Peterson: Vending machine wins candy bar battle

I ran across a vending machine the other day that would do everything except take my dollar bills and vend a candy bar.

I was running comfortably early for a 9:30 a.m. meeting in Chicago, meaning I had left Woodstock three hours before it, and the man I was meeting with, oops, forgot, but he could make it if I gave him about 45 minutes.

And that was fine because I had plenty of reading to do, and it would still leave me with plenty of time to catch the crosstown buses to make my 1:30 p.m. train back to Woodstock. I’m used to eight-and-a-half-hour excursions for one-hour meetings.

But I had this extra time on my hands, and even though I had good books to pass the time, I needed a sugar boost that only a candy bar can provide. Usually, I can do without, but I was yawning and coffee wasn’t doing it.

Since my last meeting a month ago, the building had swapped out vending machines. The new ones looked about the same from a distance, but on closer inspection, they had taken a leap forward in technology. This was nearly an ATM.

I had to study it to figure out what to do next, which has never been the case with vending machines. They have slots to accept your dollar or coins, and you push a combination of numbers to get your selection. Pretty simple. The only thing you have to worry about is the machine refusing to accept your dollar because it is too used or dog-eared. I had good singles.

But it wouldn’t take my dollar. Instead of spitting my dollar out, I heard a coin drop. And it was a dollar coin – the first time in my life that I have gotten a dollar coin back as change. 

A lot of people are critical of the dollar coin, and I do not understand their resistance. It’s a cool coin, and it holds up better than a dollar, and a vending machine isn’t going to reject a dollar coin because it was crumpled at one point and no longer is perfect.

And this dollar coin – a gold Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president of the United States; I know this because I visited his home in Fremont, Ohio – was dirty. It had been used before, and I was happy to see that because I think we should get over our dollar coin phobia. I put another dollar in, and another coin dropped – a silver Susan B. Anthony, leader of the movement for women to vote in the United States, introduced by Jimmy Carter.

By then, I was becoming frustrated. Then it dawned on me that none of the selections had prices on them. Certainly, a candy bar wouldn’t cost more than a dollar. Then I noticed the machine had a touch screen. It sorted out the contents of the machine by type of junk food, then you could select a specific item.

Instead of giving the cost, the 7-inch color display revealed the nutritional value of the item you selected, as if that was going to make a difference. You’re intent on buying a candy bar or a bag of chips; you aren’t interested in nutrition. 

As surprised as I was that the machine dispensed dollar coins – again, three cheers for the dollar coin – what shocked me was that the machine would take major credit cards instead of money. I was wholly unprepared for that.

The slot for the dollar bills glowed with green, and something didn’t seem right with it. Then I noticed the machine gave directions for how to insert your credit card. You now can pay interest on a single candy bar. Egad.

The machine did not show the prices of the items being vended, and it was changing my dollar bills into dollar coins. It wasn’t giving me any candy, and now I come to find out it will take my credit card, and I’m left to wonder whether I could get cash back, as in 20 dollar coins. ATM with a treat. Jackpot.

On the one hand, the machine is arguing with you over even making a purchase by its large display of the nutritional value of the junk food you are about to ingest. Maybe you should move over to the pop machine that offers bottled water.

On the other hand, it is begging you to become a glutton by suggesting you don’t even need to have change on you. It will take your credit card, and not only add to your girth, but your debt.

I backed away from the machine slowly. I was tempted to pay with plastic. But I kept my wits and refused. I’ll pay tax for candy, but not interest. That spoiled my appetite.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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