If you are interested in buying a stranger their coffee (in exchange for another stranger buying yours), then you should go to the Starbucks on Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg, Fla. This past Wednesday, nearly 400 people "paid it forward" and bought the coffee order for the person behind them in the drive thru line. The act of human kindness lasted about 10 hours until some cheap-ass decided to only pay for their own drink.

The rolling coffee bill started at 7 a.m., when a woman buying iced coffee offered to pay for the person behind them, too. As the customers drove up to the window, the barista, Vu Nguyen, 29, would inform them that their order had already been paid for by the person in front of them and ask if they would like to do the same. A lot of people did.

"It's nice just to do a random act of kindness for someone you don't know," Tim Burnside, 19, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Apparently, customers of this Florida Starbucks do this frequently, pay for strangers' drinks in the spirit of a Haley Joel Osment movie.

"This happens a lot here," Celeste Guzman, a shift supervisor, told Today. "Somebody wants to be nice and do something generous for the person behind them and then the person behind them keeps it going."

It was ruined at about 6 p.m. Wednesday, when a woman opted not to pay for the person following her in the drive thru. "The woman declined," the Tampa Bay Times reports, "saying she just wanted to pay for her $2.25 drink and not someone else's." According to store employees, it "appeared the woman didn't understand the concept of paying it forward."

Update, 1:35 p.m.: There is a buying-Starbucks-for-other-people epidemic in St. Petersburg, Fla. Word comes of another "pay it forward" scheme ruined by a sour grape—a blogger! He has standards, though.

"I told him no," Peter Schorsch told ABC News. "When the barista asks you to pay it forward, it is no longer spontaneous."

Schorsch did go on to tip the barista $100. "I'm really not trying to be a Grinch," Schorsch said. "I know things are hard for baristas and I am willing to help people." He also had a lot of gripes he needed to get off his chest. From ABC News:

  • "Although I can't prove it, I think this has become an organic marketing ploy for Starbucks," Schorsch said. "I love Starbucks. I have nothing against them. But this takes away the genuineness."
  • "This is turning into something ridiculous and cheesy," Schorsch said.
  • "It just seems like a First World problem to me. Middle-class people sitting in their cars at a drive-thru, sipping a $5 drink and worry about someone breaking the ranks," Schorsch said.
  • "Also, I got a $6 Venti Frappuccino. Someone might just get a $2 coffee," Schorsch said. "This is unfair to that person who paid for me."

Update, 2:29 p.m.: No cheap bastards here, as Fast Company's Jason Feifer explains in detail:

No! Wrong! Even if Customer 379 didn't understand the situation, that woman didn't actually opt to accept the $5 (or whatever) that had been sitting there, in a functional escrow account, since the beginning of this whole chain. Instead, the person just said "I'll pay for my own drink"—which technically is the exact same thing as what all previous 378 customers did! The escrow account wasn't depleted. The only way to be an actual jerk and break this chain would be to say, "Free drink? Sweet. Thanks." And then drive off.

[Screengrab via Tampa Bay Times]