There I was at my favorite Americana taqueria, cognitively ignoring my Faustian bargain between the gentrification of my neighborhood and a craving for artisanal street tacos. After taking the final sip of my drink from an eco-friendly paper straw, I politely wiggled two fingers: the universal sign for “all done here, check please.”

You turned to the POS system to print my check, and it is strange to think that in this moment I did not yet know your boundless grace.

The bill dropped in front of me with an audible thud, surely not an expression of your distaste for working a double shift on a Saturday, but more so the thick quality of the faux bamboo clipboard. The total for a Shrimp Baja Taco and Mamasita Mezcal Margarita? $15. Knowing this place, I shouldn’t have expected anything less. My gaze drifted to the handwritten sign behind the bottle of dwindling Tito’s: Card Minimum $20.

I reached for my wallet and peeled back its innards in vain, knowing well and good I was, in fact, cashless. For a flash I fantasized a potential confrontation over an attempt to pay with my debit card:

“Do you not realize that federal law caps card minimums at $10? And that is for credit cards, not this debit card which draws directly from my checking account and has a much lower processing fee!”

A negative Yelp review would be threatened. A call to the Federal Trade Commission. Tables would be turned over, verde salsa spilling out everywhere. The police would be called. I would be thrown in jail for the night, the source material for an eventual chapter in my book of memoirs.

In retrospect, I feel silly imagining this scenario would even be plausible. That is, now I know who you truly are: Gandhi reincarnated in a black V-neck T-shirt.

Sensing my dismay, you approached. You, with your posed demeanor and blank stare, spoke silently to me that I should open not my wallet, but my heart.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize—” I began, that glossed-over look on your face not from fatigue of being on your feet for ten hours, but from a place of calm and serenity, assured me that there was no need to apologize.

But blinded by shame, I persisted.

“You can charge twenty dollars if that makes things easier,” I stammered, still oblivious to your unyielding compassion.

To my delight you weren’t like other bartenders who have been so cold, unsympathetic, and ignorant of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. You didn’t try to upsell me a shot of well tequila or point me towards the ATM in the back; instead, with the utmost kindness—and I’ll never forget this—you interrupted me with a soothing sigh of, “Seriously, dude, it’s fine.”

And it was fine. And I was fine. For the first time in a long time I was truly and deeply fine, thanks to you.

And though words failed me in that moment, please allow me to say now: Thank you for your grace in accepting my debit card, though my purchase was below the card minimum.

Nov 24, 2020: Watch this piece brought to life as a short sketch on YouTube!