I stopped by the True Value hardware store to pick up a new pair of work gloves (I mislaid the old pair). While there, I picked up a collapsible chair—I have one, but since catherine (my significant other, deliberately spelled with a small “c”) will be down from Canada just before an outdoor three day Jazz Fest, we’ll need another. I headed for the cashier, and remembering that I only had a few dollars in my wallet (I have a bad habit of carrying around paychecks instead of visiting the bank), I pulled out the plastic.
“Debit or credit?” asked the clerk. I always use debit, since it just comes out of my checking account anyway, and I don’t want to add to my credit balance. “Debit,” I said, picking up the keypad on the counter. “Push the green button to accept the amount,” she instructed. “I can’t negotiate?” I quipped.
She laughed. “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” The man in line behind me was also amused. “It’d be like priceline,” he said. [I didn’t know what that was, but a little research reveals he meant priceline.com, a primarily travel-based web site where visitors can, indeed, bid what they’re willing to pay. But I got the general idea.] “You should write about that,” he continued. “Places like ‘Reader’s Digest’ pay money for pieces like that.”
I should have dope slapped myself. I felt like Michael Keaton’s speech writer character Kevin in the movie “Speechless” when, after rival speech writer and love interest Julia (Geena Davis) stumps him with a simple question about specifics, he mumbles to himself, “I’m a writer; I should be prepared for stuff like this..”
“That’s an EXCELLENT idea,” I answered my fellow customer, “and I’m going to my car right now to write that down before I forget.” My husky mix, waiting comfortably in the air-conditioning but impatiently wondering when we were going to get to our morning run, had to settle down for a bit while I sketched how this might go:
KEYPAD: Accept the amount? Please press Yes or No.
ME (text messaging): I’m OK with 99¢ for the gloves, but $8.99 seems a bit much for a chair that’s essentially a little plastic “canvas” and hollow metal rods.
KEYPAD: Well, you picked the cheapest chair—we have a better model.
ME: Yes, I saw it, but $10 more for almost the same chair seems extreme. Can’t we work something out on the low end chair?
KEYPAD: We can deal with the high end chair, but our margin is just too low on the cheaper chairs—we rely on volume there.
ME: Still, I bet I could go to Oneida and find a similar chair for less.
KEYPAD: OK, let me check…
…Yes, you’re right, they do have stock at $6.99
ME: So you’ll match their price?
KEYPAD: Not so fast. With today’s gas prices, you aren’t driving to a store 20 minutes away, shopping around, then 15 minutes back to the address we have on file for you, losing at least an hour of your time, just to save two bucks.
[The machine had a point. I thought for a minute.]
ME: OK, we’re going to be sitting in the sun for three days—what if I get a beach umbrella too? Can we talk package deal?
[The machine senses the opportunity for add-on sales.]
KEYPAD: That’s possible—but you’re going to need sunscreen too, aren’t you?
[Indeed, catherine is recovering from a sunburn already.]
ME: What’s the SPF?
KEYPAD: We’ve got some SPF 30 in stock.
[Displays both the regular total and the package deal total.]
Accept the amount? Please press Yes or No.
[I press Yes and enter my PIN.]