There was a time we were taught to count change. Do you remember that? If you do, you probably went to school before the 1990s, before computers and automation became standard, before quality assurance and accuracy became the customer’s responsibility.
Last week I was at a drive-thru. You know, that fast-food operation celebrated as both the ultimate convenience for families and the perfect invention for the lazy. It was raining outside, so I chose to consider my decision a convenience and not a reflection on my character and stamina.
The cashier took my payment then quickly handed me the order. It was all very efficient, the standard procedure in most drive-thrus across the country. All that remained was retrieving my change and I would be on my way. Bing. Bang… Are you kidding me?
I can’t stand when a cashier places the receipt in my palm then piles the bills and coins precariously on top. My arm is positioned at an uncomfortable angle and as I carefully pull it back through the opening of the car window. I desperately try to balance the change as it slips and slides on the paper. Some of the coins inevitably fall to the ground, forever lost to me unless I open the car door and—with as much grace as possible—fumble to reach the coins that have rolled beneath the car or to the curb at the front tire. I tear my stockings and soil the front of my blouse as it brushes the rim of the car while the patrons on line behind me honk and angrily gesticulate because I’ve violated the first rule of the drive-thru: make it fast.
Sometimes my reflexes save the day and I clench my fist just in time, trapping the coins in a wad. For a brief moment, I consider dropping the ball into my purse, offering a new money organizing option beyond wallets and pockets, but good sense and perhaps a hint of OCD rejects such a thought. I open my palm and unravel the ball of paper and bills to confirm the change provided is correct. I can almost hear the grumbling voices in the car behind me. Impatience is a virtue that makes the drive-thru thrive.
I realize it’s not imperative for cashiers to know how to count change back to me when I make a purchase. After all, the register clearly displays the amount, which—of course—is always right. The computer doesn’t depend on user input at all so how could human error come in to play? And there could never be a glitch in the processing system, right? Besides, the logistics of such a process is more an act of kindness than a necessity.
Today, feeling optimistic (or a bit masochistic, depending on perspective), I went through the same drive-thru. This time I had exact change: $2.37. The cashier frowned as she looked at what I’d handed her, then turned to me in frustration. “I said two dollars and thirty-seven cents.”
“Yes,” I agreed. I had placed the change in her hand first, followed by a bill. A superior move as no coin was lost in the pass and no paper was crumbled in the process. And, since I wouldn’t be performing acrobats out the car door, I was feeling quite agreeable. “That’s what I gave you.”
“You only gave me a dollar.”
“No,” I said, as the car behind me crept a little closer. “I gave you a dollar bill, a gold dollar coin, a quarter, a dime and two pennies. That’s $2.37.”
She stared blankly at the money in her hand. The customer behind me honked.
Okay, so it’s too much to ask for money to be counted at all.
—Follow G. Anne Bassett on Twitter: @TheSouthernNut