What's Behind Paying For the Car Behind You

I’ve been doing something weird lately.  Letting people get in front of me at the supermarket.  I’ve also been shocking myself about something else.  I’m even letting cars get ahead of me in merges and go first, turning left in front of at green lights, this from a person who always had to be the fastest car on the road (I once drove all the way to Syracuse passing very car.)

But I’m finding that it’s fairly easy to do, and in the way of karma, a lot of people do it for me.  One day a friend was in a huge rush when we both were in the “10 items or less” line, so I let him go first – no big deal. But he acted like I gave him my winning lottery ticket.

I came across the fact that many people are doing this now from an essay in the Sunday New York Times a couple of weeks ago, which reported that some people are paying for the people behind them at drive-throughs.  The person behind them orders while the car in front’s paying so they know what the other person is having, and then the car in front just pays for it.  So when you drive up, your food’s already been paid for.  And guess what?  A lot of people then tend to do it for the car in back of them.

The NYT article reported that a string of 67 cars did it at a Chick-Fil-A in April in Houston, while in Canada (figures), 228 cars paid for the cars behind them.  Drive-through workers say it used to be about one a month but now it’s often several a day.

Serial pay-it-forward incidents involving between 4 and 24 cars have been reported at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Del Taco, Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Maryland, Florida, California, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, North Dakota, Michigan, North Carolina and Washington, according to the NYT.

But usually, it’s just one customer acting alone and perhaps routinely. “We have a lady who always pays it forward in the drive-through, every day,” Aaron Quinton, co-owner of Old School Bagel Cafe, in Tulsa, Okla., told the Times. “I point at the person behind and she just nods.”

It’s all about paying it forward. 

I was brought to tears watching a Sunday Morning piece about a high school football team who helped a learning-disabled kid score a touchdown just because.  Talking about it, the team captain broke down, saying he had always done things just for himself or his friends but now he needed to do it for others.

The kid’s face was payback enough.

On the news Friday I saw a similar story about a team helping the coach’s son, who has Down Syndrome, do the same thing.

Are we all going a little nuts?  Experts put it down to all the war and hatred (see: Congress) going on in the world today.  But I think it’s even simpler than that.

When I do something nice for someone -- a person who really has no relationship to me -- like complimenting a stranger on her unusual jacket, or picking up a paci a toddler’s just dropped, or even noting the license plate of a car that backed into another in a parking lot and just took off, then placing it on the windshield of the damaged car -- I feel good about me.  And you know what?  I think that’s the point.


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