Just an everyday moment, observed the other night from the back of the line at a Valero convenience store in Allentown ...
An older man was buying a few New York Lottery tickets, and he apologized to another customer behind him, who was waiting. That customer, a younger guy, responded in a cheerful no-big-deal way. The conversation went on, the older guy talking about how he stops by almost every night to get his tickets.
I'm half-listening, thinking my own thoughts, when I hear someone ask:
Do you ever win?
"I won $6,200," the older guy said, gesturing toward signs on the wall that record in-store winners. The clerk behind the counter, smiling, said to us all in a general how-about-this way: "He came back and gave me 50 bucks."
That caught my interest. I bought what I was there to buy, and I climbed into the car just as the older guy walked outside and the clerk stepped out on her break. How could I not ask? I jumped out to talk to them about the winning ticket, and the $50.
The guy's name was Donald Sandino. He's 76, and he works nights as a security guard at the Buffalo Club. The clerk was Amy Tice, who's worked at Valero for a few years and is now an assistant manager. The only way she knows Sandino is from her daily back-and-forth with him across the counter, over the past few months.
On the night he won, Sandino said, he played "2522" in the Win 4, which are the house numbers for a place he owned years ago on Delaware Avenue. He sold that property. As city housing prices boom, he prefers not to think about what it might be worth today.
All he knows is that he woke up in the morning, looked in the paper and had that can't-put-it-into-words feeling when you realize you "hit it" with your numbers. For Sandino, as a retiree who still picks up some hours as a security guard, you can imagine that $6,200 is, well, $6,200.
That night, at Valero, he told Tice he had won, then handed her $50 because she was the one who took care of his numbers. She was astounded. She tried to wave him off.
"You really want to do this?" she said.
Sandino insisted. In a world where people often see each other without really seeing each other, Tice is a living exception, not to mention an example of what we'll lose if and when clerks someday disappear from grocery stores, replaced by scanners.
"She's always polite and she's always helpful," Sandino said. "She sees me coming in and she always says, 'Don, how you doing?' "
After he won, he told her: Please. I mean this. Take the money.
Tice finally did. She used the $50 to help pay the bill for her phone.
It was nothing she ever expected, but the full meaning didn't really come from the $50. She likes her job, and she said she tries to live a "stress-free life" in general.
Here's the thing, she said to me, standing in a chilly October wind just outside the store:
Customers always tell her they're going to come back and give her something if they win at the lottery, and the truth is – even if they mean it at that moment – they rarely do. She understands. These are real people at the counter, and everyone's got their own bills, their own worries, their own obligations.
Why would they share their winnings with a clerk, a stranger who just happened to take the numbers?
Sandino never said he was going to give her anything. He just returned and did it. If there's any fundamental explanation, here it is, based on all those visits he made to the store:
When Tice asks Sandino how he's doing, she really listens when he answers.
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at email@example.com or read more of his work in this archive.
Story topics: lotto