Taking regular walks is a habit that pays off in many ways: increased fitness, weight control, better health, serenity—and sometimes even cold, hard cash.
A friend of mine who is a habitual walker keeps one eye on the ground in search of stray coins. He maintains that walking early or late in the day is best for this, as the slanting sunlight reflects off the coins and makes them easier to spot. (Of course, the light also reflects off of little spots of tar, drops of oil, broken bits of plastic, and discarded wads of chewing gum, so it’s a good idea to look before you grab.)
Two or three found pennies makes a successful walk, a nickel is great, a dime is better, and the occasional quarter is a bonanza. In this way, he accumulates enough for a cup of coffee, oh, maybe every three or four months.
It’s too bad he wasn’t along when my two granddaughters and I went for a walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood a couple of days before Halloween. For an entire block, the sidewalk was decorated with scattered coins, probably three or four dollars’ worth altogether. There they were, shining in the morning sun—which also highlighted the generous globs of glue or silicone with which they were securely attached to the concrete. We couldn’t figure out whether this was supposed to be a Halloween trick or somebody’s idea of performance art, but we chose not to expend the effort and fingernail damage to pry loose any of the frozen assets.
Out walking one morning this week, I was marching along at my usual pace, thinking my usual great thoughts, when I glanced down at the gutter and spotted a ten-dollar bill. As I picked it up, my mind flashed back some 20 years, to a time when extra ten-dollar bills were a scarce commodity. We were out hiking one day, and since I had a cold, the pockets of my jeans were filling up with used tissues and cough-drop wrappers. When we passed a garbage can, I took the opportunity to empty my pockets of trash—and also, accidentally, of cash.
The ten dollars in my pocket that I inadvertently threw away was a substantial part of the weekly budget. It took me a long time to forgive myself for that bit of carelessness.
The other morning, picking up someone else’s lost ten-dollar bill, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the person who lost it needed it as much as we had needed that long-ago ten dollars. I certainly didn’t need it now, and taking it didn’t quite feel right. I briefly considered leaving it where it had fallen in case its owner came looking for it. But the chances of that happening were slim, since the bill was damp and had obviously been lying in the gutter at least since the day before. The next person who happened along wouldn’t necessarily need it, either. And leaving it there to blow away or wash down the storm drain wouldn’t do any good for anybody.
So I stuck it in my pocket. Later that day, I stuffed it into a red kettle under the appreciative eyes of a Salvation Army bell ringer.
What goes around, comes around. Sometimes it just takes a couple of decades.