One thing I love about where I live is that you still have a little bit of "local color" around, in that there are quite a few small businesses owned and operated by local residents. About a mile from my house, there's a little corner store called Steve & Edie's. Supposedly, it's the longest continuously run store in the area. It's been an on-going business since the 1800's, and it's always a great place to go if you need a 6 pack, a propane tank, a jar of peanut butter and a quart of oil and don't feel like making the 20 minute trek to the closest convenience store. Once in a while, I'll stop there and grab a quart of milk on the way home.
The last time I was in, the girl behind the counter asks me if I want to join the milk club. I ask her if that means we'd meet once a week at the grange hall and talk about milk, but she just smiles nervously and obviously has no idea what the hell I'm talking about. I decide to join, and she writes my name on a little 3x5 card, and sticks in in a yellow plastic box. She explains that after I buy 10 quarts of milk, I get one free. Awesome. Free milk.
I stop in there maybe once every two months, so it's going to take me a long time to get any free moo juice out of this deal.
My wife does the same thing, stopping by every once in a while for this or that. Last week she stops in buys a few things, including a quart of milk. When she puts the milk on the counter, the girl says, "Are you in the milk club?"
My wife says, "I don't think so, but I'm pretty sure my husband is."
The girl then asks, "Do you know his name?" My wife looks at her to see if she is serious. She is. "Yes, I do, actually. His name is Johnny," she answers.
The girl then asks, [and I am not making this up] "Are you his wife?" Again, my wife looks at her to see if she is serious. Again, the answer is yes, as a heart attack.
My wife replies jokingly, "No, I'm really his girlfriend, and I'm just pretending to be his wife in order to steal his free milk."
Nothing. The girl just stares at her in puzzled silence.
"Yes, I'm his wife," she finally says, not able to stand it any longer. The girl smiles, obviously relieved, and bags the milk.
It's that kind of place.
Last Saturday, as we're driving by good ol' S&E, I decide that I want to stop in and pick up a bag of flour to make some pizza. I walk in and realize I don't have any cash on me. I look at the counter, and praise-be-to-god, Steve & Edie's has entered the 20th century. Not the 21st mind you, but I'll take what I can get. A credit/debit card swiper has appeared. The cashier proudly informs me that I can now use my debit card. I grab my flour and some yeast, she rings them up, then takes my card and swipes it.
Beep, Beep, Squonk.
She swipes it again.
Beep, Beep, Squonk.
She swipes it once more. Same thing. She looks at me like I'm trying to pass a counterfeit fifty, and asks me if I have a different card, because "this one isn't reading correctly."
First day with the new machine. Sweet Jesus, I am so screwed.
I give her another card, knowing the outcome before she even tries it. I knew that sound. That was the sound of busticated machinery. Either that, or something isn't set up right. She tries the card, and gets the same series of noises.
I ask her if it's connected via satellite or modem. She looks at me like I just asked her to name the capital of Uzbekistan. I can't imagine that it's satellite, since there's no new dish on the roof.
I ask her if it uses the phone line. She says she doesn't know, but she can tell me that the little light on the phone lights up when this thing is first turned on.
Good enough for me.
I tell her that there's probably no dial tone, so it can't connect and send the card information. She looks at me skeptically, picks up the phone and listens. Then she yells toward the back room, "Maureen! Are you on the phone?" Maureen yells back that no, she ain't.
I ask her what she hears. She says she hears nothing. I ask her if I can take a look. She says sure, go ahead.
I'm deeply and seriously committed to my flour at this point. I will not leave this store without it, even if I have to tuck it under my arm like a football and leap head-first out the side window.
While all this is happening, customers are piling up. There are three irritated gentlemen behind me, all Carhartt and Marlboro box, and my wife is still waiting in the car. It's been about 15 minutes so far. I know that she cannot possibly be happy. I keep expecting to hear the car start up and pull away.
I find myself on my hands and knees behind the counter, tracing through what looks like about a dozen ancient telephone lines, none of which appears to be connected to anything. I immediately rule out the old dusty 4 pronger, and concentrate on the RJ-11 connectors. I plug one into the back of the card reader, pick up the receiver and listen. Nothing. I try the next one. Nothing. Third time is the charm, and I get a dial tone. Someone had plugged the wrong phone line into the card reader.
"OK, try it now," I tell her, standing up and brushing the accumulated crud off my jeans. She slides my card one more time, I hear the modem connect, I hear some squealing, and her face lights up. My sale went through. The people in line behind me applaud. (actually, I'm lying. They didn't really applaud. However, I'm pretty sure one of them muttered, "bout fuckin' time" under his breath, if that counts.)
I fully expect I'll see about 6 charges for it when I get my statement at month-end, but it's OK.
I have my flour. Pizza Will Be Made.
As I leave, I look at my watch. In and out in a little less than 20 minutes.
Believe me, you can't buy that kind of convenience at just any convenience store.
Beep, Beep, Squonk.