a little change for my birthday

Folks who’ve known me for awhile know that I collect whatever money I find on the ground. I started doing this in high school, as a child-like tribute to my grandmother Alice, who would lay math flashcards on the dining room table, along with a penny each (and nickels, for the tougher problems). We would walk around the table and I got to keep the pennies for the flashcard problems I solved.

Over the years, I’ve just kept collecting the money I found on the ground, and for the past seven years or so, I’ve put it all in one bowl, and then tallied what I found at the end of the year.  I usually collect about $5-10 total, but one year I had a haul of $50+ when I found a wad of $40 in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. On my birthday, no less.

And of course there are rules about what money is OK to collect and what isn’t. Money in water fountains, tip jars or otherwise attributable to someone else is not OK (the random pennies that sometimes hang out on cash registers at the grocery store, for instance, but if it’s on the floor, it’s fair game. And I don’t invade people’s space, either. The other day I passed a person sitting on a bench who had their legs stretched out and a coin lay beneath their legs. I wasn’t about to say “excuse me, there’s a coin under your legs that I need to have”. And I have to actually pick up the money in order to count it. I used to “credit” coins I saw but couldn’t pick up (I’ve seen a lot of money in the road when I’m riding my bike). A friend convinced me that this wasn’t appropriate, and so now I have to actually have the money in my hand before I can count it for the year. And besides my index finger and thumb, no tools can ever be used to collect the money. No chiseling coins out of artwork (duh).

Mostly pennies, of course, but I’ve also found nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars. I’ve found 1, 5, 10 and 20 dollar bills. Once, many years ago, I found a $100 bill wadded up in a gas station market in Central Valley, CA. Before I knew it, I’d turned to the clerk and handed it over. He told me he believed it belonged to one of a number of migrant construction workers who came in daily, and offered me a free drink for my honesty. I don’t mind saying now, since I sort of doubt that bill ever made it back to the person who lost it, that I part of me wishes I’d kept it.

A couple of years ago, I thought about what the ultimate find would be. A $2 bill? A silver dollar? No, I decided that it would be a 50-cent piece. I remember having a couple of 50-cent pieces that we would throw in the swimming pool and dive for when I was a kid. It puzzled me that they were perfectly good coins, but that no one ever used them. Which is why I will never likely find one, but if I do, that’s the day I’ll hang up collecting the money I find on the ground.


I saw this yesterday: two fifty-cent pieces embedded in the concrete outside the La Conner Ice Cream Tower in La Conner, Washington. My heart skipped a beat when I saw it, then sank a tiny bit when I realized it wasn’t going to be mine. But now I hope this is the closest I ever get to finding a 50-cent piece on the ground. I like collecting the money I find.



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