Friday, March 27, 2009

Count Your Change!

You could say I'm fortunate to have eight or ten convenience stores within a two mile radius, because it provides ample choice in walking distance when one of them screws you over and rips you off, as was the case today. I walk alot, almost daily, and usually stop in one of these nearby convenience stores for a drink, newspaper, pack of smokes, loaf of bread, lottery ticket or whatever else comes to mind as I approach.

Today I stopped in this unbranded mom&pop store and made two purchases: a lotto ticket at one window, and a bottle of cheap pineapple soda at the second window. I've stopped in this store many times, hundreds at least, and almost always purchase this same drink when they have it in stock. So I know how much it costs: $.89+ $.03 tax = $.92 total. I also know the staff at least by sight, and the clerk behind the second window was someone I'd never seen before. I put the drink on the counter for the clerk to see it, and as he clicked a few buttons on the register I slid a dollar bill into the recessed passthrough under the glass. Without a word, he takes it, places it in the register, and proceeds to place a nickel in the trough as my change. I looked him in the eye curiously waiting for some sign in his face that would help explain the single coin in change he's giving back to me. He didn't return my gaze, instead he looked past me to the next customer, indicating to me that we were done with our transaction. I took the nickel and the drink and walked out the door kind of slowly trying to figure out what was going on. Several things ran through my mind: maybe the price went up a few cents and I didn't see the new price on the cooler door; maybe his drawer didn't have any pennies. The further I walked from the store property, the more convinced I was that this sonuvabitch just ripped me off. I was about a block away when my confusion congealed into anger, and I spun around and walked purposefully back to the store.

I swung open the door and stepped into the small crowd of customers that had accumulated since my previous exit and waited in line. The clerk now working this window was a member of the family who owned the store, while the first clerk was standing between the two service windows hidden from direct view. The customer in front of me was joking with the clerk about his purchase cost including or not including tax, and the clerk tried to hand him his change through the window, all 2 pennies of it. The guy told him to keep it, stepped aside and glanced at me to signal he was done. I told the customer that the clerk is about to give those pennies to me and plopped my bottle of soda on the counter, forthrightly asking him how much it costs. As I expected, it was $.89+ $.03 tax = $.92. Upon his answer I said, "you owe me three cents."

He looked at me a second, hesitating, while I continued, "I gave the other guy a dollar and he only gave me back a nickel so you owe me three pennies." The sternness in my voice let him and everyone around me know I was pissed off for having just been ripped off so brazenly. The familiar clerk punched some buttons on the register, mumbled something to the new clerk in their native language, and kindly handed me the three cents. I slung open the door with a demeanor further signaling my anger and resumed my regular walking path with a briskness that would put me back home in half the time. I was pissed, and thankful I was already walking so that some of this tension would more healthily dissipate via the enhanced physical exertion.

Fastfoward about three hours. My drains are gurgling as if they're about to seriously clog so I grab my keys, wallet and two fives off the table and run up to the nearest Kroger to get some drain cleaner. I had intended to get some earlier but kept forgetting about it. On the way I try to remember what else I might need while I'm there, and realize I'm constrained to $10 because that's all I grabbed off the table. Maybe I'll have enough money for a bottle of clorox also, so I can resume the laundry that's been piling up for a while.

Always preferring the self-checkout, I quickly ran my items through the process and punched through to pay in a hurry. The total order came to $9.03. After inserting the two fives, the machine dutifully spits out a healthy quantity of coins, but as per usual, not quite enough. I scooped up the coins with my left hand extended, and my body turned so that I'm completely open to the attendant's view. I scattered them out in my hand to count them: I see three quarters, a dime, two pennies. What's that, 87cents? Goddammit. Hand still extended I call out to the attendant, "sir, sir... the machine gave me 87 cents, my change is supposed to be 97 cents. It's short a dime." He turned to his register almost as if this is a normal routine for him, pulls up my transaction on his screen to confirm the amount of change I'm due, and grabs a dime from his drawer to hand to me.

I wish I could say this is the reason I normally never shop at this Kroger, but this same shit happens with startling regularity at the other Kroger I use. In fact it's been happening for at least 4-5 years, since they put these self-checkout machines in. In my experience, these machines almost NEVER spit out the correct coin change. You have to wonder how much money these stores amass this way. Afterall, machines only do what they're programmed to do. Hell, soda machines have been stealing your money for decades.

The lesson for you is to ALWAYS COUNT YOUR CHANGE. ALWAYS. Whether it's the beady-eyed slimeball working at the convenience store, or the latest in automated self-service technology, assume you're being screwed. That's the only way you will stop it.

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