The mystery donor who for five days teased Los Angeles with hints of where to find hidden envelopes stuffed with cash says he was taken aback by the response, but plans to use what he learned when he returns later this summer.
The man behind the @HiddenCash Twitter account said in an email exchange Monday with the Los Angeles Times that not until his Burbank drop last week did he realize the scale of what he'd created as he witnessed mobs of people converging on the site, dashing across traffic and leaving behind illegally parked cars.
“At that point, I didn't realize we had such a big following,” he said. “I mean, I knew we had a lot of followers on Twitter, but I didn't expect so many people to come out.”
He was having dinner at the Empire Center when he heard waiters talking about his cash drops and then saw diners dash out the restaurant to look for the hidden envelopes.
The donor walked out to see a helicopter and a crowd of at least 500 people scouring the area.
The scene, he said, “was just insane.”
The man, who as of Monday had 433,000 Twitter followers, has declined to make his identity public, describing himself only as being between 35 and 45 years old, "old-school" and keen on paying a big real estate profit forward.
Looking back at the chaos that unfolded in Burbank, the donor says he began searching for open spaces such as one he selected for Saturday’s large treasure hunt at Hermosa Beach, where he hid 36 Angry Bird figurines stuffed with cash, drawing large crowds.
In all, the mystery benefactor said “things could not have gone better” in Southern California, where he gave out more than $5,000.
And along the way, he learned some things about Los Angeles: warnings of possible gang activity and riots over his envelopes proved unfounded.
“Whether in the wealthier or less affluent parts of town, people came out and had a good time and there were no negative incidents I am aware of,” he said.
On Monday, he was back in San Francisco, having become an anonymous social-media celebrity -- and inspiration for imitators, something he said he wanted all along. Copycat cash drops have been reported in cities including San Diego, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.
“I think some are legitimate and doing it for the right reason,” he said. “If they are, we commend them. If not, we condemn them. The right reasons means doing it from a selfless motive with no intention of promoting a business, political or religious agenda."
His motivation, he said, is simple: Inspire others to pay it forward, and have fun.
"I want the public to know that this is meant to be a fun way to put a smile on people's faces,” he said, not "to solve your financial problems."