Corny… but contagious!

How many of you saw the movie “Pay It Forward” with that Haley Joel Whatever kid and Helen Hunt? Show of hands?

I didn’t– but I’m pretty sure I get the basic concept, which is that you repay a good turn that was done to you by doing a good turn to someone else– not the original person that did something nice for you, but to a third party, preferably a stranger. Or something like that. I try not to bog down in things like *fingers making air quotes* “details”, which is just one of the many, many reasons I am a blogger and not, say, a contract lawyer. Anyway, I remember that when the film came out it spawned a lot of talk about going around and performing Random Acts of Kindness in the world, blah blah blah, kum by ya.

OK, so the girls and I went to Arkansas over the Labor Day weekend to visit my folks. My brother Matt and his wife Carol came down too, which meant that Mom and Dad had a houseful, which they love.

(They are doing pretty well, by the way. So many of you sweet people have asked about them, thank you. Daddy is still kind of quiet and frail, but I swear it seemed like his mind was maybe even a little sharper than when we were there in July– he was making jokes!)

Anywho, one morning I got up before anyone else and decided to run down to Starbucks instead of making a pot of coffee, because HELLO–it’s pumpkin spice latte season again, thank the good Lord and cue the singing angels! So I’m all bedhead-y and barely awake, and after I told the little box what I wanted, I just sat there in the car waiting for my turn to pull up to the window. I was behind a woman of indeterminate age in a pickup truck, and as I blearily stared straight ahead I noticed that she was kind of bouncing around the front seat, I guess to the music from her radio. Just as I was thinking, “Uh, I don’t think that one needs any MORE caffeine…” she caught my eye in her rear view mirror, smiled a big ol’ smile and waved really energetically, like she was trying to flag down a cab or something.

Being a true Southern woman, I immediately waved back, while muttering quietly through my fake smile, “I have no idea who you are, lady.”  I figured she had mistaken me for someone else, or since Benton is a relatively small town, maybe I had met her once somewhere through my sisters. (Possibly Liz– you can’t walk five feet in Walmart with her without running into someone she knows from church, her neighborhood, her preschool, Bunko, etc. Seriously, she should run for mayor.) As soon as Bouncy McHappyPants drove away, I pulled up to the window in order to receive The Sacred Pumpkin Spice Latte of Goodness, but as I started to hand over my five dollar bill the girl in the window said, “Your coffee has already been paid for. The lady in front of you said to have a great day!” I apparently looked as confused as I felt because the girl then added, “She doesn’t know you, or anything– she was just being nice.” I drove away feeling slightly embarrassed, mainly because I was so caught off-guard that I had fervently thanked the Starbucks girl as though SHE had bought my coffee and also because it wasn’t until I was about 6 blocks away that it dawned on me that I should have turned right around and offered to pay for the person behind me!  Or at least I could have stuck my $5 in the tip jar, for crying out loud.

I do have to tell you, though– the whole thing kind of made my day.

Fast-forward to this morning. I dropped the girls off at school, and as I was draining the last drop of my first-cup-of-the-morning coffee, I suddenly remembered the… say it with me… pumpkin spice lattes! Even though I am married to Russ Taff the Coffee King, I’m really only about a one cup a day kind of girl, so deciding to go for the latte right after I finished drinking a big mug of coffee was like Mardi Gras for me– woo hoo, Tori’s walking on the wild side! As I pulled into Starbucks, I thought, ‘Hey, this would be a great time to do that pay it forward thing”– but then I realized I wasn’t really sure how it worked. What if the person behind me happened to be picking up coffee for their entire office and when I say I want to pay for their order the girl says, “Great– that’ll be $300, please.” Or what if the person behind me is a big puppy-kicking jerk who doesn’t deserve a free cup of coffee? Or maybe some crazy drug addict with a trunk full of meth and firearms? I decided I’d get in line and keep my eyes peeled to see if I could figure out if the lucky person who pulled in behind me was truly ‘random act of kindness’-worthy. I was secretly hoping for a sweet little old lady who had scraped together her pension money to treat herself to a Starbucks coffee and would be overwhelmed by my generosity. Preferably driving a really old beat-up car and wearing a bun. (Remember the granny in those Sylvester and Tweetie Bird cartoons? Yeah– like her.)

Ironically, there wasn’t anyone behind me AT ALL until right before I ordered my latte. A black sedan finally joined the line, but I had a hard time getting a good look at the driver. It appeared to a large, middle-aged man who didn’t look very happy and a woman (his wife? his daughter?) sitting in the passenger seat. After I told the box what I wanted, I kept craning my neck around and checking all of my mirrors to see if I could get a better look at them until I noticed that the guy was sitting there tapping the steering wheel impatiently waiting for his chance to order while I held up the line with my rubbernecking. As I slowly rolled forward I decided that I was just going to wait and do this whole be-nice-to-a-stranger thing another day. Maybe next time I’d be in front of somebody more deserving than a frowny, finger-drumming guy in an old Lincoln.  (And yes, I am Hall Monitor for the entire world, thanks for asking.) But after a minute or two, I got over myself. After all, that nice lady in Arkansas saw a ponytailed, middle-aged blonde zombie wearing scratched sunglasses and hastily applied lipstick in her rearview mirror, and she still decided to buy me a latte!

I left my window rolled down so I could shamelessly eavesdrop on the people in the big black car. I couldn’t hear their order, but I did hear the Starbucks person say, “OK, that’ll be $5.85. Drive around please.” When I got to the window, I leaned in and said in a conspiratorial voice, “I’m going to pay for the people behind me, too.” The barista looked a little surprised, but shrugged and said, “Sure.” As he handed over my change and carefully placed a container of precious punkin’ coffee in my eager little hand, I added, “Also? Tell them that I said I hope they have a great day!” Then I smiled beatifically– much like I imagine Mother Theresa would in the same situation –and floated out of the parking lot on a pink puffy pink cloud of self-righteousness and good will…

It was awesome.

So, even though it is kind of a cliche, I heartily recommend paying it forward in the Starbucks line, or any other situation you can think of that involves surprising a total stranger with something nice while remaining anonymous.

Have any of you guys ever done anything like that? And do you have any suggestions for other fun ways to do it?

(BTW:  Starbucks ain’t paying me diddly– I just love their dang lattes!)

34 Responses

  1. asmed415

    Aunt Tori –
    Wes (my boyfriend) and I had something similar happen the other day. He was getting gas in his truck because we were headed to Hot Springs for the weekend. It was pouring cats and dogs and the credit card reader at the pumps was on the blink. So, he went inside with his debit card to pay. Of course, something was wrong with the card reader inside too. So, he was in the process of calling his dad (who owns the convenience store) to tell him that something had knocked out the credit card lines. When he hung up with his dad, the cashier told Wes that the lady that had just walked out had paid for his gas! Such a blessing!!

  2. tori

    Wow, Amy– maybe it’s an Arkansas thing!

  3. LindaB

    Okay, I might just do this sometime……but I’d prefer to do it in the Taco Bell line. Certainly not at the gas pump! I usually don’t have anything left after filling up my minivan anyway!

    Tori, this just proves you really are SO NICE!

  4. TexasEbeth

    I had someone do it for me on the toll road one day. It was enough to make me cry as I had the toll money gathered up in change (lots of pennies) in a ziploc baggie that day. I was so broke! I did repay the favor by doing the same for someone else later on when I had actual dollars at the toll both.

    I should do it more often.

  5. rachelbaker

    I saw the film … feels like a long time ago but I seem to remember enjoying it.

    I heartily approve of random acts of kindness – I wonder what actions this blog will be the catalyst for.

    I don’t think it has ever happened to me, but know a few people who have had things paid for. When I was 16 we went on a Literature trip to Stratford-upon-avon with the school. It was great (well we saw 4 or 5 shakespeare performances in 3 days and had the rest of the time to ourselves). One day a group of about 5 of us went into the Haagen Dazs cafe for an ice-cream. We were looking at the menu just as an older couple were leaving and one of my friends said to us ‘I’ll just get a drink as I’m running out of money’. Immediately the couple stopped, gave my friend a 10 pound note and said, ‘there you are, get want you want and enjoy yourselves’. Then they left. That one event caused as much discussion as most of the theatre experiences on the trip. That was before the ‘pay it forward’ film craze too.

  6. chillybean

    Tori, there is a Christian radio station here in Minneapolis/St. Paul called KTIS. They promote this type of action through a program they call the Drive Through Difference. It is pretty cool when people call in with their stories. Usually, the ones they put on the air are the hard luck, I was having a horrible day type stories and how this really made a difference to change their mood and day. Whenever I hear the stories on air, I always get a little tear in my eye they are so sweet.

    I can’t think of when this may have happened to me specifically, but I do remember a time at perkins, I was newly divorced with a young toddler and preschooler. Kinda stressed and decided we needed to get out of the house. They were REALLY bouncy at the restaurant. The kids (maybe 8-10) at the table next to us had begged their parents for a toy from the crane machine that they just had to have. On their way out of the restaurant they very generously gave the toy to my kids. Just because. It was a very sweet gesture and of course, made me cry.)


  7. chall

    I’ve seen the movie and what a tear jerker!

    My church does what we call ARKS, acts of random kindness. We put quarters in laundromat machines, give out free water, and this December we will give back our offering for the second time. Envelopes are passed out with varying amounts of money and folks are asked to go find a way to give it away. It was awesome last year, with lots of stories of how God changed lives. My pastor got the idea from other churches who do this as well. What a wonderful revolution of kindness!

    I’m in southwest VA, btw.

  8. justmalia

    I found myself in a pay-it-forward line at the Starbucks in Cool Springs a few years ago. It was really neat. My drink had been paid for, so I paid for the person behind me. I’ve heard this is a fairly common phenomenon for Starbucks drive through locations. I’d like to know what the longest running line has been. (Surely they’ve case studied this, right?) I think it’s awesome that you initiated it. That should be on my life list.

  9. jonny

    Yep. Have done it often. Never heard of the film before, though.

  10. Gramma Jac

    I’m inspired!! By the way,chillybean: hi neighbor! (Sort-of) I’m in LaCrosse, WI. Maybe this get-together they’re always talking about should be up in the frozen North!! :-) (Course there is that draw of Southern cooking!)

  11. auburn60

    Sorry to say that I haven’t done it…always think of doing something like that AFTER I drive away. But I’m glad to say that my daughter did something close. When Hurricane Katrina victims were coming through here, relocating, with cars fullof their stuff and kids etc. my daughter was filling her car at a gas station when she heard a family arguing about how much money they could spend at the convenience store. Seems between gas and food they were tapped out and not near their destination yet. So Meredith went in the store and paid for their gas. She didn’t even mention it to me until recently. I always wondered what that family thought when they found out that they had a few more dollars for their trip.

  12. itsvikki2u

    Wow, just reading this has made my not so great morning GREAT! I’ve heard of people doing it but its one of those things that you intend to do it but don’t. I WILL do it and Thanks Tori for this post BIG TIME! Love it Love it Love it! Grateful & Thankful to be Tori’s friend. :-)

  13. kidpyramid

    Let’s see, I like to put change in parking meters. Recently a young girl was ahead of me picking up her pizza at Dominos and they had raised the price of their large pizzas by $1. Her mom had givenher exact change based on the old price and she was calling to ask Mom to bring her more money. I just threw down the cash. No big deal, it’s the right thing to do.

    Last time I was pregnant my husband was out of work and we were headed to have lunch with some friends after church. As I pulled into the Del Taco parking lot someone stopped their car behind mine and blocked me in. I wondered if I had cut her off as she approached my window. She handed me a $50 bill and said they she wanted to bless me. I was completely blown away! We proceeded to pay for our friends’ lunch as well.

    One day I saw a guy whose truck had stalled at the end of the freeway offramp. People were honking and driving around him. I circled the block and pulled my van up behind his truck to give him a push into the gas station. My children asked me why I was helping this stranger and I told them that if we can help someone we should. A couple weeks later we were driving to the pumpkin patch and got lost. (Thanks, GPS!) As I was backing up my rear wheels went into a ditch. We were stuck. Not knowing exactly where we were we didn’t know about calling AAA. About 10 minutes later a guy (covered in tattoos and with skull stickers on his truck) stopped to pull us out of the ditch.

    You never know about a person by his appearance and you should always do someone a good turn when the opportunity arises.

  14. VA-Cathy

    When my son was around 15, we had one of those meal fundraisers after church. He and I were working and we stayed busy the whole time. Since it was for teens, my daughter who wasn’t yet a teen, and my husband, ate with the crowd. When we finally got to where we could eat, they had already cleaned the kitchen and packed up what little food was left. We dropped my husband and daughter off at home, then we went to Pizza Hut. I saw a family there that I knew from work. They asked why the rest of the family wasn’t with us so we explained. I kept waiting for the waitress to bring me the ticket and finally asked her for it. She told me that the people that left about 15 minutes before had paid it. It impressed my son so much. He talked about it for days and would ask, can we do that for somebody sometime? We’ve done this in smaller ways many times and I hope our children have noticed. They are 17 and 21 now and would give you the last dollar they had if they thought you needed it, so the must have. I think they’re going to take my last dollar too, but that’s a different story!! Thanks for sharing, you are inspiring!!!

  15. tori

    LindaB– Ooh, Taco Bell might be a good idea… Unless you’re behind me. I can do some damage with those crunchy tacos, yo.

    TexasEbeth– We don’t have any toll roads around here, or I would be all over that! (And yeah, I got a little choked up when that girl paid for my coffee, too…)

    rachelbaker– First of all, I LOVE Stratford-upon-Avon! Russ and I went there many years ago… And you gave me a good idea about looking out for slightly panicked-looking teens at places like that– I bet mine have probably run short a couple of times!

    chillybean– Oh, Colleen, bless that sweet family! Those parents must be doing something right for their kids to be that generous. I love that story

    chall– The laundromat! Never thought of that! Wouldn’t it be fun to get a $10 roll of quarters and just go crazy?!

    justmalia– Love the idea of a whole Starbucks line of people that just keep on paying for the next guy… And I’ll get right on that longest line research. :)

    jonny–See? That’s why you’re a rock star– leadership quality!

    Gramma Jac– Maybe we should do regional ‘Bloomr meet-ups! We could have area chapters, like the Lion’s Club! It could be a national movement!

    aurburn60– Love that Meredith– you’re such a good mom. And she gets extra points for not telling you until now!

    itsvikki2u– Grateful to be yours, too. And come back and report to us whenever you do pay it forward!

    kidpyramid– Parking meters– another good idea. I love the Del Taco story… and the tattooed guy and the ditch one is even better!

    VA-Cathy– I guarantee you your kids are noticing. I was raised by parents who quietly went around helping people without drawing attention to it, and I never forgot it.

  16. Barbara M. Lloyd

    It always makes me cry to tell this about my dad. For as many years as I can remember growing up, on Christmas Eve he would take me to Mr. Taylor’s Men’s store, where at Christmastime Mr. Taylor would have a toy stores upstairs. This would be after hours and Mr. Taylor would let my dad and me pick out some toys at a great price….then we would drive them in the wee hours of the morning out in the country over bumpy dirt roads to a very small farm house, Inside, a precious mom and dad would be waiting for our arrival while their children were sleeping in their beds. Their little Christmas tree was always trimmed with strings of berries, popcorn and ssorted cutouts of angels, etc. We would put the toys around the tree and leave as quietly as we had sneaked into that little house. My dad was by no means a wealthy man but he had a heart for people and especially this one little family. Without hesitation, this part of my Christmas was always the best part of all. I can still remember those goosebumps riding down that little country road. When my dad passed away, it was this man who always showed up to shovel snow, cut the grass, put on storm windows….without ever being called. Through the years, they even named one of their children after me….my dad’s kid.

  17. tori

    Momma Lloyd– OK, that did it. I’m cryng.

  18. Days of reckoning « My Life as the Glue

    […] and looking around at our so-called community, while I see a lot of good and coming together and paying it forward, as my friend puts it, I also see a lot of judginess, small-mindedness, and lack of […]

  19. delightedabroad

    These stories are great! They also remind me of the book “What would Jesus do”, you know it? While reading the post and the comments and thinking about them I remembered two situations especially: I had to take the bus and the urban railway (is that the correct expression for ‘S-Bahn’??)to reach my school and one time a young mother with a toddler and a little one in a buggy had difficulties to get on board. It was absolutely self-evident for me to seize one end of the buggy to help her. No one else in the bus moved! On another occasion an elderly lady asked me if the next train was heading for the city. I answered her and when I heard she had problems with a bad sight I offered her to take my arm. She was so thankful and happy that someone was helpful and kind to her, she almost told me her whole life on the ride.
    I’m apalled that something like this seems to be extraordinary though in my opinion it should be common.

  20. Nova Scotia Mama

    My friend Debby often pays for the coffee order in the car behind her in the Tim Horton’s drive thru…she gets downright giddy afterwards because it makes her feel so good. Because we live in a rural area where pretty much everybody knows everybody, the drive thru employees sometimes ask her “are you paying for yours plus the next guys today?”

  21. swerchon

    I have done something very similar to this about two years ago. I was with family and friends and we went for breakfast on a Saturday and having a great time. We were all laughing and having fun with the waitress (she was a hoot). I had noticed this woman (a bag woman I believe, if not she sure looked it), anyway I noticed her and silently kept watching her sitting by herself and focused on the food on her plate. No one else from my table seemed to have noticed her or even noticed that I was so fixated on her. My heart was so heavy and it hurt for this woman. While everyone was still horse playing and whooping it up, I pulled the waitress to one side and insisted that she give me her bill and NOT to say anything to the woman that it was me who paid her tab.

    With all the joking and fun going on at our table that morning, I had more fun watching this woman find out her meal was paid for – it was fun and made me feel so good.

  22. LindaB

    Well, I tried this yesterday…..only I did it at the Clio McDonalds…..(Not Starbucks—I hate paying 4 bucks for a latte for MYSELF even). So, I paid for the person behind me’s coffee and TWO Big Macs. THEN, they followed me everywhere around town, pulling in behind me wherever I stopped. I KNEW this wouldn’t work here!

    Then I started worrying that this person would spill his hot coffee in his lap and SUE ME! This is a touch little town.

  23. LindaB

    I mean “tough”………….but “touched” would also work, I guess.


    LOOK – I HAVENT READ THE POST, YET…..I ONLY GOT AS FAR AS YOUR TWITTER POSTS…TORI – HAVE THOSE REVIEW GUYS GOT A DEPT FOR TV REVIEWS? they really need you over there! I didnt watch the awards, but I gotta find a clip now to see the MEAT DRESS! AND CHER’S DRESS!
    And, your commentary on Kanye was hilarious!

    will be back after reading your post on Bloomr! love ya!


    Well, maybe I am waaay off track here, & maybe an extremist, but isnt that what we should all be doing if we have been blessed by the Lord, (which all of us have – to even be able to read these blogs!) – He blesses us in order that we can in turn bless others.
    I mean, I AM DEFINITELY NOT MOTHER THERESA – NO WHERE CLOSE, (even though she will not beat me to Jesus’ feet!)- but i incorporate things like this as often as possible in my day…cards unexpectedly to folks, little gifts “just because”, …etc…..I think most of you reading this blog do things like this every day, not even thinking about it – showing love to the next person….which was our commandment from Jesus. We can draw others to Christ thru love when they are blocking out the Word.

    Or maybe I am just too serious.

  26. delightedabroad

    Delivered, I totally agree with you! I often think about the very true expression that ‘non-believers do read just one edition of a bible: the life of the believers around them’.


    And, maybe we pay too much attention to the blessings we are supposed to receive, and not enough about the blessings we are supposed to bestow, and the motive behind the giving. I was such an awful person before Jesus changed my life, I guess that is the main reason I now focus on trying to bring blessings to others. I have brought waaaay too much pain in the past. Peace

    (back to class……i am subbing Pre-k today! woohoo! I’m gonna need one of those pumpkin lattes afterwards – too bad there’s not a Satrbucks w/in 15 miles! gotta settle for Gevalia)

  28. LindaB

    “…even though she will not beat me to Jesus’ feet!”—Johnnie

    I LOVE THAT, JOHNNIE!!! Ya know, you remind me of someone. Remember the story of the woman who was a sinner who came to Simon the Pharasee’s home where Jesus was a dinner guest? She was so overcome with love for Jesus that she washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair? And anointed his feet with costly ointment? And Simon thought, TO HIMSELF, that Jesus couldn’t possibly be a prophet or he would have known this woman was a sinner and wouldn’t let her come near to him! (Bad P.R., ya know.) And, of course, Jesus being the Son of God, HEARD HIM! Jesus then, (and I love this part), said, “I have somewhat to say unto thee!” I love it because Jesus didn’t care if Simon was a big shot around town! He didn’t care if He was a guest in his house! He didn’t care if Simon was a “righteous” or “religious” man in the world’s eyes. Jesus was all about the sinner. And He spoke right up for her! He told Simon a story about two men that owed money to their master—-one owed a lot, and one owed a little. And the Master forgave them BOTH! Then Jesus asked Simon which one loved his master most? And Simon said the one who was forgiven the most. And we all know that he was right and Jesus reminded Simon that he didn’t wash Jesus’ feet when he arrived for dinner, didn’t kiss Him (which was customary), and didn’t offer him oil to anoint His head. But this woman did because she was forgiven for a lot! And she loved Him a lot!

    You talk about how bad the sinner was that you USED to be, Johnnie. But now that you are forgiven, you are so quick to thank God for everything! So faithful to serve others. So happy to be a believer now! You have been forgiven much and you LOVE MUCH! I think Mother Theresa will step back and let you kiss Jesus’ feet first! And I hope I get to see that! It will be glorious! I just love you, Johnnie!

    (Sorry, Tori, for the epistle. Got carried away.)

  29. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh my goodness, I love you, too, Johnnie…..and forgive me for previously calling you Johnny, please.

    But I bet we will all have a race to our Jesus’ feet…….and I can see Him smiling at us now.

  30. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh dear, that didn’t come ojut the way I meant it, I fear….so let me just say that I didn’t mean because we deserved to be any closer to Jesus’ feet than anyone else…..just that we all will be so excited being in Heaven and that close to our Saviour. Afterwards, I’ll be going around getting hugs from everyone on Tori’s blog. Well, that is, when y’all finally get there.

    Gracious, Tori, tell us Russ’ Christmas cd is being released SOON.


    I had just sent Tori a picture of me this morning – grinning from ear to ear……BUT IT AINT GOT NUTHIN ON THE HUMONGUS GRIN I AM WEARING NOW! Thanks, gals! Alot of folks think I am kinda over-the-top…fanatic….well, YEAH!!!!! I AM!!!!! I am the debtor that to whom much was forgiven! I am the woman that was deliverd from a legion of demons! And, I am Paul, who went everywhere telling about his Damascus initiation into the Kingdom of God, giving hope to the other lost, confused ones. I cant help but be thankful, grateful, and tell it! It is my life. Thanks for understanding! My church is just not on Sunday mornings…it is every day, all breath, my reason for living.

    LindaB & Mama Lloyd – it is SOOOOO good to have a face w/ your names! I love you! Truly hope to meet you on this earth, but if not – we will def. meet on the new one! Glory to Jesus!

  32. karen48

    I had a pay it forward of a different kind done to me. Five years ago I had been in the hospital for 18 days with a lung problem. That meant a whole month for me with no paycheck.

    I belonged to a lovely group on delphi at the time. They knew I was having problems paying my bills, especially my rent. These lovely ladies put their heads together and sent me enough to pay my rent that following month. What a blessing that was! On the check was a note saying they didn’t want repaid, but for me to pay it forward.

    I have paid it forward in small ways as I in no way have enough to pay someone elses rent. But it is fun to do it when you can.

    And a couple weeks ago I was in line at McDonalds, and got to the window and the person right in front of me had their bill paid by the one in front of them. So close!!! lol

  33. LindaB

    “And a couple weeks ago I was in line at McDonalds, and got to the window and the person right in front of me had their bill paid by the one in front of them. So close!” —Karen

    ROFLOL Karen!!! Too funny! I wish someone who likes to “play it forward” was in front of me at the county treasurers office when I’m paying my taxes!!!

    “Alot of folks think I am kinda over-the-top…fanatic…” — Johnnie

    Folks thought Jesus was an over-the-top-fanatic TOO! You just keep on keepin’ on! You energize the rest of us! There’s nothing like a soul just washed squeaky clean by the blood of Christ and still can’t get over the miracle of it! Bless you!

  34. LindaB

    I mean “Pay” it forward. Right? I’ve heard it both ways. But then, I live in Clio.

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