Coffee and Quarters

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.

~ Scott Adams

I drove through McDonald’s the other day. In front of me a lady driving a vanilla-mocha-colored Escalade, with the tiniest of hands and the brightest of pink fingernails, attempted to throw a quarter into the little container where the money for the Ronald McDonald House goes. But her aim wasn’t so good so she missed the slot on top and the quarter caromed around a bit and then fell to the ground with a plink.

She leaned out the window and her hair, perfectly pinned up and dyed blonde, glistened in the sun. With one hand she lifted her sunglasses and saw where the quarter had landed, but then she leaned back in and drove forward and got her McCafe whatever.

I wondered if she felt it would have been too much trouble for her to take the time to put her Escalade in park and hop out and retrieve the quarter and put it in the slot where she had intended for it to go. But then maybe she didn’t want to ding up her door. Or keep the line waiting. Or maybe she just has money to throw around like that and figured that a quarter lost is really no big deal at all.

A quarter that I’m sure would have helped provide a savory cup of coffee for some grieving mother in some faraway city sitting in an unfamiliar house near a giant research hospital. A cup of coffee that would help her feel just a little bit warmer inside, even as she learns that little Suzie probably isn’t going to get any better in spite of the hopeful way the doctor looks at her when she speaks of alternative treatment plans and the latest research and how little Suzie could very well be part of the point-zero-three percent who responds positively.

Suzie’s mother could have sipped that steaming cup of the most perfect coffee on the planet, the best coffee that money can buy, as tears streamed down her face because little Suzie probably won’t make Christmas this year. Won’t be around to stay up too late on Christmas Eve and make sure that the cookies she made don’t get eaten by the dog when they set them out for Santa Claus, or toss and turn in her bed amidst the sheets with Barbie or Belle or Hannah Montana on them that are rumpled from all the tossing and turning and stoked anticipation of having to wait until morning to open her presents that weren’t there when she went to bed but will sure as shit be there when she gets up and comes screaming down the stairs at the butt crack of dawn and then runs back upstairs to wake up her mother who didn’t get much sleep herself for all the hoopla she knows she will have to endure just to make it through the day.

Only her mother will probably not spent too much time engaging in hoopla of the festive variety this year because Suzie won’t be there.

And she’ll have memories of stale, discount coffee and that’s about it waiting for her this Christmas. Because the lady with the Escalade and the pink fingernails and the perfect coiffure left that quarter lying there on the ground outside the McDonald’s and got her three dollar McCafe whatever and just drove away like it was the perfectly normal thing to do.

Well, I couldn’t stand the possibility of bad coffee happening to that poor lady who is Suzie’s mother so when I pulled up to pay I veered away from the window a bit and then opened my door and fetched the quarter and placed it in the container with all the other nickels and dimes and a few dollar bills. And then I wondered who would get the karmic credit for that quarter and for helping make Suzie’s mom a little less anxious throughout her upcoming ordeal. Then, what if it was a waste of time to put that quarter in there because do they really buy good coffee with all those quarters anyway?

And then I laughed at myself for two reasons. One, only someone as messed up as me would spend so much time thinking about stupid shit like this, and, two, because my Chicken McNuggets were cold. And I mean cold like they must have dug them out of the garbage just so they wouldn’t have to make any fresh ones. And so I laughed at the absurdity of it all and drove away and didn’t complain. Because complaining never did me any good and it sure isn’t going to help Suzie’s mom feel any better either.

[Flickr photo is by chrisdlugosz and is protected]


30 thoughts on “Coffee and Quarters

  1. Great, now I feel as if I nmeed to go try and throw a quarter out of my van window to show I’m better than pink nailed escalade mom, and I want Suzie’s Mom to have good something, and the fact that the story was fiction as far as Suzie’s Mom, I still got a little choked up.

    Either I’m an easy sell or … Nm, I give to the rich homeless guy on the side of the road… I know the answer to that would-have-been-question!

    The holidays bleed me dry, figuratively speaking.

    Cold Nuggets suck.

    K I’m off to throw quarters! 🙂

  2. you’re messed up… but in the most delightful way! this made me smile and wanna smack Escalade Mocha Lady with a sock full of quarters!

  3. There’s also the possibility that said quarter, if left on the ground, would’ve been found by the man who works the maintenance shift at that Mickey D’s. He’s got an MBA and was pulling in a salary six times the one he gets at McDonald’s… until his company went bankrupt and he got laid off and couldn’t find anything else in his field. He’s sweeping floors, picking up litter, and cleaning out deep-fry vats at a fast food joint just to make ends meet, and he’s losing a lot of weight because he doesn’t eat during his shift; he doesn’t want to spend the extra money, even for food purchased with an employee discount. Every little bit has to go towards keeping the mortgage paid and the heat on in his house, and somehow, some way, he wants to buy Christmas presents for his kids. Maybe on a cold December day, while taking the trash out to the dumpster, he finds that quarter in the drive-thru lane, and combined with the dime he found at the bottom of the trash can and the twenty pennies in his car’s ashtray, he was able to buy himself a hot apple pie.

    And it tasted wonderful. It made his day.

    1. You’ve dug to the heart of this post, my friend. Remember when a quarter didn’t mean much? Me neither . . .

  4. I like you. I really, really like you.

  5. I’m not too keen on that McDonald’s charity. Using the donations of other people to promote their own brand through doing good. Doesn’t feel right. If they want to do good use their own money and do it anonymously.

    But then again I think about THOSE sort of things too much too.

    1. But then they’d have to call them the Houses Where People Stay When Their Kids Are Sick. Or something like that.

      As established and profitable as the chain is, I imagine their intent is not to sell more hamburgers. Or maybe so and I’m just naive. That would be something interesting to research . . . Why do big corporations do charitable work? Is it because they ARE big and can bring in a large amount of funds to go toward something they believe in and embrace as a company? Or is it really all about putting their name out there and increasing the bottom line on the balance sheet? With so many hands in the pot, I’m sure it’s a combination of both . . .

      1. I think you are too optimistic. They take more credit than they are due, and probably take more “administration” fee than they need as well.

      2. If they didn’t have the promoting the brand in mind then they wouldn’t have called it Ronald McDonald house.

        I don’t object them giving money and getting publicity out of it. What I object to is them soliciting donations from their customers and then getting publicity from it.

        1. Some additional thoughts:

          McDonald’s has a reputation not only for hamburgers (generally positive, but that’s another post!), but for their community involvement through charitable giving and the services they provide and activities they support. RMHC in particular has the backing of the Better Business Bureau, where they post yearly activity and financial reports: ( So, in a sense, the brand that is McDonald’s in more than food, and many people give contributions based on their positive reputation for charitable giving.

          Isn’t this the nature of most charitable causes? We choose to give based on the brand of the company providing the services? For most cases, we choose to support organizations that are dedicated to one particular cause. When I give blood, for example, I know that the American Red Cross will be using my blood, or the money I contribute, to alleviate a particular need. In the case of McDonald’s, however, I know that when I buy a Big Mac, I am putting money in some owner’s pocket. But when I choose to make a contribution, drop a quarter in the bucket, I know I am supporting a part of McDonald’s that does some good.

          I hope that makes sense. I guess what I’m saying is that when I hear “McDonald’s,” I tend to think about more than just hamburgers . . . and is that such a bad thing?

          1. I must admit, I don’t have massively strong feelings on the issue, and so perhaps shouldn’t be setting my stall out as a “anti” McDonald’s protester or anything.

            But it’s just part of my left leaning makeup that gets uncomfortable when huge corporations become involved in charities, because (in my view) they are doing it for the PR rather than the beneficence.

            You don’t have to look far on google to find all the immoral stuff these corporations do – particularly surrounding the environment, and so the blatant branding on the ronald McDonald house just makes me wince a little.

          2. Must admit, when I think of McDonalds, I generally think of the undermining of other cultures, poor diet, the studied driving of smaller businesses out of local communities neighborhoods (the same reason I avoid Starbucks – their policy of over-populating an area with coffee shops until they ‘own’ the turf is well documented) and the relentless persecution of people who challenge them on their record through courts of law on points of order rather than truth. They’re not in this for the public good and anything else is window dressing.

            Oh dear. I’m ranting. It’s Dan’s fault. I get really political about McDonalds.

  6. My son wants to know how when pay phones disappeared and did we really use dimes. I have to tell him about quarters for laundry, video games and drinking. Ok, maybe not drinking.

  7. The nostalgic kernel of my brain bypassed all the rest of the interesting story and instead simply latched onto the picking up a dropped quarter portion and it made me think fondly back about my maternal Granddad.

    Granddad drove slowly enough that when – not if – he spotted a coin the the road, he could easily stop, hop out, retrieve it, and place said coin in an old coffee can kept on the floorboard of his old, old Chevy truck. All of us grandkids kinda mocked this behavior – secretly of course, out of equal parts respect and fear – but when I saw him toddle into a car dealership with that can of coins (accompanied by fistfuls of various denominations of well-worn bills) and purchase a new car for his wife, I gained a tremendous amount of admiration for his codgerly ways. Yup, he was able to squirrel away enough money to buy a car with cash outright by picking up coins, scrimping, and being as frugal as could be. Granddad was not a man financially well-off at all, yet that day he seemed immeasurably rich to me.

    If for no other reason than to serve as some small tribute to him, I never pass by a dropped coin. Every time I find a penny on the sidewalk or in a parking lot, I think fondly of Granddad as I pocket it.

    As for McDonald’s, I believe their charitable practices are totally driven by their relentless brand-expansion goals rather than any true altruism.

  8. By the way, I’ve often wondered if I’m the only one for whom those boxtops and yogurt lid charity programs rub the wrong way.

    I mean, for every Yoplait yogurt lid a consumer sends in, the postage probably outweighs the charitable contribution tenfold. And all of those pink ribbon items during breast cancer awareness month – what effect does purchasing a pink Swiffer actually have towards cancer research or treatment?

    It may all be very well-meaning, but it still smells scammy to me. I think it’s just a way to tug at consumers’ wallets via their heartstrings. I’m much more in favor of making contributions that have a tangible effect.

    1. You’re not the only one. I’m very wary of “a portion of the proceeds of this sale will savethewhales/feedthechildren/curecancer/stoppollution” promotions. I want to know WHAT portion of the proceeds? And exactly WHICH organization is it going to?

  9. I’m with Emily. I always leave money on the ground when I drop it, because some kid will find it and be excited. (I hope.) Or it may brighten the day of some adult who’s been having lousy luck. If I miss the bin at McDonald’s or Dairy Queen, I dig out more and throw that in, but leave the dropped stuff on the ground.

    Here is a paper on corporate charitable giving, investigating the link between giving and the company’s bottom line. It’s just one view, of course, and I don’t even agree with all of it. But, you asked.

    1. Thanks for the link, Kay. I perused the paper a bit and will give it a more thorough read-through after finals week is over. (Blessed Friday, make haste!)

  10. Great post. Reading this as I drink my coffee that cost much more than a quarter. Money going in the cup next time through.

  11. Interesting piece. And even more interesting that the majority of responses seem to diss the Golden Arches for having a Ronald McDonald House. I once did a story on a family that benefited from a Ronald McDonald House on a show I was producing and I think the only people that matter in trying to figure out this big corporations motive are the people themselves who benefit from this charity’s existence.

    Great food for thought.

  12. Well said, especially that last line. We spend far too much time complaining – whinging as the locals call it – and far too little being grateful for what we have.

  13. and why is it the bigger the SUV the smaller and more neatly groomed the driver is.

    and yeah, i drive a honda.

  14. That you spend so much time thinking about stupid shit (which, by the way, is almost never actually stupid shit) is what I love most about you.

  15. Wow…you really have that all figured out! I am much more inclined to say “What a BITCH”. I would probably pick up the quarter, put a dollar in the slot (I have a fondness for the Ronald MacDonald House), grab my SUPER-SIZED #3, track that Escalade down and when I find her, throw the quarter at her while shoveling in my fries…..but that is just me.

    Your way is probably better.

  16. This whole post cracked me up (not because I’m heartless and wasn’t appropriately touched by little Suzie’s plight) but because of the train maze one needed to ride through your mind for this story to emerge. Very nice indeed! You can punch my ticket again, please.

    1. If there is one thing Tysdaddy is good at, it’s taking you on that journey though his thought process.

      1. Yeah, I should have added that I loved the post as a thing in itself, politics aside!

  17. Or the drive-thru dude initially thought “Fuck, she missed the box” then smirked “Sweet, another quarter for my tip jar”. After shift, drive-thru dude proceeds to nick the change out of the box to go have a beer with his friends. Laughing at his suave move of skimming from the McD charity box, he chokes on a peanut and is rushed to the ER. He wakes up in the hospital with a $15,000 bill for an Emergency Peanut Extraction. If you hadn’t put the quarter in the box, there wouldn’t have been enough money for him to buy the beer, and he would have gone home instead. Just sayin’.

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