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I recently wrote a post about the American Legion-styled pins that I would like to wear denoting some of my past accomplishments and positions in life.  I received quite a few questions about some of the items on the list, so I’ll be explaining them in more detail in the coming week.
Today I am dealing with the proposed pin:

  • One-time Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities volunteer imposter

I’ve actually written about this on a previous blog, but since more than one person asked about it and that original blog no longer exists on the Web, I thought I’d share it here for my new audience.

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When I was 19 years old, I was living on my own in every sense of the word.

My step-father had lost his job, invested my mother’s lifetime disability pension in a pyramid scheme, purchased two brand new cars in order to convey the image of success to his would-be customers, and lost it all within a year.

Eventually he stopped paying the mortgage and didn’t tell my mother until our childhood home was in foreclosure. Three weeks before they were to lose the house, he disappeared for a week of camping in Maine, leaving a note on the counter informing my mother of their financial situation and telling her that he wanted a divorce.

I had moved out two years earlier and was struggling to make it on my own, living with a friend who was attending college and living off-campus. My sister was still living at home, finishing her last year of high school and my mother was beginning to suffer from the early symptoms of adult-onset muscular dystrophy. Their situation was dire. A month after finding my step-father’s note, the two have moved to a run-down apartment in Woonsocket, RI, barely able to make ends meet.

Financially speaking, I was alone, taking care of myself, working without a safety net.

Forgive me the excessive back story, but I include it because I have told this story to people who simply cannot fathom not having family in their lives to lend support in a time of need. These are fortunate souls with parents and siblings and aunts and uncles who are intimately involved in their lives and willing and able to do almost anything to help them in a time of need.

This was simply not case for me at the time of this story. And it’s important in terms of the decisions I ultimately make.

And so one day in June of 1990, I drove up to Laconia, New Hampshire to spend the weekend with a girl. As I was driving home on Sunday afternoon, near the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, I had a blow out. Not only did the tire go flat, but it came apart, throwing rubber all over the road. I was in the middle of no-man’s land, miles between exits, and the tire needed to be completely replaced.

To make a long story short, I eventually used the last of my cash to purchase a new tire, rolling it miles and miles down the highway and putting it on the car myself.

Quite an ordeal and a story in itself, but not for today.

As I climbed back in my car to complete my trip, I looked at the gas gauge and realized that it was almost empty and I was still about two hours from home.

This was in the days before cell phones, and even if I had one, there was no one who I could have called for help. My roommate and best friend, Bengi, was the only person in my life who could have brought me money to get home, but on this particular weekend, he was out of town, and I had no means of contacting him.

I was more than 100 miles from home and on my own. I needed to find a way to fill my gas tank.

I took the next exit off the highway, drove to the nearest gas station, and made the attendant an offer: my luggage, my watch, and my driver’s license in exchange for enough gas to get me home. And I’d pay him double when I returned with the money.

He refused.

At this point I didn’t even have enough fuel to make it to the next gas station. As I sat in my car, considering my non-existent options, my eyes fell upon my McDonald’s briefcase, complete with the golden arches symbol across the front. I was managing a McDonald’s in Milford, Massachusetts at the time and had left for New Hampshire from work the previous Friday. My briefcase and uniform were still sprawled across the back seat.

Donning the uniform and grabbing the briefcase, I walked from the gas station into the nearest neighborhood (quite a hike) and began going door-to-door, claiming to be collecting money for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities.

At the first house, a lady gave me  three dollars. At the second house, a woman gave me five dollars. At the third house, an older gentleman gave me a twenty dollar bill and told me about the wife that he had lost to cancer years before.

Another story for another day.

I couldn’t believe it. Two houses and $23.

Gas was about a dollar a gallon back then, and the money was more than I needed to get home.

As I hiked back to the station, I promised myself to more than replace the money that I had just acquired on behalf of the charity.

So for years, I would frequently drop a dollar into those collection containers whenever I visited a McDonald’s. Not counting the loose change that I also tossed in, I ran my total to $606 before I wrote about this story a few years ago on a now-defunct blog and decided that I could call it even with Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities.

A return of thirty times their initial, albeit stolen, investment seemed fair.

And telling the story after so many years of secrecy relieved me of a lot of the guilt associated with it.

I still toss coins into those collection containers from time to time, but not with the guilty conscience that I once had.

And that is how I become a one-time Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities volunteer imposter.