Vending Machine Vengeance

Vending machines are wonderful things.

That’s right, you just fell into a blog about vending machines.

I think it goes without saying that technological advances of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries have brought the science behind these darlings of the breakrooms and cafeterias to  heights in which Hero of Alexandria  probably never envisioned.

For those of you who may need a little bit of level setting here, Hero of Alexandria was the 1st century version of Thomas Edison.  One of the first references to vending machines was in his work, where he discussed a machine that would take a coin in return for some holy water.

At least that’s what the internet says, and the fact checkers at that outfit really have their act together.

Did I mention they’re wonderful things?  Of course I did.

Especially when they work.

Today’s machines such as the one pictured have a corkscrew type delivery system in which you type in the proper letter and number (much like Battleship) of the item you want.  The corkscrew turns and advances the product out into mid-air where gravity takes over at 9.8 meters per second squared.

The problem is that sometimes, the positioning of the product within the corkscrew doesn’t allow it to be pushed out into thin air and eventual oblivion.  Instead, it just hangs there like a strong swimmer for dear life.  The most common solution to the dilemma created by such poor quality control measures among the practice of stocking vending machines is to throw more money into the machine, hit the right buttons (“You sank my battleship!”) and hope the stupid machine doesn’t embarrass you by giving you one item for the price of two.  In the industry, they call that “Increasing your profit margin”.

Frankly, I’m too much of a tight wad to throw more money in there.  Instead, I push on the top of the machine to lift it up a few inches, and then drop it.  Such an action jolts the dangling item from the clutches of the corkscrew and into the vending tray.

One day I will use that method and the machine will tilt over and subsequently kill me.  I’m torn between saving an extra $0.95 versus my life, all for a mid afternoon piece of chocolate.
The last time I was in the Dallas airport (I’m just as sad about it as you are), I happened upon a vending machine which was selling iPods.  Honestly, I don’t know how many people carry a couple hundred bucks worth of quarters with them in an airport where they would have to frequently empty their pockets to walk through metal detectors.  None the less, I’ve got to wonder how long it would take someone to sit there and feed that many quarters into the iPod vending machine for a toy which may or may not be charged with power or loaded with tunes.  For that matter, what if an iPod were to get stuck in the corkscrew dispenser?  Could you tip the top of the machine to jolt it out of there, or would you need more change?  One has to wonder.

Did I mention something about $0.95 as the cost of a candy bar?  I’m pretty sure I did.

Recently at the office where I spend the post-lunch hours putting in a half-ass attempt to stay awake against the strong advice of the tryptophan loaded turkey sandwich, I took the short walk to the break room in order to get a sugar rush.  Physically, I don’t really know what real measurable effect chocolate has on my ability to  “wake up”.  I’m pretty sure it’s nothing more than a placebo for me, but if it really were, then I wouldn’t feel compelled to grab one to provide me with a mid-day jolt every once in awhile.

There I was with four quarters to feed to the machine.  In exchange for an offering of my first fruits, I would get a package of plain M&M’s.  One by one, I submitted each coin into the slot.  The digital readout told me how much I had put in.  Once the machine did the math and came up with the same amount received which I had given, I punched in the number for my M&M’s.

“Beep. Beep. Beep.”  It admonished me and a marquee message ran across the display.  “Please provide exact change.”  Okay.  It would appear the machine is out of nickels.  It couldn’t provide change for the four quarters I gave it, so it wants exact change.  No big deal.

I fished through my pockets and found a couple of dimes.  This gave me a new plan of action.  Hit the change return and get my four quarters back.  Pocket a quarter, take the other three quarters and combine them with the two dimes to make $0.95.  Those M&M’s would be mine in less than a minute.

With the plan mapped out in my head, I executed step one by hitting the change return.

“Chinka, chinka, chinka, chinka, chinka, chinka, chinka, chinka,………”  Coin after coin after coin started landing in the coin return.  It was more than the original four quarters I had put in.

With extreme hesitation and just a bit of curiosity, I fished out the coinage which the machine had just returned.

For the record, I didn’t get my quarters back.  Instead, I received a dollar’s worth of nickels.

Whereas I could go into great detail on how this incident defied all logic and common sense, I’ll forego such a soliloquy and say the following.

Feeding all of those nickels back into the machine for those M&M’s reminded me of that time I bought an iPod at the Dallas airport.

Randy Tharp

TharpSter is a husband to one woman, a father to two kids, a master to two dogs, an occasional cubical occupant, and unable to make up his mind on an adequate theme for this website.

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