Who Wants to Feel REAL Old?

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Good Afternoon:

Wow. All of you. That’s cool.

What’s astonishing about San Francisco is that not only is public transit so interesting, so are the destinations where public transit takes you. So yesterday I visited the Apple Store on Stockton near Market to purchase iLife 09. When it was my turn to buy, I approached a young lady in her very early twenties who reminded me of a college girlfriend and said, “I’d like to pay with cash.”

Her eyes widened a little, and she replied with one of those high-pitched, “Um, OK” lines which actually mean, “Um, not OK.” It was obvious that not only was I the first customer of her day to pay in cash, she had had almost no experience dealing with the green paper. She rang up the purchase in good order, accepted my money very, very, gingerly as if she had never held cash before, and tried to give me my change.

Here is where she got stuck. She was unable to give me change because she was baffled and befuddled by an object in her change drawer that she evidently had never seen before.

A paper-wrapped roll of pennies.

She really was puzzled. The young woman tried to pry open the roll at one end using her blunt fingernails, which of course is not possible for paper rolls that come from the bank, and having failed at that, called over a manager. He was slightly older than her, but no more than 25 years old, and with his comparatively vast knowledge of the ways of the ancient world, said, “There’s a trick to opening these.”

That trick, in his experience, consisted of trying to slip his fingernail underneath the end of the paper in the middle of the roll and unrolling the paper until the pennies, freed from their straitjacket, burst onto the counter and into the change drawer (some even went into the penny section!). But they didn’t lose any pennies. I said, “The trick is that you crack the roll open against the edge of the counter.” They looked at me as if I had spoken to them in a Japanese-Klingon hybrid language. They literally could not understand.

People are growing up today having no idea what cash is. It is becoming a concept whose only physical manifestation is a rectangle of plastic. Even we old folks have been swept up. How often do you use ATM cards for purchases? Think of the financial advisors who recommend that you keep a lot of money in cash. They don’t mean cash. They mean something like CDs or money market accounts, which have become online financial instruments, and your “cash” is really a collection of dark pixels on a light background. Even my laundromat has switched to card-operated machines.

Cash is dead. Long live “Cash.”

Vonn Scott Bair (originally posted to my friends on 2/8/2009)

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