Chris Boeskool could not believe someone was handing him $500 as a tip on pizza.
He had eight other tables to serve at Mafioza's pizza in Nashville, where people were ordering pizzas like the "Brother Fredo" and "The Teamster."
And here was Seth Collins of Lexington, explaining that he was making a presentation of a $500 tip in honor of his late brother Aaron. Seth Collins has made 34 $500 tip presentations around the country, in cities like Nashville and tiny hamlets like Ivel in Floyd County.
Boeskool immediately started to pay it forward, he wrote on his blog.
A customer's credit card was declined, so Boeskool paid for his bill and told him it was courtesy of Aaron's Last Wish, the name of the Collins family's memorial program. He paid the bill of a co-worker. And the next night, he took his kids to a Waffle House and left the server "a tip he probably won't soon forget."
The influence of Aaron Collins lives on around the country, six months after his death in July 2012. In Aaron's will, he asked that the family "leave an awesome tip (and I don't mean 25 percent. I mean $500 on a ... pizza) for a waiter or waitress."
His family wanted to honor his last request. Their first trip, in July, was to Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington's Chevy Chase Place, where they surprised server Sarah Ward with $500.
The video of that tip went viral, and the fund for $500 tips received more than $65,000 in donations. Seth Collins still has more than 90 "tip trips" to go, with all of them to be recorded and posted. Sometimes he will pick the location, and sometimes it's a matter of input from others or serendipity: A tip in Pensacola, Fla., was suggested by a waitress in Auburn, Ala.
The next target will probably be a restaurant in Madison County, Collins said.
Of all the tips he has given and all the reactions he has seen, Chris Boeskool's was a favorite, he said.
"It's always nice to hear that reaction and know that it's more than just money to the person. Hopefully after that it makes someone check back in (to the website and Facebook page) and enjoy getting to see that happen to other people, also."
Tina Rae Collins of Lexington, Aaron's mother, said she enjoys the project so much that she has written a self-published book: Aaron Collins Did That, available at Amazon.com for $12. She said she always knew Aaron was going to do something great; hence the book title.
"I always told everybody he was going to do something so amazing that everybody was going to say, 'Aaron Collins did that!"
Tina Rae Collins enjoys attending the tipping events.
"I love what it's done for other people. ... When they're sorry for our loss, that makes me feel better, too."
Seth Collins would now like to be able to finance his travel around the country to give out the tips. He does not use the tip fund for travel expenses, he said. He's been to Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Pensacola and Conroe, Texas. Seth estimates that he has spent between $4,000 and $5,000 so far on travel, including hotels, gas and meals.
"I do it as a gift to him," Seth said. "I'd really like to find a way to fund a nationwide road trip. That would be my goal."
Even if the money eventually runs out, Tina Rae Collins said, she hopes to continue the $500 tip tradition at least once a year — on June 15, Aaron's birthday.
"To Aaron, that kind of generosity was just normal, everyday stuff," Tina Rae Collins said. "He didn't see how good he was, how generous he was. He never wanted any kind of recognition for everything."
Nonetheless, she said: "I love the fact that he's getting honored, because I think he deserves it."
From Chris Boeskool's blog, Theboeskool.com, commenting on his October visit from Aaron's Last Wish that left him with a $500 tip:
"While all this was happening I had about eight other tables. One of the tables was a party of 12 that had been there for a while. I apologized for making them wait, and I may or may not have teared up a little as I explained what had just happened. They paid separately. I told them the story as I gave them back their credit cards to sign. One of the guys' credit cards got declined, so I paid for his bill and told him it was courtesy of Aaron's Last Wish.
"And then I lied to a co-worker who sat down and ate in my section and told her the manager had comped her whole bill. ... And then the next night, on a breakfast-for-dinner date with my kids, I left the server at Waffle House a tip he probably won't soon forget.
"Right when I was feeling afraid of 'not having enough,' this random set of circumstances lands Aaron's Last Wish in my section, and all of this love was passed along to a stranger that Aaron could never have foreseen when he wrote down his wish for a random act of generosity.
"...So thank you, Aaron, for your life and for your wish — I didn't know you, but you somehow managed to change my heart in some small way."
From Aaron Collins Did That by Tina Rae Collins: part of a sermon by Rabbi Neal Gold at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, Mass.:
" ... But let's be skeptics for a second. What is so moving about Aaron's wish? What makes it so powerful? After all, they're not building homeless shelters, or inoculating children against terrible diseases, or putting back together people injured in terrorist attacks. They're just bringing delight to people — randomly. ...
"The random act of kindness is the essence of the gift. I think that's the power of this act of chesed (a Hebrew word usually translated as loving kindness): There is a sweetness, a grace, in bringing joy to another human being for no other reason save itself; it is called, in our tradition, a mitzvah lishmah: a mitzvah (good deed) for its own sake and no other."
Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @Cheryl Truman.