So I went through the Starbucks drive thru this morning as I often do before work.  Ok, not “often,” so much as “always.”  In fact, not even “always” but “if I don’t walk in with a cup of coffee in my hand you do NOT want me to be here.”  Yes, I know that’s excessive.  I’m aware of how absurd an expense that is.  It’s my only vice, ok?  Get off my back… the monkey is complaining.


Ahem.  So I was fully prepared to pony up the $3.48 for my tall soy extra hot light whip mocha, except that I really pay $3.14 because I sold my soul to Starbucks in exchange for a “registered” pre-pay card that gives me a discount.  I’m frugal like that.  But when I pulled up to the window, the barista handed me my drink and said “the person in front of you paid for your drink!  Have a great day!”  I pulled out, looking for my mysterious benefactor, intending to smile and wave.  But he/she was already gone.


I thought of that bumper sticker that I used to see a lot:


Buying a drink for a stranger who doesn’t get to thank you is random all right.  Maybe even senselessly beautiful.  On the other hand, my well-developed inner cynic said “Dude, you should’ve spent that $3.48 buying a McPancake Special for a homeless person instead of on an overpriced drink for an over-privileged minivan driver.” 


Then I thought about that hideous movie with the Sixth Sense kid, based on an equally sappy book by Catherine Ryan Hyde:



Pay It Forward means when someone does something nice, they don’t expect anything in return.  But when something nice is done for you, you “pay it forward” by doing something nice for someone else (or maybe it was three nice things for three people), without expecting anything back.  It’s a great idea, really.  Too bad the book/movie sucked.


Now, since a random act of kindness has been committed upon me, I wonder how I ought to Pay It Forward.  I could play the same trick of paying for the drink of the person behind me at Starbucks, but that seems unimaginative. 


What should I do?







  1. Short of finding the guy and following behind him whenever he goes through a drivethrough thus building up your pay it forward debits against future good deeds,  I’d suggest making an anonymous donation to a favorite cause or paying the check of an elderly person at  a restaurant before he gets it. 

  2. You can put money in parking meters that are about to expire.  Don’t let the cops see you doing it, though…they like giving parking tickets to expired meters, it’s good revenue for the town.

  3. I’ve always wondered about that whole school of thought. It has a near cult following, and I have some questions… Why does it have to be random, why does it have to be anonymous? Could we not also make the world a better place by, in an orderly way doing good for the folks we know around us every day? But I suppose that’s not mystic and esoteric enough. I suggest you not only buy someone a free refreshment, but sit and enjoy one with them as well.

  4. @prairiecowboy – I don’t think it HAS to be random and anonymous.  It wasn’t in the book.  I just conflated the book and the bumper sticker together.  And I like your idea, but I live in a big city where sitting down with a stranger bearing free refreshments might cause them to call the police. 

  5. @prairiecowboy – I may have exaggerated the bit about calling the cops.  But in truth, when I’m alone in a coffee shop, as I often am, I don’t want anybody chatting me up or buying me lunch.  I choose such locations because I find the hubbub going on around me (but not requiring my attention) to be very conducive to writing.  Not sure why.  So I would find the chatty lunch provider invasive, even if I was sure they were kind and not creepy.  (I guess a big advantage to knowing everyone around you is that you know who is creepy and who isn’t.  I just have to guess.)

  6. This happened to me in the Starbucks line in Abilene.  And not for nothing, I have the same guilt/angst about my daily Starbucks habit, which has been at least partly mitigated by the fancy pants espresso machine someone bought me for Christmas.  Anyway, this happened at Starbucks in Abilene, and recently again to my husband here in our neighborhood.  He is such a cynic that he posed the question, “do customers *really* give anonymous, pay it forward free drinks, or is it something Starbucks is doing as a gimmick to put a positive spin on the earth-killing over-privileged habit of idling in the drive-thru line everyday to buy overpriced coffee?”

  7. I don’t  think it even has to be monitary.  You’ll know when the moment is there.  Like letting someone have a parking space without flipping them off, letting someone in front of you in the check out line, gosh maybe even holding a door open for someone.  how radical would those acts of kindness be?  Maybe if even half of us did just one kind thing aka commmon courtesy a day we’d all be less on edge and more prone to seeing others as people rather than nuisances we have to avoid.

  8. This is actually a subject that I have thought about quite a bit.  It seems much easier to provide a random act of kindness (like a free coffee @ Starbucks) than to provide real help to those who need it.  My father dislikes Christmas for this very reason.  Doing something once a year for someone that takes the form a useless ugly sweater that lives in the back of a closet for three years until it goes to the Goodwill.  He is a big proponent of instead helping people when they really need it.  Helping someone move, a horrible bunch of work, or work like I did all the time I grew up.  We helped his friends pick fruit on farms, herd cattle, repaint, and a plethora of chores and short term gigs for old ladies and shut ins. We built ramps for wheelchairs, and dug trenches for flooding mitigation.  We helped people with real life obstacles and at times of greatest need.  But this requires the most impossible skill of all in our day to day environment, paying attention and investing ourselves in others.  It’s great to get a free latte from time to time, but isn’t it more important to get help from invested friends when we really need it?  That is a lost art in our society.  I still try to accomplish it, but fall short of the mark.  We all seem to be further disconnected all the time.  It’s why even though I have a lot of commitments; I take the time to visit my grandmother at her nursing home every week.  She needs the consistent attention and even though it’s hard for me time wise I make it a priority.  It’s also why I am such a fan of the rabbit clan.  You all find time to help and support me when I need it.  You never complain about it or make me feel bad for needing help, and I hope that I sometimes repay the attention and caring you give to me.  I think that’s what you should really do.  Continue to invest in others and care for the people that need your help.  It’s maybe less mystic and certainly less ephemeral, but I think it’s what the universe really needs more of.  Less random and anonymous, and more directed and personal caring.

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