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Frank Gray


Stray penny for thoughts on economy


When I was a kid I used to have this recurring dream.

I’d see a quarter lying in the grass, and when I went to pick it up there would be another quarter underneath, and another one nearby. As the dream progressed, I would find quarters lying all over the place.

When I was young and a quarter would buy all kinds of things, it was a thrilling dream to have – until you woke up and there were no quarters.

The dream probably has its roots in the fact that I would occasionally find a coin in the street or on a playground.

I still have that recurring dream from time to time, and the sad part is that I still find nothing but quarters. One would think that as I got older those coins would turn into $5 bills or even $20s or $50s, but no, they’re still just quarters.

The thrill, if you want to call it that, of finding money never goes away, though. It’s fun to glance at the ground and find money just lying there.

There are some people who supplement their incomes that way.

A few years ago, I recall one person who would hang around at the drive-up windows at fast-food restaurants around downtown and try to scavenge the occasional nickel or dime that had been dropped.

Others wandered around gas station parking lots, scanning the pavement.

Funny thing is, though, that in the past few years this lost money seems to have disappeared. It must be the economy. People are a whole lot more careful with their money these days, either that or they just aren’t carrying any money at all and therefore can’t drop anything.

Thinking back about 15 years, though, I recall I used to find money all of the time. I found a $5 bill in the middle of the zoo parking lot one time. I got into the zoo for free that day.

There was the wet dollar bill in the gutter I spied while I was riding my bike, and the $10 bill I found next to the baseball diamonds at Foster Park.

I found another $5 bill in a different parking lot once, a $20 bill along some railroad tracks, and a couple of dollars lying in the ivy outside the back door of the newspaper.

But those bills have long since disappeared. For the past few years, I’ve scarcely even found the stray penny on the ground.

As I said, I think it’s the economy. People have even been pinching pennies.

In the past few months, though, I’ve noticed a change. People are getting careless again. You’ll find a stray dime in a parking lot these days.

In the past few weeks it’s gotten even crazier. I’ll find a dime on the floor on the way out of the grocery or a quarter in a gas station parking lot.

The other day, I found a quarter on the ground when I stopped to get some coffee, and that afternoon I went to get a sandwich and found a whole little collection of nickels, dimes and pennies at my feet when I got out of my car.

This gives me pause. Can you measure the state of the economy based on the amount of money you find lying around on the ground?

If so, things must be starting to look up. After all, I found 46 cents on the ground the other day, almost enough to buy a cup of coffee.

Maybe that’s an indication of an improved economy, but if so, things are only a tiny bit better. I haven’t found a bill on the ground in years.

When I find a 10-spot I’ll feel confident that things are really looking up.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.