I remember the first time we talked about pennies.
Bob and I were standing and talking outside of the Flying M coffeehouse in Boise. We had just been inside talking about how people had been focusing far more on the negative than the positive. It was in the fall of 2002, so 9/11 was still a cloud looming over all, and people were very leery about strangers, or smiling at one another, or even just saying hello.
Bob and I wanted to do something that would change that. We talked endlessly, it seemed, about coming up with something that would bring people joy, even if it was just for an instant.
So, here we were, standing outside of the coffee shop. Another conversation seeming going nowhere.
Then – “Oh look!” I said.
I bent down and picked it up, then lifted my prize high in the air. I even danced a little jig.
“A lucky penny! I found a lucky penny! It’s my lucky day!”
We looked at each other and it felt as if everything stopped. We had found the magic answer we’d been looking for. At least, it was worth a try.
The very first time we did the pennies we went to the Capital City Public Market in downtown Boise on a crisp Saturday morning. We had pennies jingling in our pockets, and Bob had a camera he set up on a tripod on the corner, out of the way of the market goers. It was aimed at what appeared to any passerby to be the market itself. But what it was REALLY aimed at was where he had planted a carefully orchestrated, haphazard row of heads-up pennies.
Me, I was nonchalantly leaned up against a building and had a 33-millimeter disposable camera at my side, finger on the trigger. I knew where my pennies were – I had surreptitiously let them fall from where I held them in my fingers as I bent down to tie my shoe, or dropped something and bent down to pick it up.
Then, we waited. And watched. We sipped on steaming cups of coffee. We didn’t know if anyone would find our pennies, or even what they would do if they did. It was a great and grand experiment. We didn’t know if it would work, but I have to tell you, we really thought it might. And we were giddy from that thought.
The first time someone found a penny, plucked it up, shouted to their friends: “Look, a lucky penny!” We almost missed it. It was kind of like sitting on the bank and waiting for that big fish to bite, and then when he does, he pulls your pole right into the water before your very eyes.
We didn’t even get a photo of the moment that first time. But we sure got the result. It felt like our happy hearts could leap out of our throats. We probably felt as happy as the person finding the penny – or even more so. It was enough to keep us going and by the end of the day, we actually did get some photos. But the best part was getting some joy.
After that, we did the pennies everywhere we could. And every time it worked like a charm. We did pennies at the mall. The grocery store. At football games and peace rallies. Airports. Parades. Parks. Art museums. We went to Mount Rushmore. We went to Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.
Every time, we felt like we were giving people a little burst of happiness, of joy. And every time, we felt it, too. And in the photos, you can see and feel it, too. That’s the beauty – and the art – of it.
You should give it a try. It doesn’t cost much – just an hour or two and a couple of pennies.
Bob talked to me about bringing it back and hoped that it could go viral.
Maybe that’s where the phrase “pennies from heaven” comes from …
If you do try The Penny Project, please send an account of your experience, including photos, to bobsartfarm.com and we will keep this blog going!
A penny for your thoughts!
Scarlett Jones, aka Jeanne Huff, aka Bob’s wife