You can tell a lot about a person by the way they tip in restaurants (which will also tell you if they ever waited tables). My dad always tips. Always. When the service is bad, he’ll leave ten to fifteen percent. When the service is good . . . well, he’s a generous guy.
My mom, on the other hand, is a stickler for details. Well, not all details, just the ones that are important to her. One of these detail obsessions is with whole numbers, specifically whole dollar amounts. This greatly influences the way she tips. She will always make sure the total bill, tip included, is a whole dollar amount.
Here’s an example: my parents, my wife, and I were out to eat. The service was as near perfect an experience you could hope for. The server was a mix of friendliness and professionalism. We never had to ask for a refill because she ensured a second glass was set down the moment a now empty first one was put back on the table. She checked back at all the right times without intruding, only asked us if we wanted dessert once, and seemed sincere when she told us, “It’s been a pleasure serving you this evening.”
The bill for our enjoyable evening was $44.78. If my dad had grabbed the check, he would have looked at me and asked me to calculate fifteen percent of $44.68. I would round up to $45.00 (something I apparently inherited from Mom’s side of the family), figure ten percent of that ($4.50), half the new amount ($2.25) and add it back together to tell him, “$6.75.” If the service had been poor, he probably would say, “Let’s just make it $7.00,” because, truthfully, we are all in to this rounding thing somewhat. That evening of course, he would have wanted to leave ten dollars. I know this because in a few minutes, he said to my mom (who had grabbed the check), “Just make it for ten dollars and be done with it.” This was soon followed by, “Why can’t you just make it out for ten dollars?”
She had filled out the tip amount on the credit card slip as $5.32 which made the bill a nice, round $50.00. Dad just looked at my mom with the look he reserves for when he’s exasperated, but knows it’s pointless to argue. I checked out of the debate earlier because I knew how deeply the devotion to rounding up ran in my mother. I had Experience.
I first learned about my mom’s need to round up when I became old enough to help pump gas. I held the trigger on the nozzle until it stopped and started to take it out of the tank. Mom quickly stopped me and had me squeeze ever so gently to slowly add more gas until the price stopped on the dollar. We went through this every time until it was second nature. I thought this was just a little quirk, something for me to roll my eyes at Mom about. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
One Wednesday night when I was fifteen I was enjoying driving on my learner’s permit. Mom told me to stop for gas, so we pulled in to a little station that sits at the bottom of a hill off a main highway. At the time, the speed limit at the top of the hill was 45 MPH but quickly changed to 35 MPH at the bottom right before a bridge crossing. Many, many people were pulled over for speeding because of this hill. We often stopped at this gas station and, since it was the first place it was possible to pull over , we were accustomed to seeing cars pull in followed closely by a police car with flashing lights.
Since this took place when you could still pump before paying (which required actual interaction with another human), I got out and started pumping gas while my mom went in to pay. I knew how much our car would hold, so I slowed down after the total sale passed $9.50 because I wanted it to be even without going over. I was aiming for $10.00 because I knew that gave me a pretty good margin of error. Sure the car might not be completely full, but I’d hit a whole dollar amount with little trouble (I had once gone a penny over and my mom forced me try to squeeze enough fuel into the car to bring it up to the next dollar. This was also when gas was less than one dollar a gallon. My shoes smelled of gasoline for days).
As the sale crept closer to $10.00 I barely paid any attention to the old beat up car that pulled in with a squad car behind it. This was a fairly common occurrence. Suddenly, another police car pulled in. Fast. It was quickly followed by two others marked cars, an unmarked car, and a van. Squealing tires were involved. As if on cue, all the doors opened almost in unison, several officers stepped out, and I heard the unmistakable sound of shotguns being pumped to chamber a round. This was a decidedly uncommon occurrence. I reacted instinctively and anything I could clench, got clenched (which probably saved me even more embarrassment).
I noticed some of the shotguns pointed more or less in my general direction. I figured a scrawny fifteen year old didn’t rate this type of police presence, so I dared to look behind me. Sure enough, the driver of the car that was pulled over had his door open with his own weapon out pointed back in my general direction. It turned out to be a knife, but what I saw at the time was a Really Big Gun. I knew I was in exactly the wrong spot, but I had no idea of whether I should move out of the way or if it was safer to stand on the spot. I chose the latter (mostly because my body wasn’t reacting to any of my brain’s instructions, at least not the ones dealing with anything other than being pale or trembling).
After an indeterminate amount of time (during which I imagined many ways this was going to end with none of them good), one of the officers leaned his shotgun back on his shoulder and walked toward me. He looked at me as if he had just noticed I was standing there and said, “You might want to step on back, son.” Good idea. Great idea. After a slow start, I managed to get my feet moving in the general direction of the station.
As I neared the glass doors, I first noticed the shocked concern on my mother’s face and then the hysterics of the attendant. When I made it inside, I walked in to not just a higher degree of safety, but also the attendant’s monologue mid stream. I couldn’t understand most of it (there was lots of shouting and wild shifts in volume) but basically, she was commenting on how scared she was, how she couldn’t believe this was happening, and how she didn’t know what to do. I remember thinking she could yell all she wanted if she’d just let Mom and me stand with her behind the bullet proof glass.
The three of us waited while the drama unfolded outside. Fortunately the most dramatic bits had already happened. No shots were fired, the police eventually placed the man in handcuffs and drove off, and a tow truck (where did that come from?) pulled the man’s vehicle away.
I will never forget that night. It is pressed into my memory in much the same way my fingerprints were permanently embedded in the gas pump handle. It was a moment of tremendous excitement, but one aspect burns brighter in my mind than all the rest. It wasn’t the adrenaline rush, the fear of the unknown, or even the annoyance at the station attendant who, while being in the safest position possible, was the most hysterical. No, my most vivid memory is of what happened next.
My mom looked at the attendant as sense or normalcy finally began creeping back in and said, “Well, I guess I should pay.”
The attendant checked the total sale as my mother began digging in her purse and said, “It came to $10.89.”
Just a few minutes previous, my mom had been railing about feeling powerless as her youngest son was in danger. There were police, a suspect, and guns involved. Lots of guns. Guns pointed toward me. But, now that it was all over, she looked down at me and said, “You couldn’t have rounded up just eleven cents?” She then shook her head and acted put out as she counted out change.