throwing money at strangers

A Holiday Gift Of A Little Pocket Money

What do you do when someone literally tosses money at you?

A little over 20 years ago, Andy Dugas and his wife and son had moved back to San Francisco after living abroad for several years, and times were tough. “We came back and were very financially strapped,” he says. “It was a miserable time. My son was six at the time, and he was going to have a lousy Christmas.”

But on the last workday before the end-of-year break, Dugas’s holiday season took a brighter turn. “I worked near Marathon Plaza, on Second Street, and I was walking home down to Muni on Market Street, and this guy just came out of the plaza, angling in, so that he was walking right in front of me,” Dugas recalls. “He had his hands in his pockets and he was just kind of shaking his hands, and his pockets were full of quarters, so all these quarters started spilling out of his pockets.”

“When we looked up, the guy was gone. It turned into a great Christmas.”

When Dugas informed the stranger that he was dropping money on the sidewalk, the man looked at him almost as if Dugas were threatening him. “He was very nervous,” Dugas told Good Turns recently. “He said, ‘You think that’s something?’ And then he just starts pulling out bills and leaving them off into the air.”

Dugas bent down to retrieve one, which turned out to be a one-dollar bill. But the next bill he picked up was a hundred. “By this time, attention had been attracted and there were a few other people around us,” Dugas recalls. “There were three or four other people and we were just grabbing up bills as fast as he threw them.”

“When we looked up, the guy was gone,” Dugas says. “I picked up $501. It turned into a great Christmas.”

Dugas says that $501 went a long way. “My wife bought our son new clothes for school, new shoes, we went out for a sushi dinner. I just wonder who was that guy, and how did I happen to be there at that exact moment?”

Dugas’s impression is that the act was intentional, but he’ll never be sure. “I don’t think he was crazy, but he was just kind of nervous walking around with money like that,” he says. “He wasn’t dressed like the Monopoly man, he was just a regular guy.”

The act of holiday largesse has inspired Dugas to continue his own acts of kindness, which had already been a habit even before his holiday encounter so many years ago. “I’m pretty generous with the homeless,” he says. “I’m big on picking up something extra. I like to buy burritos for people. If I’m running to the Vietnamese place to pick up some egg rolls, I’ll buy an extra order if I see someone out front.”

“I don’t know if I was the recipient of a pay-it-forward,” Dugas says, “but I wish I could find that guy and thank him, because he really made that a great Christmas. It wasn’t life-changing money—or maybe it was. It kept us going.” And sometimes, that’s the most valuable kind of assistance one can receive.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nick Nguyen

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