Boy, you better be quick if you want to be “pay it forward” in Alexandria, Virginia.
Today I dropped by the local 7-11 for a quick purchase and was third in a line of four. Being served was a very tall—basketball player tall—, very striking young African American man, late 20s, early 30s, in a three- piece suit and tie. He had his items on the counter for checkout, and excused himself briefly to go out to his car where he said he had left his wallet. A few seconds later he stepped back into the store and said, “Never mind. I’m sorry, I left my wallet at home,” and started to leave. I hesitated maybe two seconds and started to speak, as did the man ahead of me. I was about to say that I would pay for his items, but the guy behind me, short, stocky, white, about 50, and noticeably missing a few teeth in front, stepped out and said, “Hey, man, I’ve got it.”
The young man looked surprised and said, “Are you sure?” “Of course. Is that it?” replied the older man, pointing to the counter.
“Just pay it forward, friend,” said the man in front of me.
“Thank you,” said the Kareem Abdul Jabbar look-alike. I really did think he looked like Kareem, early 70’s vintage, but handsomer. He also appeared a lot more affluent than his shorter benefactor. “Here’s my contact information…” and he reached into his pocket.
“No, no, come on, that’s not necessary,” said his new friend,, flashing his missing teeth in a big smile. “I’ve got it. We’re all in this together.” And he paid the clerk.
The tall black man shook his hand, and they both held the clasp for a few second. “Thanks so much,” he said.
After he left, both I and the man in front of me congratulated the winner of this ethics jump ball, saying that we both were about to do the same thing, but he had been quicker.
“Oh no!” he said suddenly, eyes twinkling. “I just spent my last dollar! Now I can’t pay for MY stuff!”
“See? I’d really have you both then, wouldn’t I?”
And we all laughed.