December 20, 2009

I don't know about you, but I'm so burned out on health care politics, I needed a little break. This story is the perfect remedy - especially since it so beautifully illustrates progressive values about community, and helping each other.

This is about one of the neighborhood diners I frequent, and I was so happy to read this story (and this one, too):

Last Saturday, Dec. 5th, something startling and wonderful happened at The Aramingo Diner in Port Richmond.

The 52-year-old landmark restaurant at 3356 Aramingo Ave. is open 24 hours a day, so it's always a-bustle. But the place really hops during weekend breakfast and lunch time. Last Saturday was no different, and both wings of the diner - the booth area and the bigger dining room - were lively.

The manager on duty, Linda (who asked that I not mention her last name here, for reasons I can't get into but let's just say everything worked out okay...), tells me that a couple in their 30s paid their check at the register, then asked the cashier to let them secretly pay the check of another couple in the dining room - a couple they didn't know.

"They just wanted to do it," she said. "They thought it would be a nice thing to do."

When the unsuspecting patrons went to pay their check, they were floored to find out that strangers had picked up their tab. So they asked the cashier to let them pay another table's check, also anonymously.

When that table's patrons approached the register, they, too, decided to pay the favor forward for yet another table of unsuspecting strangers.

You know where this is going, right?

For two hours, delighted customer after delighted customer continued to pay the favor forward. And a buzz began to grow. Not among patrons, who had no inkling what was going down at the register, but among the dining-room wait staff - Marvin, Rosie, Jasmine and Lynn - and other Aramingo workers moving in and out of the room.

"We were amazed," says Linda, adding that neither she nor her staffers that day recognized any of the participating patrons as regulars. "Nobody knew each other. But once they found out someone paid their check, they got excited and wanted to do the same thing for another table."

The checks weren't huge, says Linda. They varied between about twelve bucks and $30 (many of the sneaky do-gooders even included tip money in the gift).

But the impact made an out-sized impression on the staff, who marveled at how that initial, single act of generosity kept repeating itself.

Says Linda, "In thirty years working here, I've never seen anything like it. You might have someone pick up a check for another table, but usually it's because they know them."

All in all, about 20 checks were "paid forward" (a term coined by author Catherine Ryan Hyde, whose 2000 book, Pay It Forward was made into an earnestly schmaltzy Hollywood movie).

The lovely cycle finally ended, two hours after it began, when a lone diner, clearly unacquainted with the "pay it forward" concept, seemed befuddled that someone had picked up his check. He simply accepted the favor, grunted, and left.

Notes Linda, "He didn't even leave a tip."

Ah, well. Some people have had so little kindness in their lives, they don't know what to do with it when they see it. They don't really understand we're all in this together.

I hope some people read this and try it in their own towns. What a nice Christmas present to yourself!

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