If you live in Southern California and have never seen the SoCal Honda Dealers’ “Random Acts Of Helpfulness” commercials, then you are not watching enough television. A few of these commercials spur instant gratification, thus not a waste of time to watch or re-watch them.
Some weeks ago I noticed a Starbucks’ unusually long drive-thru line. Patience is never my strong suit; for whatever reason that day I decided to test my limits. The tiny parking lot was so congested that cars started flooding the busy intersection. Before entering the drive-thru’s narrow lane, I signaled and allowed a vehicle to my left to get in front of me so it could join the queue. My action was not a kind gesture, not at all, but basic courtesy – if I didn’t do it, I would be deemed a savage.
Third Movement of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1, blasting from the stereo, was ending when I was finally handed a Venti Caramel Brulee Latte. Instead of scanning the app’s QR code on my mobile phone, the barista, or Starbucks Partner, said to me, “The last customer… She paid for your drink.”
Guilt was my first reaction, then perplexity, then silence, then a deep breath.
I didn’t lose my job. I could afford a cup of overrated, over-priced beverage. Free drink is the last thing I need!
“She shouldn’t have done it. She shouldn’t have… Why? Why did she do it?” I asked.
“She just wanted to do something nice…”
“What is your name?” I asked the Starbucks partner.
“What is her name?”
“No. What’s yours? You are very helpful.”
“Thanks Peter. I shall write you a good review. Because of the pandemic I don’t transact using cash. Gratuity will be made via the app.” It was Peter’s turn to appear perplexed.
And surely I didn’t forget to glance in both the rear-view and left side-view mirrors. The driver behind me, in black leather jacket and with a buzz cut, was bespectacled. He could certainly afford a cup of overrated, over-priced beverage. Like me, he didn’t need a free drink.
During that day’s remaining hours I was thought-tormented. Perhaps the wait was long because Peter had to explain to all customers that their drinks had been paid by strangers? Was I the one who terminated the chain of generosity, which then caused Peter’s baffled facial expression? I never got the chance to write the review and give gratuity because there was no transaction.
The playlist was supposed to showcase Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto next. Instead I turned on radio and learned that the following day, Friday, November 13, was 2020’s World Kindness Day.
Only once have I bought a drink for a stranger, actually two strangers, at a bubble tea shop – two cheerful high school seniors wearing sweatshirts of colleges where they would be freshmen after the summer. While chatting I arrived at the conclusion that both young men were goal-oriented and believers of meliorism – in other words, they have their acts together. It took them 30 minutes to reach that bubble tea parlor. I shook my head and told them, “No. No bubble tea is worth the time and gasoline, even your very favorite…” Then I proceeded to pay for their order.
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