Million Dollar Smile

November 30, 2015

The flight there and back was easy and would normally have been forgotten by the time the car pulled into the driveway. Except…

I had a great weekend in Cabo San Lucas with family and friends. The flight there and back was easy and would normally have been forgotten by the time the car pulled into the driveway. Except for two simple, but surprising, exchanges — one on the way out and one on the way back — and they will stick with me for a while.

We arrived at LAX, parked in a usual long-term spot and took the van to the airport. When we arrived, I realized I had nothing smaller than a $20 bill to tip the van driver. I asked if he could give me change for the $20, and he replied that he couldn’t but not to worry “I could get him next time.”

We both knew that the odds a “next time” were pretty slim, and he offered an easy smile and a firm handshake. I grabbed the $20 and handed it to him. He refused, but I insisted. We did that dance for a bit and then he reached into his front pocket, grabbed a few $1 bills, and insisted that I accept them. We did another dance. In the end, he took the $20 bill and I took the $1 bills (turns out there were 13 of them in the crumpled pile) and off we went. I was struck by how hard he pushed to not take a tip that he obviously thought was too much. There was no doubt he was sincere. The dignity with which he handled this small exchange was inspiring. On the return trip, the van dropped us off at long-term parking and I drove the car to the exit. The parking was prepaid, so I handed the receipt to the gal working the booth. She thanked me, reached around with her magic wand and opened the gate. I had a $5 bill sitting in the center console, so I reached over, grabbed it and handed it to her. She seemed surprised, gave me a “light up the room” smile and said, “Thank you very much. You just bought me lunch.” I’m guessing, based on her reaction, that the people who work the booths are rarely given tips. But the smile she gave, which I can still see as I type these words, was worth far more than $5 bucks. You can bet I’ll be tipping them in the future.