The books I’ve edited with Travelers’ Tales are full of big stories and small anecdotes, and one thing many writers tend to forget is how much you can discover, not just in your own backyard, but in your normal wanderings around the neighborhood. Just the other day I had an amusing encounter in a Peet’s coffee shop near the Travelers’ Tales office in Palo Alto.
I drink decaf coffee now because the high octane stuff makes me crazy (dizzy spells, in particular), and I prefer lattes or cappuccini to drip coffee. At Peet’s a decaf latte costs $2.65 (and tastes like rich, luscious coffee because Peet’s automatically serves a double shot, not the weak single-shot swill you get from that other well-known outfit). Sometimes I drop the $.35 change into the tip jar; sometimes I keep the quarter for the bus or parking meter; sometimes I keep the dime for God knows what reason.
Well, a few days ago I was feeling grumpy and and pocketed the change. Immediately I felt bad. Stingy. Unappreciative. But the money was in my pocket and I didn’t bother to dig it out and return to the counter to leave a tip.
Two days later I was in the same Peet’s, being served by the same friendly woman, and paid with a $20 bill. When she gave me the change she put the bills in my hand and the coins on top. I tilted my hand to drop the coins into the tip jar and, in slow motion, the coins slid and dropped—and right behind them slipped a dollar bill. In equally slow motion I began to reach to catch the bill, because I wasn’t planning to tip her $1.35, but I also was aware of her body language and it was clear she hadn’t seen the dollar slip from my grasp. I realized that if I reached any farther to retrieve my dollar she’d think I was stealing her tips!
I couldn’t do it, and I had to laugh. If that wasn’t karma catching up with me in record time I don’t know what was. So be generous when you can: that’s the lesson I learned in that little stroll in the neighborhood.
Larry Habegger is a writer, editor, journalist, and teacher who has been covering the world since his international travels began in the 1970s. A freelance writer for more than two decades and syndicated columnist since 1985, he has written for many major newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Travel & Leisure, and Outside. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and in 1993 founded the award-winning Travelers’ Tales books with James and Tim O’Reilly. He has worked on all of the company’s more than 80 titles and is currently executive editor. Larry’s safety and security column, World Travel Watch, has appeared in newspapers in five countries and on internet sites, including WorldTravelWatch.com. He regularly teaches the craft of personal travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family in San Francisco.