ALPINE — Even though a cup of joe isn't exactly Jeff Smith's cup of tea, he gets a buzz out of kicking back at his local coffee shop and spying on yawning — and often downright grumpy — morning customers as they realize their foam-whipped morning fix has been paid for.
"They just transform," Smith said. "They get this confused look, then grin from ear to ear and look around for someone to thank. They can't figure it out."
A cashier then slips the baffled customer a small laminated card with an unusual message: "You've been 'tagged' with an Act of Kindness."
The middle-age Alpine resident is so addicted to the charitable high he feels from "small acts here and there" that he's spent a small fortune launching an Internet-based company intended to help others experience the same feeling.
The lofty notion of kindness being passed from person to person like a sort of benevolent influenza was featured in the 2000 award-winning film "Pay It Forward."
But Smith's Web site, goodwillpaidforward.com, punches the concept up a notch — or a full rung — by allowing do-gooders, even those wishing to remain anonymous, to track the contagiousness of their kindness on Google map.
"Now you can literally see how your act of service has spread all over the world," he said excitedly. "It's incredible."
A sheet of 10 tags can be bought online for $16. After the tags arrive by mail, the buyer logs on the Web site and types in a provided code to activate the series.
The newly motivated humanitarian then goes to work carrying groceries or mowing lawns with a pocket — or keychain — full of tags.
"Sure, we can serve without tags, and we should, but do we?" Smith questioned. "Not enough, and sometimes not at all. So these (tags) act as a great reminder. You think, 'I've got to get rid of these.'"
Like the proverbial cash that burns to be spent, Smith says, the mini cards itch until they're properly scratched with a good deed and given away.
Each tag passed out can be tracked on Smith's Web site as it wanders the earth from one amicable person and one continent to the next.
Those tagged type their ticket's individual number on the Web site and leave a comment, then pass it on.
Once purchased, the same sturdy tag remains in circulation for what Smith refers to as several "generations" or "ripples" of kindness.
"Like ripples of water," he said. "Throw the first pebble and watch it multiply."
In short, a person's original 10 acts of kindness often increase to 100 in as little as a month's time.
To date, the 7-month-old Web site has tracked 11,763 acts of kindness, nearly 60 a day.
An active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smith said he was especially moved to create the feel-good movement when late church President Gordon B. Hinckley noted, "It is not enough to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. ... And the good that is in you must be spread to others."
The self-made, affluent businessman said the operation is not intended to turn a profit, but he wouldn't mind if tag sales paid enough to make it a self-sustaining operation.
Attesting to his altruistic claim is a rare sight: a popularly visited Web site without a single advertisement. There's not one neon-blinking, cursor-following, pop-up ad on the whole site.
"Sure, I want to get paid back on it, but that's not everything," Smith said. "I feel good about it."
Where it does make money, though, is in the fundraising department.
After Smith's son's baseball team found out it was facing a 20 percent financial shortfall after dwindling sign-up numbers, they sold the sheets door to door for $20 — of which $12 per sheet went back to the team or organization.31 comments on this story
"People don't mind buying one, even in these (economic) conditions, because they can feel good about it," he said.
And apparently people do. A glance at the Web site shows comments of appreciation for acts a few dozen ripples deep, ranging from shoveling snow off of sidewalks to an anonymously given cashier's check for $5,000.
"It's a tag-you're-it thing," he said.