My office is a two-block walk, or a six-block walk from a Metro Station, depending on which stop I get off at. Almost all of my co-workers alight at Union Station, two blocks from the office, and either get their morning coffee there or at a delicatessen halfway to my building.
I usually opt for the six-block walk, even though it goes right past two different homeless shelters and sometimes I have to work my way through knots of people gathering outside of each place in the morning and fend off their requests for spare change. It is the sooner stop, so I make up a little bit of the lost time the further walk entails by getting off the train two minutes earlier and occasionally I would even jog it, although I feel self-conscious running along the sidewalk, even easily, in work clothes.
I always got my coffee at a crowded convenience store along the way which is run by hard-working immigrants who don’t speak English all that well. In this establishment they sell coffee, bananas (three for a dollar, very ripe) and lots and lots of scratch-off and weekly drawing lottery tickets.
The store is always crowded each morning with dreamers, hard-luck people picking strings of numbers that they hope will make them fabulously rich in the weekly games and scratching off chances in the instant games. Us coffee drinkers have to work our way with brimming cups to the cash registers through knots of people calling out numbers to impassive clerks feeding the logarithms into whirring lottery ticket printing machines.
I like this store, as it gives me a little immersion into the soul of the city, and perhaps the nation, each morning before I ensconce myself into my job as a federal bureaucrat. The store is also cheaper, by a lot, than the tony shops around Union Station.
Today I looked in my wallet when the cashier rang up $1.75 for a medium coffee, and all I had in it were a single and several twenties. Thinking it was a shame they’d have to make so much change for such a small purchase, I gave her a twenty, took my change and moved aside to let the next customer be rung up.
But something wasn’t right. I had received some coins, which I slipped into my pocket, and a slight cluster of bills which started with a single and ended with a sawbuck. As I looked more closely at the small stack of bills, the rest were singles except for the last five-dollar bill.
I had received change for a ten, not a twenty. I held out the handful of bills and said, "I gave you a twenty."
The clerk pointed to the cash register tape which showed $1.55 being subtracted from $10, leaving $8.25, which is what I received back. It was obviously what she had punched into the machine during our transaction.
"But I gave you a twenty," I repeated. "And you only gave me change for a ten."
"No, no," she said, pointing again to the printout. "Look here, it says ten dollars."
I tried again, saying, "I didn’t give you a ten, I gave you a twenty. You owe me ten more dollars in change."
I thought about the several years that I had been coming in here three of four times each week, spending a couple of dollars each trip. I knew or thought I knew from having looked at my wallet a few seconds earlier that the only thing in it that morning besides the still-present solitary single had been some twenties.
As I held out the bills for her to see, the cashier, who had taken my money each morning ever since I had started coming in years earlier, looked impassively me. My words hung in the air.
After a pause, I said quietly, "I’ll never come back here again, thanks." I took my coffee and left.
Breaking up is so hard to do. I hate it that now I have to find a new coffee outlet, because the old one felt like an old brown shoe.