Sunday, May 18, 2014

Junk Food For Thought

A few months back, I stopped at 7-11 for coffee on my way to work. 7-11's coffee is pretty delicious, is less expensive than Starbucks, and this particular 7-11 store is ideally located halfway between my home and my place of employment. Most mornings, I make coffee in my coffeemaker, but sometimes I want more. So I'd been stopping there for my morning coffee about once every two weeks.

The guy who has the morning shift at this store is a curmudgeon. Not an old curmudgeon; he's probably not a day over 45. But he doesn't greet customers, and while he's ringing up your purchases you're lucky if you get any more than a grunt out of him. He either hates his job or his life, but I don't begrudge him for his attitude. I'll let the guy be. As long as I get my coffee.

On this particular morning, I was adding sweeteners to my drink while dodging two little kids in pajamas who were frolicking around the store. As I approached the curmudgeon and his cash register, I saw a lady, also in pajamas, piling things on the check-out counter. Well, not just any things. Junk food. And tons of it.

"Hurry up!" she called to the kids, who ran up with fistfuls of Laffy Taffy.

"Can we get these?"

"Yeah, just put 'em on the counter. And go get some more stuff. Get some licorice. And some chips."

I was now behind her in line. All I wanted was to buy my coffee and get to work on time. But not only did this lady have a huge pile of junk food for the cashier to ring up, but the kids kept throwing more things on the stack, confusing the cashier. And the lady was encouraging them to keep adding to the pile.

Then I saw it... peeking out of the lady's hand -- an Oregon Trail card. Our state's 21st Century answer to food stamps. If you fill out the application and claim to be penniless, you can get something like $200 put on your card each month. For bread and milk and apples and Laffy Taffy.

Now, debate over food stamps is nothing new. I know there are those who need 'em, those who think they need 'em (I have friends who use the OT program; friends who also have $100-a-month cell phone plans they think they need, too) and people who are just plain ripping off the system.

This may or may not include people who wake up one morning and realize they still have X amount of money to spend that month, so heck, they'll just go to one of those most expensive convenience stores and buy the crappiest of food. And why the hell should they not? This is AMERICA, after all! Land of the freakin' FREE!

Meanwhile, I just want to buy my coffee. In that moment, I figured I had two choices:

1. Wait my turn, as long as it took, for curmudgeon to ring up every last thing those kids added to the pile, watch him turn an ever-darkening shade of red, gather juicy material for my next short story, and be late to work.


2. Hand over money and leave.

Somewhat regretfully, I chose #2. The coffee cost $1.75. I had $2 in cash, so I held the bucks up and asked if I could just pay. The cashier nodded once, and accepted my money.

But that wasn't the end of it.

The lady with the OT card must have missed the transaction, because as I was going out the door, I heard her say to the cashier, in surprise, "Did you just give her that coffee for free?"

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