I stumbled across this article today. “Secret Santas” in Charlotte, NC are giving away $10,000 (of their own money) in $100 bills. They’ve been doing it for the past few years around the holidays. Be sure to look at the full slideshow of pictures. The comments people have made are interesting, too.

A reporter interested in my Month of Hundreds tagged along as I rode the MAX out to the airport for my trip to San Francisco.  I tried to go about business as usual but was a little self-conscious. A photographer came along as well and he was lurking politely in the distance. I got on the train with my suitcases and took a look around. The C-note was in my pocket.

I slid into an empty seat and pulled my bags close. A young man (a kid, really) was in the next seat. He looked at me and shook his head. “Rough day”, he said.  “Rough day?” I repeated. “What happened?” “I got kicked out of residential treatment”, he explained. “Just for talking to a girl.” He told me he’d been in treatment for 51 days and wasn’t quite sure what to do now. He said he was trying to get home to Washington somewhere, and something about calling this girl or a friend of hers. I had a little trouble following the story and could feel his confusion and worry.  Again he said it was a rough day and he stood up to get off at the next stop. “Take care of yourself!” I urged.

After the guy got off I wanted a change of scenery and moved to the other end of the car. A striking woman briefly met my gaze as I maneuvered my way down the aisle. I stood by the door as we got to the next stop and a few people went and came. The woman got my attention. “There’re seats up here”, she said. “You want to sit down?” “Thanks”, I answered with a smile “I haven’t decided yet.” A few seconds went by. “I’ll help you with your bags”, the woman offered.

I made a move toward the empty seats. She reached over and pulled my suitcase up into the aisle next to her and I sat down across the way. “Thanks a lot.” I asked her where she was headed and she said she was going home. She’d been to traffic court to pay a ticket that her son had incurred while driving her car. “So, he’ll be paying me back. Hopefully.”

“Actually”, I said, “Do you mind if I sit next to you for a minute?” “Uh. Ok.” I caught sight of the photographer a few rows up ahead as I got closer and started telling her about my project. I said I wanted to pass a gift along to her and handed over the $100 bill. “Wow, I can’t take this! I can’t take your money.” She saw the photographer and got alarmed. “What is this? Is this for real? What’s going on?” The reporter came over and started to explain. “It’s legit. Really.” The woman eventually relaxed and told us her name was Angelah. With an H. She said she felt guilty taking the money but that it couldn’t come at a better time. She’s a single mom with four kids and she’s going to school for her nursing certificate. She thanked me a bunch of times before getting off at Gateway.

Our flight was delayed for almost an hour for a “ground freeze” while Airforce Two (Vice President Biden on board) was loaded and launched. The guy sitting next to me was on his way to Honolulu. By the time we landed he had about ten minutes till the doors would close on his next flight. The flight attendant made an announcement letting everyone know. When the cabin doors opened, everyone stayed in their seats and cheered while the guy sprinted down the aisle and onto the jetway. I just know he made it.

Trying to get back home

October 15th. The 15th day of giving away $100. The month is just about half over and I feel a definite sadness over turning that corner.

I did some grocery shopping today on my way home from work. The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t see the guy who’s always there selling Street Roots. It worried me. I heard recently that another of the vendors I saw regularly outside the neighborhood library had died from a heroin overdose.

There were plenty of other people milling around, though. I got stopped by a well-dressed guy who asked if I wanted to “talk about the local elections”. Maybe he was just in the mood to chat but it seemed unlikely. I  didn’t want to be rude or have him think that I don’t care about the local elections. But I didn’t want to talk, so I told him I was “all set” (whatever that meant) and sped by.

I’ve started keeping the $100 bill in my pocket for easy access. I could feel it crinkling around in there as I made my way through the store. I watched a couple of young women selecting and grinding their coffee beans. I liked them and thought about stopping to talk. Then I noticed that they had picked the one brand of coffee beans that was not on sale. I moved on.

I finished my shopping and paid. The cashiers were having an animated conversation and were polite enough to try to include me. “Do you karaoke?” I said no but that it sounded fun (which was pretty much a lie).

Outside I saw this lovely couple with their instruments; they were just winding up a number. The open violin case held a few dollar bills held down by some change. Their clothes were kind of tattered, with odd configurations of layers. They made me think of the wonderful movie “Once”. We started to chat and they said they were from the Bay Area. They came up here for the summer but now that it’s getting cold out they want to go back home when they get the money together.

“Well, I hope this helps a little”. I put the C-note in the violin case. The woman’s eyes got big. “Oh, my god! Thank you so much. Thank you!” We talked a little more and I told them about my mom and my Month of Hundreds.  The woman sweetly offered me her sincere condolences, and then they played me a song.

feed the kittens in the kitchen.
set food out for the strays.
try hard to do your best.
the magpie will have his way.

(from Magpie, by the Mountain Goats)

The Grant HS Generals

It was a pretty dreary day here in Portland, with lots of drizzle. Bank robbery, teen suicides and gang violence dominate the news.

As I came out of our neighborhood grocery store this evening, a handsome young African American man in a football jersey from our local high school quietly asked for my attention. He was selling a discount coupon book and he showed me the book and all the local businesses where you could use it. “Jiffy Lube is a really popular one. You get $10 off.”

I gave the kid what in retrospect seems like a real grilling, and he indulged me politely.  What were they going to do with the money? He said they give it to their coach. Why do they give it to the coach? Well, the coach knows what the team needs and makes sure they get stuff. What kind of stuff? Well, like every two years they get new jerseys. And every Friday they have a team meal. The school doesn’t pay for any of that so they have to raise the money. What kind of food do they eat at the meal? Spaghetti. And healthy stuff. Fruit and carrots and stuff.

He said his name was Cleon and he’s a senior. He’s going to college next year but hasn’t yet decided where. Maybe North Carolina, or University of Oregon. He’s had scholarship offers at smaller schools and he’s keeping his options open. He was bright-eyed, serious and wearing just a hint of cologne.

I told Cleon I wasn’t going to buy a coupon book but that I wanted to give him something, just for him. “It’s not for your coach, it’s for you and you can do whatever you want with it.” I handed him the $100 bill and he stared at it. “Oh! Thank you, Ma’am!” He slipped it in the pocket of his shorts. “Thank you! That’s very generous of you, ma’am! Thank you very much! Thank you!”

I told him I could tell that he was going places and wished him the best of luck. “Oh, I will, ma’am! Thank you, ma’am!” I couldn’t resist pointing out: “Good things happen all the time, you know.” “Yeah”, he said. “This just made me think of that.”

When you’re looking for the right person to give $100 to, things look different – and everything is more memorable. I could hardly concentrate in exercise class this morning because I was so distracted by the ankles of the woman in front of me, each of which was tattooed with a very large skull and crossbones.

I saw a man rush into the open bay of an auto body shop with a large bouquet of flowers. That was interesting. Lots of little kids doing weird kid things like riding their tiny bicycles around in circles on the sidewalk. I came up behind a woman limping painfully along on bad knees. She was talking on her cellphone and I heard her say, “I don’t have much but I like to help out when I can.”

My eyes were scanning as I was on my way to the library. A woman and pre-teenish boy came out the library door and turned the corner. The boy was carrying a large bag full of books, swinging it in a mildly aggressive way. He had a hard look in his eyes, like maybe he was having a bad day. Like maybe he wanted to stop at McDonald’s and his mom said no, it’s almost dinner time. I hoped it wasn’t worse than that. The woman seemed just a little too old, but I figured she must be his mother. Suddenly I really wanted the boy to see something nice happen to her. I followed them down the street and caught up with them at their minivan.

“Excuse me!”, I started off.  The boy got into the van and closed the door. His mom turned to me with a questioning look and I launched into my little spiel, warning her what I was going to say might sound a little strange. I told her what I was doing and why. “Yes”, she said. “That does sound odd.” When I handed her the bill she protested: “Oh, no! You can’t give me that!” She tried to push the bill back into my hand and I stopped her. “It’s a gift. You can do whatever you want with it.” She looked puzzled for just a split second, then she got it. “Oh! I’ll pass it on! We’re fine. We don’t need it. But I’ll pass it on to someone who does.” Then she said, “Your mother must be proud of you. Thank you”, and she gave me a big hug.

I saw the boy watching us with practiced nonchalance from the front seat of the van. As the woman climbed in I turned and went on my way.

Friday will be the start of my Month of Hundreds, during which I will give $100 away each day to a stranger. I’m thinking a lot about what may unfold, and expecting the unexpected. I was truly surprised, however, by what a friend of mine did today. She heard about the project, has been following the blog and today gave me an envelope with a $100 bill inside. Wait a minute: I’m supposed to be the one giving away the money here! I am not sure what to do with the $100; I may start a day early or give two $100’s on a given day. Or go a day longer. Maybe I am feeling a bit of what some of my recipients may feel: grateful and supported, as well as acutely aware of the power of the gift and the need to use it or pass it on in a meaningful way. Lots to think about! What would you do with a C-note?