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So, yeah...I'm a jerk.

I told the story this morning about a guy who broke a 'pay it forward chain' at a certain Seattle-based coffee concern.

You've heard of paying it forward, of course. It's where someone who feels terrible about their life decides to finally do something for their fellow man and pays for the order of the person behind them in the drive-thru. It's a noble thing, and if all goes according to plan, once you discover that the person ahead of you has paid for your order, you then pay it forward, and return the favor to the car behind you, and so on, and so forth.

Eventually, everyone feels great about themselves...until someone finally breaks this cycle of madness and enjoys a completely free order.

Or they quickly realize that if they do pay for the car behind them they're going to spend much more than they'd originally planned on. That is where I come in.

Not an actual photo of Lance refusing to pay it forward (iStock)

All I wanted was my large black coffee. I figured that it might cost about three bucks, and only had 10 dollars in my pocket. As I pulled up to the window, I was told that my order was free.

"Free? What do you mean?"

"Oh, the car in front of you paid for your order, we've had a whole line of people doing that."

"No kidding? Wow...that's great."

"Would you like to pay for the person behind you as well? It's a great way to keep the good karma going?"

"Good Karma? Are you serious?"

"Oh, yes. Would you like to pay for the order behind yours?"

At this stage, I took a quick glance at the car behind me and saw a small SUV that had at least three or four passengers. The group looked as if they were probably the types who would order triple soy lattes with three extra pumps of caramel.

I did some quick math in my head and figured that their order would have been exponentially more expensive than my large coffee. I thought briefly about whipping out my debit card since I did not have the cash, but thought otherwise. I had my reasons.

"Sir, would you like to take care of their order?"

"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, no."


I realized that I was the end of the good karma train. The pay it forward movement was coming to a soul-crushing end because of my selfishness.

"Yeah, no. I'm good. I appreciate it. Thank you!"

I began to roll up my window when I heard the drive-thru attendant exclaim, "Seriously?" I mean, it's not like I stole from them. My order was paid for. They got their money, whether it was from me or the person in front of me. They had nothing to complain about.

I did decide to pause for a moment to see that was going to happen behind me. I observed a conversation between the cashier and the car behind me, which included the cashier pointing out the window in my direction, while the soy people in the car looked ahead at me, seemingly incredulous that I refused to pay for their order.

I pulled forward and went to work.

Does that make me a jerk? That depends on your point of view.

Personally, I don't feel that I was under any obligation to pay for the people behind me. Also, perhaps the person ahead of me had a massive order, and were only on the hook for my singular coffee? So, didn't they also benefit? It's a slippery slope. Or, perhaps the people behind me knew that a pay-it-forward situation was going on and figured they'd get their beverages for free, or greatly discounted. You just don't know, and I wasn't going to find out.

But if you're the type of person who feels that 'we're all in this together,' that's your deal. If that makes me a jerk in your eyes, I'm strangely okay with that.

I'll get you next time.

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