Exact Change

As I prepared to leave the hotel room to start the day, I reached down and slid an assortment of change from the dresser into my hand. I did not count it, but figured I was accumulating quite a bit of loose coinage while traveling and thought I might be able to reduce the growing pile in the days leading up to my departure. I then completed my preparations and headed down to the lobby.

Unbeknownst to me, the hotel was hosting a large Free Will Baptist gathering with congregations from several states away converging on New Orleans for a few days of fellowship and such. I arrived at the ground floor and was assailed by the clamor of perhaps 50 of the congregants slowly circumnavigating the lobby area, the elderly chatting amiably while the 12 and under crowd dodged in and out of the other three elevators and ordered each other around. I walked by two opposing elevators that were both held open by teenage girls hollering back and forth for certain occupants to go to the other elevator. The elevator alarms were ringing as the doors were held open longer than necessary while occupants from one dashed to another and back repeatedly.

I wove my way steadily towards the on-site Starbucks (cha-ching) for my morning cafe mocha. Relative silence greeted me momentarily as I walked into the hotel version of Seattle’s favorite caffeinated child. I approached the counter and looked briefly at the board before looking expectantly in the vicinity of the cashier to attempt to place my order.

An irate customer suddenly started complaining vociferously about her recently purchased pastry.  It seems she sampled one of the custard danishes and found it unpalatable, as did her husband. The cashier announced that they had recently switched to a new place for their coffee cake and cookies and that the popular consensus was that the food was often stale and flavorless.

The customer asked if there was anything that seemed, felt or appeared in any way to be soft and fresh but the employees couldn’t locate anything.  Mind you, this was early in the day when the wares were supposed to be at their freshest, not at the close of the day when you might expect a certain amount of disappointment in the freshness of day-old pastries. The customers left in disgust and it was my turn to order my mocha, which I did using my customary good manners and polite demeanor. The girl behind the counter flatly announced the cost: $5.43 (cha-ching).

After retrieving a five-dollar bill from my wallet, I rummaged in my pocket and withdrew the handful of change I had randomly selected from the dresser… exactly 43 cents! I had chosen four dimes and three pennies out of perhaps three or four dollars worth of change and it caused me to pause a moment before exclaiming to the cashier behind the counter.

“I picked up a handful of change before leaving the room, and oddly enough it was exactly 43 cents!” and while I was not leaping about proclaiming a miracle of biblical proportions, I did voice my findings in a subdued but obviously amazed manner.

The cashier stared at me nonplussed and uttered not a word. In fact, her reaction was so lacking in anything remotely resembling interest I thought that I might have accidentally switched to Mandarin or Hindi when I spoke, but as I do not speak either language I thought this explanation unlikely. Her shoulders almost imperceptibly settled a fraction of an inch in resignation as she continued to stare at me in silence.

“I can see that you are impressed by my feat…” I added as I handed my money across the counter. With neither a thank you nor even the faintest acknowledgment of my action, she turned away and returned to a conversation she had been engaged in before the altercation regarding the stale pastries began minutes earlier.

It is hard to walk away from such an event and not feel a spike of annoyance or indignation. I know that the cashier was not a mute, and it did not seem as if she had suffered some trauma prior to our transaction due to the way she was quickly able to switch from stony silence to an animated discussion once her employment obligations had been met. Was she so jaded at 22-ish that her view of the world held customers as a collection of beings beneath her dignity to engage beyond announcing their incurred fees, or was she just the best applicant for the job at the time of her hiring?

When I told the story to one of the local shop owners his response was: “I doubt she’s  native of New Orleans.”

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