Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Paying it Behind At a Coffee Shop

--by James Lynch, posted Jun 2, 2009

A couple of times a month I play a game in the Starbucks drive-through lane. When I get to the cashier I pay for my coffee and the coffee of the person in the car behind me. The configuration of the drive-through makes it easy to hear the car behind me call their order into the speaker phone so I don't risk paying for a dozen caramel macchiatos and a pound of Sumatra.

You may be saying that it's not technically a "game"; it's more like a "stunt". Well the game part of it comes as I try to get away from the store and into traffic before the person with the free coffee can catch up to me and get a look at me. I want to stay anonymous and leave them guessing; I think it gives them a longer lasting impression.

One time it was friend of mine but he didn't know it was my car so, Todd, if you're reading this, it was me buying you that venti Pike's Peak in March; now you know. Mostly though, it's someone I don't know and I've done this at toll booths and the occasional beach or park entry. It's never cost me that much and I get a lot of fun out of it.

I was paying for myself and the woman behind me yesterday and the cashier seemed suspicious and almost a little uncomfortable. I was unsure how to briefly explain what I was doing. I assured her I was just doing a random act of kindness and she seemed to light up and called a warm "Thank you" after me as I drove off. It was only as I was driving away that I figured out I could have said, "Tell her I'm rewarding her for a good deed she'll do today".

I thought then of the movie Pay it Forward in which an 11-year-old character played by Haley Joel Osment comes up with a plan in Social Studies class to encourage people to each do a random good deed. The theory is that if instead of paying someone "back" for an act of kindness you encourage them to "pay it forward" to 3 other people and ask them to do it for 3 others who'll then each do it for 3 others, etc. In a period of two weeks you would affect close to 5 million people. That's a lot of java!

So here we are, you and me, and the state of the world is one of fear, economic panic, rising unemployment, swine flu, wars and global terrorism; what are we up to? The internet, especially with the advent of 2.0, Twitter, Facebook, and all of the other social networking tools offer a larger than ever opportunity to reach out and touch others.

Pay it Forward is a 10-year-old movie but the concept wasn't new then and it's not used up yet. The potential to virally spread goodness and beauty is more fertile now than ever and, like I said, here we are: you and me? What do you want to do about it?

How about this -- I'll get you to do a random act of kindness or beauty and you'll get 3 others to do something. Whatever you come up with or your network gets up to, please share it here and, just maybe, someday I'll pull up to the cashier at the drive through at my Starbucks and the cashier will tell me, "The person ahead of you paid for your coffee as a reward for 3 good deeds you'll do today".

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Readers Comments

Steve wrote: This is a great gesture.

Dave wrote: My brothers & me were in mexico having a night out and three casino owners from las vegas nevada picked up are tab and just said you guys look like you are having a good time. We couldn't believe it!
Tina wrote: I did something similiar to this at a local dunkin donuts. As i was ordering my coffee, an elderly woman came up to the counter next to me and ordered some munchkins for herself and her husband. I told the cashier to add it to my bill. The cashier looked at me as if i were weird. Then she told the woman that i paid for her order, and she also looked at me strangely. As i left the shop, she waved a thank you to me through the shop windows. It was a small gesture, but it left me feeling great inside.
Kyla wrote: I have had a similar thing happen to me. My firend and i were out for lunch and the couple sitting next to us paid and then left. When it came time to ask for my bill she said that the couple sitting next to us paid our bill. I was shocked and then overwhelmed with appreciation. I started crying at the table! This random act of kindness has made me continue to "pay it forward". It's a great thing you are doing :)
melesai wrote: This is agreat thing that you are doing. Especially during these are hard times. I have to scrap up change to get a mcdonalds coffee that treat myself to on occassion. So thanks a million. Hope ime behind you one day! [smiles}
James wrote: Update on my article; my wife's cousin called to say a friend of hers had just paid for someone's coffee in return for the coffee someone bought for her and both were accompanied with the request to 'do something good for someone else' and then, odd as it may seem, while i was next door, someone in another sbucks bought my wife and kids coffee and choco milk -- just randomly. People are showing how good they can be and it's happening a lot!
hotcocoa wrote: Yeah, someday it might happen and it will be really nice :)
Renee wrote: A local coffee shop in blue springs, mo has had a "pass it on" chain going for over 2 weeks now. Abc world news ran a story on it. A simple act of kindness makes both parties feel good and is just plain fun, but this is overwhelming.
Chuck Lampman wrote: Good story. I have done this. But you have it down. Good for you. Kindness is so simple. A smile is a kind and inexpensive act of kindness.
Dee wrote: I've had this happen to me at a starbucks- i was so touched-so i paid for the next persons.

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