I Broke the ‘Pay It Forward’ Line

If only I had brought my wallet with me to the drive-thru

Adrienne Gibbs
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readDec 24, 2021


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

I vacillate on whether to apologize or stand my ground regarding what happened that day, a year ago. Yet what’s done is done and it is what it is. Here’s what happened.

I drove to my local Dunkin’ Donuts, ordered a small coffee and a cinnamon raisin bagel. Toasted with light butter. The price was something like $3.50. I drove around the short drive-thru circle and the cashier leaned out the window, smiled and said: “Surprise, the car ahead of you paid it forward. Now all you have to do is pay for the next car!”

I was surprised. This was nice. I felt really warm and pleasant inside.

Then she hit me with the total: $45.97. The minivan in back of me bought a coffee in a box, a bunch of munchkins, and a breakfast sandwich plus an ice cream cone. Yikes.

“Can I just pay for my own and then the next car pay it forward?” I asked nicely.

“No,” the cashier told me, “Your order is already paid for and I guess if you drive off without paying for the next one you will break the good luck line. You are the 67th car this morning. You don’t want to break the line, do you?”

I didn’t know what to do. Did I have $45? Yes. I did. Was I being tested by virtue of religious experience? If I didn’t buy the munchkins was I passing up on the opportunity to bless an angel behind me? Was God looking? Was this a crazy amount of money to spend when I only intended to buy a coffee and bagel?

Yes. Why yes indeed. And yes, all the yesses to all the questions. I told myself to stop being cheap. Think of my fellow man. Do the right thing. Hold the line.

So I reached into my purse and searched around for my wallet. Except there was no wallet. I turned it upside down on the passenger seat. No wallet but $4 in cash in a side pocket and a couple quarters. I was in my husband’s car, so I looked for his spare change. He always kept like a 10 somewhere but in actuality, he had a five and a couple pennies.

I placed the money in my hand and offered it to the cashier, saying: “All I have is a little over $10, and I hope the next person can use…



Adrienne Gibbs
Human Parts

Director of Content @Medium. Award-winning Writer. Editor. Mother. Featured on Beyoncé's year in review film.