Last week needed to take the train into San Francisco to go to an event. I put a $10 bill into the ticket machine and subtracted $3 because I only needed $7 for a round-trip ticket. The machine printed my ticket and started spitting out my change…all in nickels.
*Ting ting ting ting!*
It was like I had just won the lottery at a slot machine.
Soon nickels were spilling out of the machine and I was on my hands and knees picking them up. I’m shoving fistfuls of change into my pockets, thinking to myself, Why nickels? Couldn’t they have given me the change in dollar-coins, or even quarters? This machine had taken something desirable—$3—and turned it into something undesirable—a bucket-full of nickels.
I look around for a homeless person to bestow all of these nickels upon. Standing behind me, and I see a guy. He is wearing a threadbare beaner, a bulky coat, stained sweatpants, and mittens with the fingers cut off. His beard and his hair are long and wild and greasy. His face is dirty. He has teeth missing. He is holding a coffee cup with one hand. His other hand is in his pocket. He is watching me scooping nickels from the cement.
I straighten and walk over to him. “Do you want some change?”
He shakes his head and looks down at his coffee cup, and for first time I notice there is steam coming out of it.
He isn’t pan-handling. He’s just some guy. Drinking a coffee.
Even if he was pan-handling, he was probably thinking the same thing I was: what’s someone supposed to do with $3 is nickels?