Wednesday, March 16, 2011

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Still “some good do-ers” left --- Mar 16, 2011

Sheila Burstein, 71, ate a late lunch one day last week at the Baker’s Square Restaurant in Wilmette and accidentally left behind an unmarked envelope containing $750 cash that she’d just withdrawn from the bank.

She didn’t know she’d lost it until a couple of hours later when she was back at home and going through her purse, and by then, she wasn’t quite sure where it might have gone, having run some errands in the meantime.

Burstein, who has been having health problems lately, had just left the hospital after a sleepless 36-hour stay for some tests. Her nephew, Avrum Lamet, who had stopped by her Skokie home to check up on her, helped Burstein try to mentally retrace her steps to figure out where she might have left the money.

To his surprise, he hit pay dirt on his first call.

“He said: ‘This is going to be a stupid question. Did you find some money?’ ” said Bakers Square associate manager Tina Coary, picking up the story.

Well, as a matter of fact, they had found some money, quite a lot of money, some might say.

Waitress Margaret Kras, 41, was the person who spotted the envelope full of cash as she cleaned off the table and took it to Coary, explaining to her that a customer must have left it behind and asking if she could put it in the office. Coary stored the envelope in the safe.

Now, let me interrupt this story right here to ask a question: Is this news?

Is it unusual in this day and age for people to do the right thing? Is it worthy of note that someone would be so honest, when it would have been a simple enough matter to stash the cash and deny, deny, deny? Or is this still the normal order of things, and therefore, by definition, not newsworthy?

Honestly, I’ve lost track. You get jaded in this business, and I don’t even know if it’s more jaded to think this is unusual or less so.

It reminded me that just a few weeks ago I’d lost a small refund check for around $25, didn’t even know it was gone, when a stranger showed up on my suburban doorstep and handed it back to me. When he explained the downtown location where he found it, I realized it must have fallen out of my wallet while I was paying for a cab. The amazing thing was that I’d already endorsed the check, so anybody could have just cashed it and kept the dough. He turned down my reward offer, and I didn’t even get his name, but I was both surprised and impressed to meet somebody so honest and thoughtful.

Lamet, the nephew, thought Burstein’s story was surprising enough to contact the newspaper to give proper credit to the Bakers Square personnel, especially after they turned down the $25 he had offered them as a reward.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said. If they had told him they hadn’t found an envelope, “there’s no way you could accuse them of stealing it. It was just a stab in the dark.”

But all the other people involved act like it was no big deal.

“I don’t want any credit for something that is the normal thing to do,” said Kras, who has been working at the restaurant for four years. “I think anybody would have done the same thing.”

Well, I’m not sure what “anybody” would have done, but I’m pretty sure that not “everybody” would have done the same thing. Some would have kept the money. What I guess I’ve lost track of is the norm: What would most people do nowadays?

Kras’ tone of voice suggested to me this was not false modesty on her part. She seemed truly surprised that anyone would have looked at the situation any other way than she did.

Coary, the manager who turned down the reward offer, said she told Lamet: “It was just the right thing to do.”

Even Burstein reacted somewhat matter-of-factly to my interest Tuesday in her $750 lost-and-found adventure, although she did observe that the incident just goes to show: “There are some good doers.”

If only I were convinced there were more of them, I wouldn’t have bothered to write this.


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