by Dave Noble, City News Editor
ELMHURST – A three-hour stream of people paying for the next person in line at the Finance Counter of Elmhurst City Hall came to an abrupt ending around 12:15 p.m. Thursday when a local resident accepted the “act of kindness” from the stranger in front of him but declined to continue the favor, breaking a remarkable streak of 58 consecutive customers who participated in the impromptu “Pay It Forward” campaign that is typically seen in the drive-thru line of various Starbucks locations around the country.
The string of paying the fee or debt for the next person in line began around 8:50 a.m., when a woman purchasing refuse stickers turned to the next person in line and asked if she could pay for his parking ticket, according to Finance Counter cashier Teresa Brinkman.
“She didn’t even ask him how much the ticket was for,” said Brinkman, who began to keep a tally after the man returned the favor by paying the $190 water bill of the person behind him. “This is the last thing you would expect to see at the Finance Counter.”
Noting that nearly everyone smiled and said “thank you” upon hearing that the person in front of them wanted to bear the cost of whatever it was they were there to pay for, Brinkman said there were mixed reactions when the recipient was then asked if he or she wanted to return the favor.
“This one lady was giddy when the person in front of her paid for her vehicle sticker,” said Brinkman, a grizzled veteran of the Finance Counter, known for her ability to instantly calculate the prorated amount of a yearly employee parking sticker and her staunch attitude with people who argue about the validity of parking, vehicle compliance and ordinance tickets. “But she got really mad when she found out she was going to have to pay $400 in parking tickets for the guy behind her if she wanted to keep the chain going.”
Despite the oddity of the phenomenon and the varying amounts of money spent, people continued paying-it-forward for more than three hours, until S. Stratford Avenue resident Dan Banks terminated the streak by accepting the offering from the woman in front of him but refusing to pay for the transfer stamp of the person behind him.
“People were paying out of guilt rather than generosity,” said Banks, reached by telephone Thursday night. “To be honest, I think this was a marketing ploy by the city to make people feel better about forking over money for garbage stickers and parking tickets.”