Sunday, October 18, 2009


Several years ago I went into a gas station to pay for my gas and was surprised to receive a free car wash coupon—although I had not filled my tank. The clerk explained that there was a gas minimum (I can’t remember it now; 10 gallons?) so even though I hadn’t filled my tank, I had purchased enough for a free car wash. I continued to use that gas station and convenience store, and continued to enjoy my free car washes. Then one day I paid at the pump, and was just shy of the gallon requirement, although I had, in fact, filled my tank. My Prizm wouldn’t take another drop. So I went in to ask for my validation code. It was literally, a fraction of a gallon, which equated to cents back then, but the clerk denied me a car wash. I asked to speak to the manager who, with a slightly better command of the language, also told me that I could not get a free car wash. I pursued the matter, spoke of past experiences, and did the math. In the end I asked, “Okay, you’re sure? For twenty cents today you are willing to give up my business forever?” They still refused. I have not been back since. Years—and thousands of dollars I would have spent there on fill-ups and coffees and snacks—later I have kept my word. They lost my business that day forever. And whenever possible, I try not to patronize any stations in this particular gas chain whose name rhymes with hell. As in: rot in.

I try to limit my trips to WalMart to Human Birth Control Experiences. That is, if I for a minute think my ovaries are crying out for a match for one of the remaining, withering ova, I go to WalMart to snap out of it. Still, it has its bargains and when timed correctly I can run in and out without incident. I just keep DCF programmed on my cell. In case. Anyway, I stopped going altogether when WalMart countersued a family, after a woman (WalMart employee) suffered a tragic accident on the loading dock. Eventually they made good, pressured by people like Keith Olberman and my msnbc heroes. I decided I could lift my personal boycott, but tend not to go there first if I can help it. They seem to be in the news a lot, and not for good things.

My issue today isn’t with a store, or a national chain, but more with an idea—spurred by an incident, and then another—that I intend to fuel with that kind of stick-to-it-ness (stubbornness?). Some time ago, I went into a convenience store (that doesn’t rhyme with hell) and paid 99 cents for something—probably a bottled water, or a Big Grab. And when I gave the clerk a dollar, he took it, and closed the register. Hm. I was too in a hurry to be pissed and ask for my penny back, but I thought about it.

Then just this weekend, I went into a service station, and gave the clerk one dollar in change for a 99 cent item. He put my coins in, took a penny out, and dropped it in the penny cup. I looked at him all askance and when he realized he probably did the wrong thing, I said, “forget it,” although I won’t.

I started to wonder. I contribute to them far more than I take from them. Is that true for most of us? Do these stores have glass jars under the register counters where they periodically empty those change cups? Do they really help random consumers who are a penny or two shy, or are these cups magnets for the two or three “extras” that costumers drop in, to later line the pockets of the franchisees?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind helping people, but I’m not much into leaving extra pennies behind for the store owners who are already over-pricing their merchandise. So what I’ve decided is that I’m going to stop contributing to those cups and start collecting those pennies in the change cup in my car that yesteryear would have been an ashtray. And I’m going to keep track of how many of them I collect. Then I’ll donate them to a good cause. And I’ll give periodic progress reports.

Feel free to join me. Grab an old change purse or empty said compartment in your car and save your pennies. This could be fun.

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