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The Copper Drifter This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

How many of you have ever seen a penny laying on the ground and just passed it up? How many of you were the ones to toss it on the ground? Let me tell you something about that penny. That penny has a million stories. It’s seen more places and done more things than you could ever hope to do. Have you actually ever took the time and looked at the date on a penny? Chances are it’s older than you are. Just imagine who has held it, whose pocket it has been, the streets of all the cities it’s laid on in all that time. Scary thought, right? It has been all over the world a hundred times and its journey isn’t over yet.

There it is. It’s laying in one of those “take a penny” trays at a gas station in Phoenix. It’s dated 1986. It’s got a bit of dirt and funk on it from its many journey’s and odd jobs, but you can still the mint letter on it. D for Denver. John Luttrell takes it out of the tray to pay to for gas because he went over a cent when he was pumping. Now, the cashier is giving it to Mitch Hartley as change from a 32 ounce soda he bought. Mitch will be going to Salt Lake City tonight on business. Mitch has company with him on this trip.

Mitch and the penny arrive in Salt Lake City and not a minute too soon either. Mitch is late for “the big meeting” with the CEO of the retail company he’s part owner of. After his big meeting, Mitch spots a homeless man begging for change when he’s walking down a rougher part of the city. Mitch, being a somewhat wealthy man who hates seeing people who are less fortunate than him, gives the man two dollars and forty-seven cents. Our penny is with it.

The homeless man is actually George R. Tansland. He used to have a house, a wife, and three beautiful children until his alcoholism took over from the stress he had from when his company fell, on top of gambling debts. Now he has to beg for every cent he can get just to have one decent meal a day. Our penny is about to help him do this.

At the end of the day, George counts up what he has. Twenty-six dollars and eighty-eight cents. A little more than usual. He decides he wants a burger, fries, and a big strawberry milkshake. He walks down to Gibby’s Food, just a block away from his begging spot, and orders his food. He pays eleven dollars and sixty-one cents for it. Guess what penny he uses. Our penny just helped a homeless man eat. This isn’t his first or last time doing this either.


Our penny spends the night in the cash register with all the other pennies. They pass the time by telling each other all their stories. One penny tells of how he spent two years in the pocket of soldier in Iraq. Another tells them of how he was once part of change given to Jack Nicholson. Our penny tells of the time it laid in the scorching sun of Guadalajara for two weeks before anyone picked it up.

The next day, our penny is given to a young man named Benny Archer as change from an order of fried pickles and an orange soda. Benny is Colorado State student, on a trumpet scholarship, visiting his parents who live in Salt Lake City. He’s already spent his whole four days in the city and needs to get back to Fort Collins before nine in the morning tomorrow. Our penny is in Benny’s pocket beneath his car keys, a guitar pick, a mint, and his receipt from Gibby’s.

On the car ride to Colorado, our pennies home state, Benny is stressing very hard on a decision he has to make that will change his life forever. He is thinking about asking his girlfriend of two years, Ally, to marry him. He’s stressing this until he gets to his dorm in the morning. After pacing around for more than two hours on no sleep, he decides to flip a coin. Heads, he asks her. Tails, he doesn’t. He rifles through his pockets and grabs at the first coin he fingers. Yup, our penny. He flips it, catches it, and places it on the back of his left hand, keeping it covered with his right. His hands are shaking rather abundantly. The penny feels extremely cold to Benny. Cautiously, he lifts his right hand and reveals it is heads up. Our penny just helped Benny make the best decision of his life because Ally says yes.

Benny gave up our penny that night. He went out with his friends that night to celebrate at a bar; when he pulled out his car keys, our penny fell out of his pocket right onto the pavement below. With all the excite running in his head, he didn’t even notice. It landed heads up.

After three days of people walking right passed it, a custodian on campus, Terry Fletcher, sees our penny underneath some dirt after picking up garbage that was around it. Terry picks it up and wipes the dirt off of it on his coveralls. You can never get it all off. Terry believes in the old superstition of if you pick up a penny that is heads up, you’ll have good luck all that day. Well, today is no exception for the old wives tale. At the end of his shift, Terry went home to his one bedroom apartment and watched them draw lotto numbers, as he does every Tuesday night. Terry knows his chances of winning are almost impossible, but buying a five dollar ticket every week keeps him going. They are drawing for his lotto numbers now. They draw the first number and what do you know? It matches Terry’s. “This has happened a few times”, he remembers. He thinks the second number will be the one to break the chain. He’s wrong, the second number matches. Then, the third, the fourth, and the fifth. As they draw last number, Terry is sweating. When they finally draw it, Terry drops his ticket because he is in total shock. He won! He almost faints.

The next day, Terry quits his job and decides to move to Florida. After cashing in his winnings, he flies to Miami to look for houses. While standing next to a fountain in the terminal, he pulls the penny out of his pocket, kisses it, and thanks it for winning the lotto for him; he tells our penny that he must part with it. He explains to it that he needs no more luck, but other people need it more than he did in the first place. With a flick of his thumb, he tosses it into the fountain. It makes a little splash. Terry looks at the penny submerged a moment, gives a little smirk, then walks away to start his new life.

Two days later, Ronald Flake, an architect from Seattle, arrives in Miami for a job he was assigned. He brought his three year old son, Jamie, with him. While passing the fountain, Jamie sees our penny lying in there. It is surrounded by nothing but quarters and dimes. He remembers his grandmother telling him something about saving and earning pennies. So he reaches in the fountain, grabs it without his father’s knowledge, and places it in his tiny little pocket with a wet hand. His father doesn’t notice the little round wet spot in Jamie’s pocket.

When Jamie and his father arrive at the hotel, Jamie reaches into to his colorful little travelers backpack and pulls out his green piggy bank. He takes the moist and dirty penny and drops it into the little slot. Our penny is very relieved by this. It finally has a chance to rest after all its traveling, helping homeless people eat, helping a young man and woman get married, helping a poor man become rich, and helping a child start his own fortune. Can you blame it? It’s been all over the country helping for a week and a half, it’s tired. It’ll be ready to start again before long, but for now it just wants to rest.

With the economy the way it is, people tend to ignore loose change, especially pennies. Pick one up if you see it lying on the ground somewhere and ask it its stories. All the crud on it is there for a reason. Sure it’s only worth a cent and yes it won’t buy you anything material, but when it all adds up, they’re worth more than any person on earth.





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