Back home in LA, I find a penny on the sidewalk every week. One week, I found $30 on the street on Thursday and another $20 on Sunday. But usually, it’s just pennies.
My wife loves coins. Why? Who knows. But I live to make her smile, so when I find change on the street when we’re together I hand it over. What I find when I’m alone, I save in a jar.
I’ve been in San Francisco for work since Sunday and it struck me as remarkable that there were like no loose coins on the sidewalks. My eyes were peeled as I walked to work and then back to my hotel,on Monday, but no dice.
On Tuesday, I walked 40 minutes to my brother’s apartment, so he could feed me and so I could see my sister-in-law and give my baby niece a smooch. I walked another 40 minutes back home listening to Vox’s The Weeds podcast, a great deep dive into current events for the future old people of America (I mean that as a genuine compliment). I became well-informed, but my pockets stayed light. No pennies anywhere.
Wednesday came and went. No dull glint catching my eye. No reason to swoop down, touch my fingers to dirty city cement and collect my prize for paying attention.
On Thursday, again, I walked a couple of miles. My brother was out of town for work and my sister-in-law needed another pair of hands to corral my teething niece who’d decided she needed neither sleep nor dinner. Walk, walk, walk, listening to the news. My eyes sweeping the landscape. I saw little galleries and bars. People taking out their trash and stopping their cars quickly on the curb to let someone in or out. I saw plenty of dog shit dotting the sidewalk, but no lost pennies.
After getting baby niece to bed and drinking several glasses of wine with my sister-in-law, I headed out again. As I walked and listened to Voxers explain the nuances of the French election (a president AND a prime minister… now I get it), I began to formulate a theory about San Francisco’s dearth of sidewalk change.
LA is moody and hot. We move either too slow or too fast. A penny on the sidewalk can seem like a sign, but you don’t pocket every sign. Sometimes you leave them be, to work their magic just where they are. Angelenos are united by a loose bohemian creed that we are too cool about everything to care about any one thing. Drop a penny? Leave a penny. And then I come along and scoop it up, so I can see my wife’s cute teeth as she flashes a smile.
But San Francisco is a city on a schedule. Leave nothing unaccounted for, hold it all close. Or something.
And then it happened. I spotted, I swooped, I scooped up from the sidewalk not a dirty penny, but a bright and shiny quarter. It looked fresh the mint. I popped in it my pocket.
What does this mean? Maybe that you can’t formulate a hypothesis about cities based on the penny standard. Or maybe that you get what you want (and more) only after you’ve let go of the expectation that it’s definitely coming your way.