The Bell Ringer
The day is a bit frantic, lots to do, and not enough time to do it in. An after dark cup of coffee is just what I
There’s a line at the drive-thru so I park the car and walk in. A couple of teenage boys are the only people in the place and as soon as I enter one of them cuts in front of me and asks the girl behind the counter, “how much for a medium hot chocolate?”
“Two-fifty plus tax,” the girl replied.
“What about the .99 cent special?” asked the kid.
“You need a receipt from before noon today,” she replied as sternly as the kid’s question was surly. He snorted and put his buck back in his pocket and returned to his friend, rejected.
“Can I help you?” asked the girl behind the counter, finally noticing me. I hate being invisible.
“A medium hot coffee, just milk.” I thought for a moment then said “and two medium hot chocolates.”
“You want whipped cream?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
The boys sat at a little table in the corner, two kids with no money and nothing to do but around the coffee shop. Their uniform of skinny jeans and hoodies didn’t look all that different from mine some thirty-five years ago, only my jeans were faded and an old army jacket took the place of the hooded sweatshirts. One thing had changed though, we used to hang around outside the stores; nobody would let us in
“You guys want whipped cream?” I asked them.
They looked back, bewildered.
“Two with whipped cream,” I said to the girl behind the counter, and she went to work.
“Merry Christmas guys, I remember how it feels to be broke,” I said, and dropped the cups on their table.
The kids were stunned, and though they tried to remain cool could not suppress the delight my small gesture had on them. It never fails to amaze me how a smile can transform a person; these two went from thug imitators to a couple of regular high school kids who just got an unexpected treat.
They got a hot chocolate, but I got much more. The looks on their faces when they realized what I had done was not at all what I would have thought. There was no suspicion, no uneasiness or sarcasm, just a genuine helping of gratitude that even the angst of adolescent life could not disguise. I think that they were as surprised with their response as I was. I doubt if anything like what just happened to them had ever happened to them before. In a world full of predictability something completely unpredictable had just happened.
Maybe I’m kidding myself and my gesture was no big deal. But maybe it was. Maybe these two kids who were hanging around a donut shop with nothing to do spent a few minutes enjoying their hot chocolate and feeling a little better about the people they share their world with. Maybe the next time they see an older guy coming they’ll hold the door for him, and that guy will get a different perspective of today’s youth, and not think that they are all a bunch of rude, unmotivated, texting, video game addicted creeps with no manners. Maybe that guy will see that these kids are a lot like he was when he was young, and though our pastimes have changed considerably, we are more alike than different.
And just maybe that guy will go home, and see his estranged teenaged son as a person again, and maybe he’ll find the patience he had lost, and maybe he’ll be able to recapture the magic between father and son that always seems to slip away between age 13 and twenty, no matter if it’s 1975 or 2014, or any time there have been fathers growing old and sons growing up.
Yeah, it was just a couple of hot chocolates, and there is a good a chance that the kids thought I was a chump. But there’s something magical about doing something good and decent for somebody else when there is nothing in it for you. You get to think about what you did any way you want, and allow those thoughts to grow into feelings. And it just feels great to think you made a difference.
I brought my good feelings with me to the Christmas Shoppe. I picked up the things on the list my wife had provided, and after cashing out the lady at the register quietly asked if I had “the coupon.”
“What coupon?” I asked.