Dang, I sighed dramatically under my breath as I stood outside the Hotel Pacific in the early morning darkness. I had been standing outside on the tiled front steps in the cool morning air since 4:45 am. The private driver who would be taking me to the airport for my flight to Alice Springs was scheduled to pick me up around 5. In my rush to shower, dress, and pack, I had completely forgotten to grab my two bottles of water and packages of cookies that I had placed in the small refrigerator in my room the night before. I didn’t even think about the water and snacks until I was already standing outside and a large, white van was coming up the long, curved driveway towards me. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal, but I had been carefully watching my cash ever since I had arrived in Australia a week ago. I still had ten days left on this adventure and I didn’t want to run out of money. Although most places accepted credit cards, I needed to use cash to buy simple things like drinks and snacks. I also needed tip money to offer to all of the various employees at different establishments to thank them for their wonderful service.
As far as cash was concerned, I had followed the advice of my travel agent. When I had asked Ken how much money I should bring with me to Australia, he had suggested, “Just take about a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars with you for drinks and tips, and then charge everything else.” His reasoning was very valid. According to Ken, people make the mistake of exchanging hundreds of dollars and don’t realize the high fees they have to pay. If people don’t use all of the money in Australia, they have to pay another fee to change the cash back to American dollars. Plus, Ken told me that a lot of people call the travel agency to complain that they still have Australian dollars when they return to America, and the travelers usually get upset when the agency can’t do anything to help them get the full value of their money. “Besides,” Ken had continued, “cash can be lost or stolen, and it’s gone. Your credit cards can be easily canceled and replaced.”
Ken’s financial recommendation had made perfectly good sense to me, so I decided to exchange just 160 American dollars for Australian cash at the Los Angeles airport before I caught my flight to Brisbane. At the time, I had felt secure about following Ken’s advice but now going into the second week of my expedition, I wasn’t as confident. I really felt that I had to watch every dollar (American and Australian) for the rest of my journey. So leaving behind the bottles of water at 2 dollars each and packages of cookies for 3 dollars each seemed like a really big deal to me.
Everyone in Cairnes, Australia, had been so incredibly sweet and friendly that I was sure the hotel staff would let me back into my room if I told them that I had forgotten something. But now, it was too late. The driver had stopped the van directly in front of me and was climbing out from behind the wheel. As the man walked over to me, I whispered a good morning and was surprised to receive only a rushed and hushed grunt in reply. I decided not to say anything more as I settled into the back seat and fastened my seat belt. The driver quickly stowed my luggage into the back compartment of the van, and effectively slammed the door before walking around to the driver’s seat and climbing in behind the wheel. He silently started the engine and drove away from the hotel.
As the man maneuvered the van onto the highway, I quickly reached into my purse and pulled out a five-dollar bill. I wanted to make sure I was ready to tip the driver as soon as we arrived at the airport. I knew it was customary to tip my private drivers but I had made an embarrassingly bad mistake on my first day in Australia. On August 26th, I had arrived in Brisbane, which was my first stop in Australia before I traveled onto Cairnes, Alice Springs, and Sydney. I felt like I was in a movie as I walked off the plane, and there was my driver holding up an ipad with my name flashing across the screen. That driver had been incredibly polite and informative as he drove me around the city to the Hotel Meridian. As we wove in and out of traffic, the man told me about his trips to America and pointed out all of the amazing Brisbane sites. The drive was enjoyable and comfortable until we arrived at the hotel. The driver had stopped the car, opened my door, and then pulled my suitcase out of the trunk. Then he stood on the sidewalk with me for a few minutes as he pointed out the different shops and restaurants that were located close to the hotel. It suddenly dawned on me that he was waiting for a tip, but I had one small problem. I had received only 20-dollar bills when I exchanged money in LA and then had walked right off the plane and into the waiting car with my driver when I had arrived in Brisbane. I had no available change on me to tip the driver and I didn’t think it was polite to ask for money back on a tip. So, I just awkwardly stood on the sidewalk outside the Hotel Meridian and responded with “Wow,” and “That’s great” as my private driver kindly continued to act as my personal tour guide, too. Finally, he must have realized that there was no tip forthcoming and yet he continued to behave kindly towards me. He shook my hand and wished me a great trip while I profusely thanked him for his kindness…but I still felt terrible! The man had been so nice to me, and I had stiffed him on a tip. I swore then that I would never allow that situation to happen again. I told myself that I would kindly give to the drivers and all of the people who were helping to make my Australian journey a once in a lifetime experience.
And now, here I was on my way to the airport for my early morning flight contemplating whether I should give my current driver any money. I didn’t want to be inconsiderate and yet at the same time, the man was somewhat rude as he continued to drive in silence and blatantly ignored me. Of course, I wasn’t upset about the initial service. The man had only been hired by my travel agent to get me to the airport and that was exactly what he was doing. I was grateful for his assistance, so he did deserve the tip in that regard. However, I just wasn’t sure at this point how to approach the man. He wasn’t friendly. He really didn’t seem to want anything to do with me. Would it be awkward for both of us if I tried to give him a tip? I had kept the five-dollar bill gripped in my hand as I contemplated the issue on the drive to the airport. I had finally made up my mind that when we arrived at our destination, I would say a polite thank you, but not push the issue any further.
I was just about to shove the money back into my overstuffed bag when the van suddenly came to an abrupt stop. I leaned forward and gazed out the large, clean window. After a tense journey, we had arrived at the domestic flight terminal of the Cairnes airport. The driver exited the vehicle, walked around the side of the van, and swung open the door by my seat. Then, as I unhooked my seat belt and climbed out, the driver walked around to the back of the van, and retrieved my luggage for me. He walked towards me and placed the suitcase down by my feet. I said, “Thank you” as the driver nodded his head but didn’t say a word.
And then, before I realized what was happening, and without thought, I raised my right arm and held out my hand. And suddenly the man’s hand was brushing against mine as I pushed the five-dollar bill towards him. I hadn’t planned to do this, but for some reason, in the moment, I felt a sudden need and urgency to give him the tip.
Then, the driver stared directly into my eyes as he held onto the cash and, by chance, my hand as well. I suddenly felt as if, in the pale darkness, I could clearly see him. He was an older man, probably in his mid-60s. He was very tall and so thin that his crisp, white, button-down shirt and black slacks seemed too big for his slight build. The driver had a skinny, white mustache that lined his upper lip. Both of his hands suddenly wrapped around my fingers as I stared into his eyes and noticed the deep, sad lines that were etched into the rough skin of his face. I noticed the thin, gray wisp of hair that rested across his forehead. Then I suddenly saw into this man’s soul as he said to me in the softest of voices, “Oh, no, you don’t really need to do this.”
“No, please,” I answered, “it’s okay. Please, take it. I want you to have it.”
And suddenly, as the day was slowly beginning to brighten with the sunrise, I could see the tears coming into the man’s eyes as he whispered to me, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to give this to me?”
And of that moment, I was absolutely positive about the situation. “Yes,” I honestly told him, “I really want you to have the money.”
“Thank you,” he whispered as he gave my hand a gentle squeeze and tears started to careen in crooked lines down his face, “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” I answered. “Thank you for the ride.”
He smiled at me then as he wished me a good flight. He let go of my hand and I watched as he walked around the van and got back into the driver’s seat. As he drove away from the curb, I grabbed the handle of my suitcase and walked into the terminal with my mind and heart full of gratitude. I was so thankful to be in Australia. I was so happy to be going to see Ayer’s Rock. I was so grateful to the driver who got me to the airport on time. And I was so thankful that I had followed my heart and gave the man the five dollars. I don’t really know what had prompted me to offer the tip to the driver. I usually tended to shy away from people who are difficult or intimidating. But there was something about this man that even in his quiet irritation was good and kind.
I thought of the way the man had held my hand with tears gleaming in his eyes as he accepted such a small, simple token of my gratitude. It was five dollars…just five dollars…and yet it had made such a big difference to another person. For some reason, that small gesture had completely changed the man’s attitude. I guess it is true that no one ever knows the private battles other people are facing. We never really know what another person is going through. It’s sad sometimes that we just always respond to the current moment. We get angry if we think someone has been rude to us. We forget that sometimes people are rude because they have just lost a job or a loved one; maybe they haven’t had a chance to sleep, or eat, or they haven’t been feeling well. Our minds sometimes don’t always stretch to think about what another person is going through. If we all could just touch one person in some small way when the opportunity arises, especially when we have the chance to offer hope to someone who may be suffering in some way we don’t understand, what a great world this would be.
This man was a good soul and maybe he was just having a bad morning. That doesn’t make him a bad person. In my mind, I know, my silent driver deserved to be treated with respect regardless of his initial attitude. Hopefully, my simple gesture of gratitude had helped turn his day around. It amazing how we have the power to affect each other in a good and blessed way just by being kind.
After checking in at the counter and receiving my boarding pass, I walked over to the food court to buy breakfast and some coffee. I no longer worried about spending money. I felt so blessed as I thought about the man and the five dollars I had given him. As I sipped my coffee, I smiled. That tip was the best five dollars I had ever spent.