Honoring a brother's last wish: $500 tips on a cross-country mission

While a lot of us woke up Thursday morning to head back to work, or to the malls for Christmas returns, Seth Collins was hitting the road on what could be the final leg of an 18-month feel-good mission of brotherly love.

Waiters and waitresses, rejoice. It's what Seth's kid brother, Aaron, wanted.

In fact, it was his last wish.

"Leave an awesome tip (and I don't mean 25%, I mean $500 on an f***ing pizza) for a waiter or waitress," Aaron wrote in his will. He was only 30 when he died on July 7, 2012.

"Aaron was a risk taker, he lived life by his own rules," Seth remembered as we sat in a bar -- where else? -- in his hometown of Lexington, Ky. "He didn't have a lot of money, he did jobs here and there, but any money he had he spent on his friends."

"He liked to make people happy. And even though he didn't have a lot of money, he enjoyed leaving a good tip for people who work hard and don't make a lot of money, themselves."

But why a $500 tip?

"Aaron's at Buffalo Wild Wings and gets a waitress who it's her first night on the job, guys are drinking and yelling, and she's getting orders all wrong... she did EVERYTHING wrong and told Aaron she was gonna quit.

"When Aaron got the bill -- and remember, he didn't make a lot of money -- he left her a $50 tip, and wrote on the check, 'Don't give up.'

"Immediately, you could see, her attitude changed and Aaron thought, 'Imagine what a $500 tip could do.'

"That was Aaron -- 'Be good to your friends,' he'd say. If you're good to other people, they'll be good to you."

So, instead of flowers or a donation in his name to a local charity, Seth asked family and friends to remember Aaron's last wish and give a few dollars toward "The Tip." Seth's an IT guy, so "building a website with a PayPal link for people to contribute was easy."

And contribute, they did.

A few days later, Seth and his family honored Aaron's last wish, going to a local pizza restaurant and giving the waitress a $500 tip. It was an emotional moment for all, and one that might have ended there -- if not for the power of social media.

Seth recorded "The Tip," and the next night he posted the video to YouTube and Facebook, along with the PayPal link.

"By the end of the night people had given $1,500," Seth said.

Then he went to sleep.

"When I woke up the video had gotten 30,000 views -- in one night!" Seth laughed. "Then I get a call from GMA -- they showed it on air and wanted to talk. By the end of that night the video had more than 100,000 views... the next morning it was up to a half-million."

And the contributions had grown to nearly $11,000, "mostly $5 and $10 donations," Seth said.

By July 14th -- a week after Aaron's death, and only three days after Seth first posted the video -- contributions had swelled to nearly $50,000.

"We got donations from every continent except Antarctica," he said.

So, after discussing it with his mom, Tina, Seth decided to do what his kid brother would have done.

"Road trip," he laughed, slapping the bar. "A 50-state road trip to give $500 tips.

"I had savings, but I needed help," he said, excusing himself for a moment to take a phone call.

"That was a guy in Arkansas. He wants to donate a car," he laughed. "He's ready to drive it up here to Lexington and sign it over to me. Amazing."

It's the kind of help Seth's needed since starting Aaron's road trip last June.

"I'd been laid off from my IT job, and I had about a year's savings, so I needed help to do this," he said. "So many total strangers have saved me -- a woman in Vermont donated three nights in a hotel, I've spent the night on the couches of total strangers.

"People will say, 'I love what you're doing, but I have no money to give -- can I cook you dinner?'"

So how does Seth choose who gets Aaron's gift?

"Random," he said. "Totally random. I just pick a place -- sometimes I'll go on Facebook and ask if anyone where I'm traveling wants to go to lunch -- and whoever happens to be our waiter or waitress gets The Tip."

Does it matter if the service is... well, less than satisfactory?

"Nope. Listen," he explains, "everyone has a bad moment, a bad day. I'm sure that person who's waiting on you didn't go to work intending to give you bad service.

"And waiters, waitresses have told me, when they get The Tip, it changes them -- it lets them know someone appreciates how hard they work and how little they make."

And as he heads out again for what could be the final days of Aaron's road trip, the obvious question: What happens if or when the money runs out?

"I've left 88 tips so far" -- that's $44,000 -- "and when we get to 100 tips, hit all 50 states, then we'll see," he said with a sigh, a hint that travel fatigue may be setting in.

"But I have to get on with my life, you know?

"What's most important is that long after the money is gone, they'll take that moment and pay it forward -- to be good and generous to other people.

'Aaron would have loved that."

For more information on Aaron's Last Wish, click here

George Kindel is managing editor of FoxNews.com, and is on a journey around America in search of stories that celebrate the Christmas spirit and New Year's hope. If you have a story to suggest, write him at: georgekindel52@gmail.com.