kissing camels and buying coffee for strangers

Not So Random Acts of Coffee

When her habit of kindness was frustrated by technology, she found a better one

It started in college. Crossing the San Francisco Bay Bridge around Thanksgiving one year, Dana Young found herself possessed by the holiday spirit. “It must have been junior year in college, and I decided over Thanksgiving break that I was just going to pay for the toll of the person behind me,” she recalls. From Thanksgiving to Christmas that year, whenever she crossed a toll bridge, Young repeated her act of kindness. “I never actually stayed to see who it was behind me,” she told Good Turns recently. “I just hit the gas and sped off.”

“Doing something nice always makes someone’s day,” she says. “I didn’t want them to feel obligated to thank me, that’s not why I was doing it.”

Young, who does mission-driven work professionally as VP of Play Partnerships at One World Play Project, kept up her holiday habit for the next few years, but eventually found herself stymied as Bay Area bridges incorporated the FasTrak electronic toll collection system, which lets drivers pay their tolls with hardly the need to slow down at the toll plaza. “As nice as you want to be, when you’re rolling through with FasTrak you don’t actually stop,” Young points out. With no way to continue her good deed of choice, she had to find another way.

“I started buying cups of coffee for people behind me in line,” she says. While this habit was a bit more sporadic for the first few years, she has made a point more recently of doing it every single day. And given the logistics of buying coffee for strangers, she’s found it impossible to remain anonymous — and she’s also found that her new random act is more rewarding for it.

“This is about setting it positive from the get-go. It resets whatever you thought your day was going to be.”

“For this one, I can’t really do it anonymously. I wait for them at the cash register and tell the barista to put whatever they’re getting on my card,” Young says. “I find that they’re not so random acts of coffee. Even though you’re picking someone at random, I always end up in a conversation, and I really like the fact that we get to know each other.”

“I just enjoy doing it. It’s not a lot of money, it’s not even about that. We live in a climate right now where I find people to be less kind, less patient, less thoughtful,” she says. “That’s not the way I want to live, or my kids want to live. But you don’t really know what people are going through, and you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think most people are truly good people, and kind. This is really about setting it positive from the get-go. It resets whatever you thought your day was going to be. The rest of the day, hopefully they can reflect and say, I can be kind, I can be thankful, what’s an easy thing I can do to help everyone feel better? The rest of the day, that person might think the world is kind of a cool place.”

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