Pay It Forward

Soccer season has started again, and for numerous reasons, we still have Caroline playing in Kennesaw, even though it’s 45 minutes away every Monday and Thursday (practices) as well as Saturday games. Debate the merits of that decision with me all you want, but that’s what we’ve gone with.

As an assistant coach, I’m asked to be there for most practices. This particular Monday night, the head coach was out of town on business and I volunteered to lead practice. 6:30 – 8:00, good times. So, Caroline and I are trekking up to Kennesaw, trying to make sure we have enough time to have a “proper” dinner. And by proper, I mean not McDonald’s. Even with traffic, we get up there about 5:20, just enough time to go to Firehouse and grab a sandwich dinner before getting to the practice fields early and getting ready for the rest of the girls to arrive.

We walk in to the restaurant, Caroline trying to figure out where the chips are, and I reach in my pocket to fetch my wallet. Umm, nothing. You see, it was cold that morning and I wore my wool coat to work. When I wear my wool coat, I keep my wallet in the breast pocket, so I always have it with me. Good plan, right? Well, except when I don’t have my coat with me. I had taken it off when I went to get lunch that afternoon and had placed it in the backseat of my car. Still, not a problem. But, Jayme and I switched cars before we headed up to Kennesaw, leaving my coat in the Audi instead of the Rogue that I was driving.

So, no wallet.

Standing in the middle, ready to place my order, and I have no wallet. No credit cards, no cash, no nothing.

Now what?

I happen to have a check for some reason in the car, and with some help, thought about where I could possibly cash the check so we could still get something to eat before we had to be at the fields. The grocery store was brought up as an idea, and I remembered the Kroger right next door. Worth a shot. Let’s try it. I also had Jayme take a picture of my driver’s license and text it to me. Maybe if I looked pitiful enough, they’d help me.

After walking in, and getting on the express line, I started to craft my sob story for the poor cashier who was about to help me. The lady in front of me was done now, and it was my turn. I explained what was happening and asked if I could use a check to pay for a water (for Caroline’s practice) and get cash back. She said sure, that wouldn’t be a problem. As long as I had ID. Well, I explained, I have ID, it’s just in downtown Atlanta. But I do have a picture of it. She looked perplexed (as I expected her to), and kind of stared at my phone for a long moment. After thinking long and hard, she turned and called to her manager.

“He’s asking to get cash back from a check, but he doesn’t have ID on him. It’s just on his phone. Can we do that?”

He looked at it for a while as well, and finally nodded his head and said sure, as long as we can read it.

Success! Yes!

I write the check out for $26.71 ($25.00 plus the $1.71 for the water) and present it to her. She writes my DL number on the check, takes my phone number, and proceeds to process the check in the register. It runs through just fine, making that old-school check printing sound I know so well from my childhood and all is good in the world.


Beep. Uh oh.

The cashier looks at the readout on the register. “The amount has exceeded the allowed amount.” She looks quizzically at the register for a minute.

“Let me try to run it again.”

Being a programmer, I know this will not work. It’s not an error in the machine processing. It’s hit a business rule. My heart starts to sink.

She calls the manager over again, and explains the situation. The register message and everything. He explains that the reason for the error is that I’ve never cashed a check at Kroger before (which is true), and that the computer doesn’t know my account (not sure I believe this at this point), so I’d have to write another check. I explain to him that this is the only check I have (given my story). He, somewhat abruptly, explains that all that can be done has been done and he can no longer help.

My shoulders sag. I am out of options. There’s nothing else I can do.

Then, something amazing happens.

The lady that had been standing patiently in line behind me in the express line asks the cashier if she can buy the water for me. Apparently, she had heard my story and had taken pity on me and was going to buy the water for Caroline’s practice. I was extremely grateful to her, knowing she did not have to do that. But, she surprised me even more by asking the cashier if she could get $25 in cash back from the purchase of the water.

And she gave it to me. She smiled at me and said, “I hope you have a great night and a good practice.”

She walked toward the door, and I thanked her profusely. I think I actually called her an angel, because she was. She had no obligation to do any of that. And yet, she did. And was so gracious in doing so.

I am very lucky. And extremely grateful.

Our faith in others is so easily lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Tons of things to do and seemingly not enough time to get it all done. We miss opportunities to help others everyday, if only because we overlook them. This lady saw that opportunity. And went out of her way to help. We should all take our cue.

And pay it forward.