A Single Dollar Bill

By Glen Burnie
Maryland, USA

Friday, October 5th, 2001, was not shaping up to be a good day. My wife and I were already running late leaving for a trip to Pennsylvania, and she still had to stop at work for an errand. To compound our lateness, security at her office had drastically increased since September 11th, 2001. The guards wanted to search our vehicle and unpack our luggage. That would take quite some time and I objected wholeheartedly. We avoided the search by letting her walk through the gate while I sat in the car outside the facility.

I was fuming, sweating, and constantly looking at my watch because we had a three-hour drive ahead of us. When my wife returned, I was not in the best of moods, and neither was she. We spent most of the following 20 minutes cursing security and similar activities. Not a great start to what was supposed to be a romantic weekend getaway.

Our route to Pennsylvania took us through the tunnels outside Baltimore, a route I’d taken many times. I usually stay in the left lane of the northbound tubes to avoid traffic at the tollbooth, and this time was no exception.

However, on exiting the tunnel, all the booth lanes on our side were either closed or only for “Easy-Pass”, an electronic automated toll system. Traffic for the other lanes was backed up almost to the tunnel exits. I managed to squeeze into the next lane to the right, and watched other less fortunate souls traveling much further up before being able to merge.

A Single Dollar BillAs we inched forward, I noticed one driver to my left. She had realized her situation too late to join the back of the line, and had to sit as car after car passed her. Finally I came by and motioned her in, not really thinking twice about it. By the time we approached the booth, I’d already forgotten about letting the other driver into the lane.

I rolled down my window and mechanically handed my dollar to the attendant — who refused it. She held up two dollars, and with a bit of amusement and possibly confusion, pointed to the now-retreating car which I had allowed into our lane. The attendant said, “She says ‘Thank you for letting us in’.” I sat there a moment, astonished, stammering, my routine broken. What a simple thing to do, and what an elegant way to thank someone.

It was such a small act, but at that moment it was exactly what was needed to lift our spirits. Instantly, my sour mood was over and I was happy for the first time that morning.

We tried to catch up to the other car to thank them, but heavy traffic made it impossible. My wife and I spent the rest of our drive in a much better frame of mind — all because of a single dollar bill.

Originally published as HeroicStories #274 on Jan 28, 2002

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4 thoughts on “A Single Dollar Bill”

  1. This story made me smile this morning. I’ve done that myself occasionally – paid a bridge toll for the person behind me. It’s lovely to see their expression or to see them try to figure out why I would do something like that. The Random Act of Kindness is a beautiful thing.

  2. A beautiful story and a wonderful way to lift someones spirits. I’m fond of “paying it forward” myself. Just to see the smile from the recipient. Lifts my spirits and theirs. Maybe pay for the coffee for the person behind you line or gift the grocery cart at stores that charge for them. A simple “pay it forward” reply to the person’s thanks is enough to get that smile and assurance that they will indeed gift others.


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