Sunday, September 12, 2004

The kindness of strangers

I hate when this happens: I took my kids to breakfast at McDonald's this morning, and after I'd ordered and the behind-the-counter droids were already busily assembling our food, I realized that I didn't have enough money to cover the bill. I asked if we could take something off, but it was too late; of all the days for them to be prompt in order-gathering, it would be this one. The cash-register jockey asked how short I was, and when I said a quarter the line behind me exploded with offers of change. I was going to send my daughter out of the car to dig into our supply of toll quarters, but the man manning the cash register declared that he would put it in for me because he had to keep his line moving. Let's go, let's go!

When my order was complete, I noticed we were short a drink; apparently, instead of tallying in the extra coffee I'd ordered, he'd given me just enough drinks to go with our combo meals -- including the coffee, but excluding my son's drink. I started to complain, but remembered about moving the line along and sort of fled to our table. A check of the receipt showed that we indeed had not paid for the extra drink, so I headed for the car to get enough quarters to pay the clerk back and buy a small drink. But the counter man started waving a small cup to me as I walked by, and although I protested that we hadn't paid for it, he insisted I take it. Nor would he take the money I eventually brought back in from the car -- not $1 for the extra drink, and not the original quarter. "It's fine, it's fine," he said. "Don't worry about it, honey."

And probably I shouldn't. If I'd been standing in line behind someone like me, I'd have offered a quarter without thinking about it; and since we're regular customers at this McDonald's, it's likely they've left something off our order somewhere along the line to make up for the $1.25 they floated me this time. But it's weird feeling like a charity case. It's not like I don't have enough money to feed my kids -- just not enough brains to put sufficient funds in my wallet before leaving the house. I'll think twice next time; and maybe leave a quarter in the cash register's change dish, just to pass the charity along.

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