wauseon. She eyed me with some skepticism, I thought, and told me to hand over all the pennies I could find. She counted out 50 of them, and said she would cover the other 75 cents.
I was surprised that my new friend offered to pony up the money I was short, but I didn’t think about it much because I had every intention of returning with the 75 cents. I asked her how late she would be there, and she said several more hours. She told me that I could pull up to her booth and honk, and she would come out. I asked her name, and she said it was Vicki.
I drove away secure in the knowledge that I would return with the money, but also appreciative that Vicki would help out a total stranger that way. True to my word, I visited an ATM then got change to pay Vicki back. As I did, I thought about what I could do for Vicki to show my gratitude. I didn’t know if she drank coffee, so that was out, and there wasn’t a flower shop nearby. I decided that I would give her five bucks. Although that doesn’t go far these days, I really wanted to say thanks.
I pulled up to Vicki’s booth and honked my horn. As she looked, I could see a broad smile cross her face, and she came out to greet me. I had the change in my left hand hanging out the window and $5 at the ready, but I never got to give it to her. As Vicki came out, she told me to keep my money. I protested and didn’t want her to be responsible for my screwup. She said she was just happy I came back to pay her, and she asked that I pass on a kindness to someone else.
Imagine that, showing a small kindness to a perfect stranger in the hopes that they will do the same for another. Not a new concept, I know, but it’s one that always boosts my faith in the inherent goodness of people. I had a smile that lasted all day.
Somewhere out there is a person in a white car who didn’t have to pay for a white chocolate mocha. The next day at a drive-through, I handed over a little extra money and told the clerk to pay for the person behind me and keep the change.
I hope that person smiled the rest of that day, and I hope he or she passed it on. Amidst this time of bad economic news and scary uncertainty about the future, it’s good for the soul to give and receive small tokens of kindness from strangers. And if someone you don’t know does something nice for you today, don’t just thank them, thank Vicki.
Steve Hartman is an attorney in the Toledo firm of Kerger & Hartman.