When a Stranger Hooks You Up With $20, They Don't Always Have Ulterior Motives

Ever have to make a late-night run to the grocery store...only to discover when it's time to pay that you don't have your wallet?

There was a long line at my local grocery store last night. Twenty-five people deep, which was odd for a Friday night after 11 p.m. While waiting in line, I browsed a few magazines--the same ole diet and fitness advice as last year--eavesdropped on hipsters holding six-packs of fancy beer, and observed how stressed the cashier looked.

The guy ahead of me, a middle-aged white guy with graying blond hair grumbled a bit about the wait. We chatted a few minutes about how unusual it was for the store to be so crowded, and while we talked, he noticed that I only had a few items and nicely agreed to let me go ahead of him in line.

As the cashier began to ring up my purchases, I dug through my bag and discovered that my wallet was nowhere to be found. I'd changed bags a couple hours earlier and hadn't swapped in my wallet. Ack! I told the cashier to just set my stuff aside, and I'd head home, get my wallet, and be back in 10 minutes.

The same stranger who'd allowed me to cut him in line peeled a $20 out of his wallet and handed it to me. "I'll pay for your stuff. You don't want to have to go home and then come back."

It was true. I really didn't want to run home and then come back, but I also didn't want to take some stranger's cash. What if he only seemed nice but was actually a straight up Ted Bundy in disguise?

We went back and forth for about 30 seconds, me saying, "That's very kind, but no, I'll go home," and him saying, "Seriously, take it. You can pay me back tomorrow. Just drop some cash off at the Starbucks up the street." The cashier, who I've known for about 10 years, eyed the line of people waiting behind us and chimed in. "Just take the money!"

I decided to trust that the nice stranger was actually just a nice stranger, not a guy trying to get his mack on, not a weirdo stalking his next victim. I thanked him for his generosity, wrote his name and cell phone number down on my receipt, and told him I'd call him when I'd dropped the cash off at the Starbucks. I headed on my way, thinking, wow, there ARE nice Angelenos.

Several friends weren't as confident. One remarked, "He wouldn't have given you that money if you were a guy." Indeed, I began to doubt the stranger's generosity. What if it was all an act? A couple of people suggested that I not call him to return his money. "If you call him, then he'll have your number in his caller ID, and he'll start stalking you."

That didn't feel right. I had to return the money. Around noon today I headed to Starbucks to buy a chai and drop off the $20. I rang the stranger on my way there and told him he could meet me to get it, or I'd leave it in an envelope at the counter for him. He said he'd meet me there. And when he came, he was totally cool. I thanked him again and somehow (probably because I'm nosy) within the course of two minutes, we got to talking about how his mom had just passed and he's trying to settle her affairs...he was almost instantly on the verge of tears talking about it. After a few more moments, we said goodbye, and I went on my way, chai in hand.

The stranger truly was just a good Samaritan. It's nice to know they do still exist.


Ileana99 said…
I love your blogs! But you should know that by now. Thanks for restoring my faith in the possibility that there still is generosity out there!
Liz Dwyer said…
It restored my faith, too. I had quite a few unpleasant interactions with supposedly good, positive people this week...I needed the reminder!
Unknown said…
Good trusting your instincts, Liz! That same "sixth sense" that warned you when those dudes were following you that time is the one that told you this guy was legit.
nick said…
That's totally amazing. I've never had anyone anywhere offering to pay my bill for me! Most people simply wouldn't trust the other person to pay the money back (and that includes me, I guess - unless it was a little old lady perhaps).
Liz Dwyer said…
That's a good point! I hadn't thought of that.

I know. It was such a strange situation, so unexpected. It got me thinking, what if life was like that every day? What if our interactions with people were like that all the time?
Jameil said…
That's so nice!!
Joy said…
Such a cool story to start the week with. I was grumbling about Monday being to close to this Sunday already. Now? Looking forward to "paying it forward."
nick said…
Maybe the guy is a millionaire and he just likes the idea of using a bit of his spare cash to help someone out. And he wouldn't be bothered if he never got the money back.
Liz Dwyer said…
Isn't it? He was totally cool!

Glad it made the start of your week better. I have to find some way to pay it forward soon. Not sure what that will be yet. ;)

I kinda wondered that, but wouldn't it be cooler if he's not?
1969 said…
So nice to know there are kind hearted people left in the world. :)
Nina said…
Having just moved back to LA after a year of exile in the suburbs, I am totally in love with this post. I love that this happened.
Liz Dwyer said…
It is nice to know, especially when it sometimes feels like most of the world is busy mean mugging.

Welcome back to LA! Isn't it nice to know that we Angelenos can sometimes behave ourselves? ;)

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