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9 Amazing Tipping Stories

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Last month, a waitress at a Waffle House in North Carolina was given a $1,000 tip from a generous customer—but she had to return it due to the restaurant's policy on large gratuity via credit card. However, after some light online uproar, the waitress finally got her tip when the customer wrote her a check.

Add this to the list of rare instances when we hear about excessive and genuinely kind tippers. Fortunately, such people are out there.

1. A $500 Tip As A Last Wish

Aaron Collins always felt sympathetic toward those who worked in the service industry after he worked in a pizzeria and watched his best friend put herself through school as a waitress. That’s why he added a stipulation to his will: He asked his family to leave a huge $500 tip at a restaurant. The 30-year-old died unexpectedly last year, and because he didn’t leave any money to his relatives to complete this last wish, his brother, Seth, put up a website, aaroncollins.org, to collect donations. What he didn’t anticipate was that the donations would keep coming, allowing Seth to leave $500 tips at restaurants around the country, starting in August of last year. All of the events are documented on YouTube videos that are linked to on Aaron’s memorial website.

Since the website was set up, Aaron’s family has collected $65,000 and given back over $22,000 in tips. The restaurants are chosen randomly and servers receive the tip no matter how good the quality of service actually is. Of course, while the family enjoys surprising their servers with the amazing tips, they still prefer to have a home-cooked meal on occasion. "Some weeks I may be able to take a break from going out to eat," Seth said. Even so, the family intends to keep giving out these tips on a weekly basis until the donations are completely expended.

2. The $500 Pizza Dinner

Rhode Islander Kristen Ruggiero is a single mom of three who has had a tough time making ends meet by working the restaurant job she’s held for the last 15 years. One day last year, a couple came in and ordered a pizza, a salad, and a pitcher of beer only to settle their $42 bill by leaving $500 on the table. At first, the waitress thought they made a mistake and accidentally left the five hundreds thinking they were ten dollar bills. So Kristen set the money aside until the pair returned to the restaurant and tried to return it to them. That’s when they assured her that the $458 tip was no mistake. "He said no it was absolutely not a mistake, you deserved it," Kristen said.

Grateful for the tip, Kristen took the opportunity to pay off some of her bills and then spent the remainder on a trip to Six Flags with her kids.

3. The $500 Memorial Tip

Shea Mower paid most of his college tuition with tips he earned working at a restaurant, so when he was killed in a DUI car crash, his friends decided the best way to honor him would be to pay it forward by giving one lucky waitress a $500 tip. The group all chipped in for the tip and on Shea’s birthday, they had dinner at Outback Steakhouse. At the end of the meal, the group donated the entire sum to their waitress.

Prior to their big tip, the group also gave a high school student a $500 scholarship in Shea’s memory to raise awareness about drunk driving.

4. The $5000 Tip

Greg Rubar was a waiter at D’Amico’s Italian Market Café in Houston for 16 years and been waiting on one particular couple at the restaurant for eight years when the customers handed him fifty $100 bills. The man told Greg, “I’m not going to be giving you a tip for awhile. Take this money. Go buy yourself a car. ”

The instructions to buy a car weren’t just random—the couple knew that Greg recently lost his car when it was flooded in a thunderstorm a few weeks prior. In fact, the waiter had to take taxies and borrow his restaurant’s catering truck just to get to and from work.

Greg tried to return the money to the couple, but they refused, insisting he get a car with the cash.

5. Johnny Depp Continues To Be Awesome

Flickr: ATempletonPhoto.com

As if we need another reason to admire Johnny Depp, it turns out that he’s also a fantastic tipper. While filming Public Enemies, the star visited Gibson’s steakhouse in Chicago many times and, on one particular evening, he and his group arrived at 11:30 p.m. and stayed for three hours while they ordered bottle after bottle of $500 wine. When they left, Depp left the server a $4000 tip for his efforts.

“I have worked with a lot of stars like Sean Connery and Robert De Niro but Johnny Depp is my favorite. He is a very soft spoken guy who is very charming and sweet—when I wait for him he doesn’t like to be too fussed over and is not in any way demanding,” said server Mohammed A . Sekhani. “He may be one of the most famous actors in the world but he is a very humble guy and a really cool dude.”

6. Nice Gals Don’t Always Finish Last

Most waiters who received a $12,000 tip wouldn’t report it to the IRS, let alone turn it into the police. But Stacy Knutson is a very honest woman, and after customers left her one of the most generous tips in history, she turned it into the police, worried it was stolen or tied to some crime. The mother of five was told that she could keep the cash if no one claimed it in 60 days, but after the waiting period ended, officials told her she couldn’t keep it after all because it smelled like marijuana and had thus been seized under state law. To compensate her for her honesty, police offered her $1000.

Knutson refused the offer and filed suit to get the full sum back. The police quickly changed their minds and returned the full amount to the waitress.

7. The World’s Largest Tip

Here’s one of the most famous tipping stories of all time. In fact, this story eventually became the basis of the movie It Could Happen to You, starring Nicholas Cage.

In 1984, Police detective Robert Cunningham was a regular at Sal’s Pizzeria for eight years. As Phyllis Penzo waited tables there six nights a week for 24 years, he and the waitress got to know each other pretty well. One day, when Robert was settling his tab, he asked the waitress if she’d be interested in splitting a lottery ticket with him instead of receiving a tip. She agreed and helped him choose the numbers. Robert called her a few days later to let her know he just won $6 million dollars and that half of that was hers.

Unlike the movie version, the two were both happily married to other people, and Robert’s wife was more than happy to split the money with Phyllis—but let’s be honest, without the two falling in love, it wouldn’t have been much of a movie.

8. It Could Happen to Someone Else Too

History repeated itself in 1995, when John Steele, an auto parts worker in Toronto left a lottery ticket as a tip for his favorite waitress, Tracy Dalton. He asked her to let him know if she won anything and she agreed to share any prizes from the ticket. A few days later, the ticket ended up being worth $184,700, meaning both parties got a cool $92,350.

9. Pick A Number

While skeptical Redditors point out that this could easily be the customer copy of this receipt and not the legitimate merchant copy, the story behind this image is pretty wonderful if it is true. Supposedly, the customer asked the server to pick a number between 1 and 10 and when the server picked 7, this is the tip he got.

This post originally appeared last year.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
iStock

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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