Skip to main content

Spare Change

April 2024
1min read

One of the perks of power, wealth, and fame is that those so favored never have to carry anything. Their luggage, briefcases, purses, wallets, umbrellas, and groceries are carried for them.

In the early 1970s I was on the staff of one of these noncarriers, Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. He had just finished his four terms as governor and was in the interregnum between that office and the Vice Presidency, which he was to assume under Gerald Ford in 1974. During this time of relative inactivity he was acting as the chairman of a politically power-packed commission named by Congress to study the ramifications of the recently enacted Pure Waters Act. Soon after he was named to chair this prestigious body, I was assigned to it as one of his two personal staff members.

He had flown down to Washington one morning from New York for a regular monthly meeting of the commission, and we were awaiting his arrival at National Airport’s commuter terminal. As his private plane taxied to a stop, he debarked and greeted us all with his engaging smile, shaking hands all around and murmuring, “Excellent! Excellent!” As we worked our way through the terminal toward the door and the waiting limousine, he stopped in front of the bank of pay phones.

Now I have been panhandled in nearly every state in the nation. I have been hit up by the halt and the blind in New York City, solicited by the Salvation Army’s bell-ringing foot soldiers in small towns all over the country, importuned by the homeless and hungry in city streets everywhere. But this had never happened to me before.

“I must make a call,” announced one of the richest men in America. Then he turned to me and said, “Can you spare a dime?”


Readers are invited to submit their personal “brushes with history,” for which our regular rates will be paid on publication. Unfortunately, we cannot correspond about or return submissions.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate