Following up on yesterday's roll of quarters whine-fest, I used my public confession as fuel to visit H-E-B between work and band practice, determined not to let a little thing like change stand in the way between me and a simple but necessary chore like laundry. Plus, I'm really tired of wearing this pair of underwear.
I go in, and it's one of the nice H-E-Bs. Austinites will know what I mean, but for those who live on different planets from Texas, H-E-B is the main grocery chain here, and it has a very wide variance in quality between branches. Some H-E-Bs, like the two closest to my house, are grimy and crowded affairs that look like hangovers from the 1970s. Others get deluxe treatment with gourmet fresh food counters, full delis, and the like. The one near where my band practices isn't the fanciest H-E-B in Austin, but it's nice enough to have a Chase bank inside of it, and I think, "Score. Yes." I also mentally high-five myself. I maybe also pumped my fist. I should mention that I'm white.
There's a person at the counter who's performing some arcane transaction with the one teller that doesn't require paperwork, but somehow ends up in the teller doling out $83.65 in exact change to her. (Yes, I'm nosy.) Just as they're finishing this very deliberate business and it's about to be my turn, a manager-type comes out from behind the counter and approaches me, saying, "Can I help you?"
"I just want to get a roll of quarters," I say. I'm not absolutely sure he's a manager. He just speaks with managerial authority. And he has a goatee, which, I've found, is the cop mustache of the retail world.
"Would you like to deduct that from your account?" he asks.
"Actually, I just want to buy a roll of quarters," I reply, showing him my $10 bill.
"Do you have an account?"
"Um, no. I just need to buy a roll of quarters."
"Around the corner to the service desk," he says, steering me toward the supermarket customer service area. Apparently, Chase quarters are for customers only. Now, I had a long and abusive co-dependent relationship with Bank of America that finally ended last year when I escaped to credit union land, so I'm entirely unlikely to jump back into a mega-bank anytime soon, but this struck me as particularly stupid and rude of Chase. A man walks into your convenient grocery store branch with a perfectly good $10 and asks to exchange it for an equally good roll of American quarters. That man is obviously just off work and is wearing a tie. He seems to be the type of man who has money to put into banks. (I'm definitely not, but moving right along.) And you deny his request because of ... a policy? Is there a shortage of quarters at Chase? Are they using those quarters to pay back their bailout money?
Fine. Whatever. I'll take my $10 to someone who can appreciate its beauty, the way it sits in a cash drawer so light and compact unlike, say, a heavy-ass roll of quarters. I go around the corner and spot an idle guy standing at a window. He spots me. We do the nod. I take the six steps to approach him, but just before I get to the window, he picks up the phone. I prepare to wait, replaying my father's age-old service pet peeve rant about people who help phone callers instead of live customers. Another worker, who looked frightfully busy with a folder stuffed with paperwork, puts his burden down and beckons me over to his window at the other end of the long counter. As I take my six steps to him, I hope he won't pick up the phone.
"What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to buy a roll of quarters," I say, handing him my $10 bill.
"We charge 20 cents for that."
I pull back my cash. "Really?"
I allow a long and uncomfortable stare to pass between us as I run yesterday's post through my head, about how difficult it is for me to do simple chores. My principled side wants to take my money and my non-business elsewhere, just to prove a point that charging a premium for making change is totally un-American. But my lazy side is like, "Dude, you finally got up the courage and moxie to buy a roll of quarters. You happen to have $10. When is a chance like this going to come again? In a month? Two? Just buy the quarters."
"Why do you charge to make change?" I ask.
"It's a convenience charge," he says, which isn't an explanation, it's an adjective. This is more convenient than feeding my bill into a free change machine at the laundromat where I will actually use the quarters? Still, the interior monologue convinces me. I get another dollar out of my pocket and hand him the $11. He puts it in his till and gives me back 80 cents. The three quarters come from a stuffed-to-the-gills quarter slot. He then goes back to his folder.
"My quarters?" I ask.
"Oh, right, sorry." He turns to his colleague, who just got off the phone. "Do you have a roll of quarters?" He doesn't. The dude looks in a back room, then eventually walks out from behind the counter and hits up several cashiers before finding my roll. He comes back and hands it to me, almost triumphant.
I took it and left ... but what I wanted to do was yell at him. For charging me 20 cents to do what I could have done, which is wait in line at a checkout counter and straight up trade $10 for $10. For not explaining the policy or showing me where it was posted in the store for patrons to see. And mostly for not reaching into his giant pile of quarters and counting out two heaping handfuls, because at least that would have been entertaining enough to be worth the surcharge.
I'd like to call on America to never give business to Chase or H-E-B again, but I'm not Kevin Smith fighting an airline, and even if the readership of this blog got 100% on board with a boycott over my 20 cents, I don't think these corporations would notice. Still, I feel like I paid just enough to earn the right to say, to both Chase and H-E-B, "Lick my ass."
Finally, let's pay tribute to the Count for inspiring the post title.