An odd thing occurred to me today as I went to mail my taxes in and grab a bite to eat on the corner. I walked into the pizza shop and ordered a BLT. When it came time to pay, the man behind the counter insisted I just take it. For free.
When I insisted on handing him the full fare for the delicious bacon-laden lunch, he leaned in and spoke to me in his European accent. He said;
"A few weeks back, our delivery driver dropped off an order to your house. When he didn't have enough change, you told him to keep it. Our driver recognized you when you walked in."
I saw over in the corner that same guy who earlier in the week, graciously accepted $20 bucks on a $12 dollar delivery order. He came over, gave me a quick nod, and said "I always pay back my debts."
Moved as anything, I left the store, BLT and chips in hand. As with anything, generosity is always appreciated if not reciprocated. Conversely, there's nothing you can ever gain by being overtly cheap.
As a waiter, whenever someone tips me generously, I remember that person. I look forward to serving that person again, and would do everything I could to get whatever free or coveted items to his or her table without getting into too much trouble with the management. Often times, I'd risk it anyway.
I forget what journalist wrote that short piece a few years back about his journey to New York City with a stack of twenty dollar bills. He tried to see how far he could get by slipping twenties into the hands of the right people. He was let into exclusive luncheons, ferried around to awesome places, and generally well-liked by whomever he paid.
The important thing I realized about this whole situation was not that the money itself was significant. Of course, the money is appreciated. But in retrospect, the subtraction doesn't quite work out. I left the guy eight bucks when he delivered to my house, but the cost of the sub and chips was more than that upon my return. His net gain was in the negative, but he recognized me for my generosity and future business.
My friend and I recently staked a claim on our new hangout spot, a classy restaurant/pool hall/karaoke venue. The first couple times we went, I doubt we were distinguishable from the other bros in the place. My friend and I both tipped generously each time we went, and by the third time we went, we were treated like regulars, given free beer, and generally made to feel more welcome than the average person. The man in charge gave us free tastes of exclusive and obscure tap beverages, four pints for the price of three, things of that nature.
It speaks to most things about life in general, but if you help others when times are good for you, you can often count on others when you're up the creek and down the waterfall.