Early jobs and other horror stories--Vendor Tender

Tending Vending Machines

Another in a series on work called THE REAL WORLD

By Russell D. Hoffman. Copyright (c) 1996 by Russell D. Hoffman.

Smile and the World Smiles With You... I Think...

I used to service vending machines for a small outfit in a big city in Connecticut. I was the #1 Vendor Tender at the company. What made me #1 was that my counts were accurate, and my machines produced better income, because I'd vary the mix and try different things and mainly, pay a little attention.

It was the coldest winter Connecticut had experienced in decades, and surely the coldest I have ever experienced. Up before 5:00 am, crack the ice off the windshield of the car, drive to work before six, load soda and candy into the truck, crack the ice off the windshield of the truck, and then travel to the first stop, which I reach by about 7:00 am. It was a good job, which I quit only when something substantially better came along, owning a spice route I think was next.

We serviced all sorts of interesting places. We serviced machines at the airport, at gun manufacturers, wire weavers, flea-bag hotels, office buildings, and just about every local government building you can imagine, including City Hall, the Welfare Department, the City Jail, the locker room of the main Police depot, and all kinds of other wonderful places.

It was a seedy job. When my boss was taking me around showing me the route, he said if anyone ever asks for their money back, just give it to them cheerfully. Smile. If it's the same person every week and it seems to be a problem, just keep paying it out because a lot of times, they actually do use the machine a lot and they do get ripped off just about every week.

And smile, smile, smile. He looked at me and smiled, and said to remember to smile, especially if it starts getting hot tempered, because it's much harder to punch a face that's smiling at you. I smiled at him. I remembered.

And if anyone wants to take the company's hard-earned coinage, go ahead and let them lug it home. Offer them the hand truck if you have to, but don't get hurt.

One day, I get back to my truck and I'm loading the hand truck into the back, and I see that the side door is ajar. When I go around to the side, there's a guy in there with the safe open and he's loading his arms up with coin bags. I say something disgustedly, like "oh man..." and turn away and back off, and he gets out with his arms loaded with bags and starts walking away. I keep my distance.

I didn't want to turn my back on him, but was backed towards a wall, so I was put in a somewhat confrontational position. I start suggesting to him that he should just sort of drop the bags and go away. Just talking to him, I guess, so he knows I'm not jumpy. They hate jumpy customers, it makes them nervous. Try to keep your criminal calm at all times.

I Was Lucky To Escape With My Life!

He calmly threatened to put his screwdriver into my stomach and since this screwdriver had previously been used as a prybar to open the safe, I knew that a) he was not averse to missusing tools and b) it was a big screwdriver. I backed off some more as he kept walking away.

Just then a security guard came out of the building, so I started yelling that this guy had just robbed my truck, and he started giving chase, but the guy got in a car and it sped off, and the security guard had to jump aside, but still managed to slam his billyclub into the hood of the car. I don't know why he didn't aim for the windshield, but he didn't.

I spent the afternoon looking at photos at the police station, but I couldn't possibly identify him. Just didn't feel like going back to work that afternoon, I guess.

Mr. Saturday Night--Special...

I had been to the police station every week, but always in the basement servicing the vending machines in the police locker room. There's hardly ever anyone there. For a while there was a poster I really wanted on the bulletin board. I wanted to steal it, make a copy of it, and return it, but then another copy of it showed up next to the gun counter, and the one on the bulletin board was half-covered by something else, so finally I just took it. Call me a thief if you must. Call it my bad environment, which I'm about to describe.

It's a picture of a gun about the size of, and designed to be worn in place of, a large beltbuckle. Underneath the "actual size" drawing is a statement saying, in effect, that you better look for things this small anywhere.

We had three machines in the locker room. A cigarette vending machine (which I never handled) and a soda machine and a candy machine.

One day, I go in, and the candy machine is all smashed up. Wrecked, bashed, glass broken, money gone, or most of it. Lot's of candy gone too. Out of position. My poor machine. What did it do? I always give money back whenever anyone asks for it?

You're Not Going To Believe This...

Now, I'm in shock. I stand there and stare at the machine for a while, then go off and call my boss. I start out with, You're Not Gonna Believe This, and tell him what I found.

Here's the Part You're Not Going To Believe...

He say's yeah, that happens a lot! You see, he explains, they have these billyclubs, so when the machine rips them off they beat on it with the billyclubs. Especially if they're having a bad day anyway. And, they're all kinda high-strung to begin with.

So I go back into the locker room to straighten things out, but I can't fix the machine, because I don't happen to have a welding iron for one thing, so I fill the soda machine, and empty what's left in the candy machine neatly into a box, which I replenish and leave in the soda machine so the repair guy can fill the candy machine when he's done working on it.

While I'm doing this, one of the cops comes in, and we talk about it a bit. I'm thinking, of course, is this the one, or one of the ones who did this? I don't say anything like that, of course. And I don't tell him how surprised I was. After all, my boss wasn't surprised, so why should I be?

The cop gives me his theory of who done it, that it's those new guys they've been hiring. I see, I say, but I didn't see at all.

Moral: Just because they're cops, doesn't mean they aren't real human.

This will lift you're heart...

I left the keyring in the bill changer at a handgun manufacturer one day. These guy's guns have been used to kill some of the finest people that ever lived, some of my heros. Why? Because they're so well made. Assasins the world over prefer them, and so do many law officials.

You had to walk through the entire shop floor several times to service the site. This was great fun because of all the delicate heavy machinery used for making some of the world's finest firearms. I'd go down different aisles just to watch different machines. The machinery was always in full swing, drilling and shaving and stamping and cutting, and most of the machines had a constant flow of oil onto the part being worked to cool it and carry away debris.

Good people build good weapons

When I got to my next stop, which was way across town, I discovered that I had left the vending machine key ring somewhere. I turned around and went back, retracing my last steps, but when I walked in the back door everybody seemed to know why I was there, and they directed me to the front office. None of the money in the bill changer had been stolen. They said they had gotten hold of people at my office already, who had offered the guy a reward already, which was refused. I spoke to my boss by phone, and he told me to be sure to thank the guy personally. They called him over so I could thank him, which I did. And he wouldn't even accept a sandwich from me. Finally, we settled on a cup of coffee and a handshake, and a smile.

Ersatz Coinage

They shave pennies to the size of dimes. They stamp out copper plate to the size of quarters. They drill holes and tie strings to the coins. I don't think any of them worked really well, because I never found a machine full of slugs and empty of candy. I don't think the string thing ever really worked in modern coin hoppers. And this was twenty years ago. Sooner or later, and it usually couldn't have taken long, the string breaks. Using slugs is a federal offense. Real Looser Prosecuted for Using Slug In Candy Vending Machine.

If you enjoyed this story, please check out these others:

(Highlighted entries are currently online. The rest I'm writing as I get time.)

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The Animated Software Company

Mail to: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com
First placed online July 25th, 1996.
Last modified March 27th, 1997.
Webwiz: Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman