Sunday, March 13, 2011

Change Is Good

I had a streak going. Twenty-eight years of running, and I had only stopped to pick up money once. The 65 cents I'd found lying on the road bought a soda in the middle of a twelve-mile run on a hot and muggy July day. However, this was different. I saw the money first, lying in a heap in the white sand of a New Jersey cross-country race-- but I couldn't stop. I had conditioned myself never to stop just for money. In fact, I couldn't even slow down for a closer look, even though I knew I had no chance of winning the race or even setting a PR. Why-- years of conditioning. Thoreau would have been proud.

"Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds Jack--that means you're a creature of habit," said my friend Harry, who had stopped to pick up the money- three dollars. Harry was known for keeping track of all the money he'd found on runs. In forty years of running, he'd probably scooped up a small fortune. Despite teasing Harry that "It was five dollars when I ran past it"… I knew he was right. He had started me thinking. Was I too proud to stop? Then for the first time, I started to think about how much money I had seen but never stopped for over the years-- and to ponder what I had missed.

"Stopping during a run to pick up money has always seemed tacky to me, Harry--kind of like an old guy wearing an earring," I said.

"Hey, I paid for these earrings with some of the money I've found running," Harry said. "You ought to give it a try."

I must have looked doubtful. "You can still change your running habits," Harry said studying me closely. "After all, you used to be fast and kind of flexible--you changed that! Try something new. At the least it will give you something else to keep track of in your log—a new kind of PR."

He did have a point--at least the point about me once being flexible, I thought.

Harry said, "You know, I have to admit, stopping to pick up change can get addicting. I once saw a dime laying in the Dunkin Donut drive-through and decided to leave it there until the next day, just to keep a streak alive of consecutive days with money was still there."

Harry then ambled away to the race concession stand. With his newfound three dollars, he bought a hot dog and a soda. "And I still have a dollar left for gas," he yelled to me over his shoulder.

That was enough for me. I decided to follow Harry’s example and log all the money I've found while running this year. The count: eight dollars and forty-six cents. The biggest haul so far: two soggy dollar bills I found right after a thunderstorm. I have to admit, it's not quite a mortgage payment, but it is kind of fun. For some reason, finding two quarters while running is almost as big a thrill as receiving my (almost) yearly raise at work (which is often larger).

Here are some things I have learned from my new "found" hobby:

First, finding money can spice up a mediocre run. There is an extra payoff too--maybe the same feeling you get fishing, or playing the slots--when spying the glint of a coin-- found money, at thirty paces.

Second, when you are in the "find" mode you are receptive to a lot of other stuff that's out there that you probably never would have noticed before. This summer I also found a beer sign that's now over my bar, five new baseballs, and a plastic lizard for my son. The best spots to find money are convenience stores--teenagers can't be bothered with change. It doesn't look cool to pick it up, so often they will just drop their loose coins in the parking lot along with accumulated cigarette butts. The slimmest prospects to “mine” change are where ever kids, or senior citizens, travel on foot. They will stop to stoop.

When I saw Harry, again I let him know that there is a negative side to this newfound coin consciousness-- the risk of injury. Stopping suddenly for coins, or what looks like a coin from thirty-feet away can put a big strain on your core--and make you look pretty eccentric when you slam on the brakes--sometimes for nothing.

The second drawback is something I'd long noticed about my friend Harry; it's what I call "bird eye." You too may have noticed "bird eye" in many long-time runners. It's a condition brought on by running with one's head tilted to the side looking for some currency that others may have missed. If you should see another runner coming towards you, head tilted to the side, paying a little too much attention to the side of the road--just remember I saw it first.

Note: The author found over $16 last year. This article inspired by the late Harry Berkowitz and originally appeared in Runners Gazette Magazine.

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