He paid in change.
Looking back, that was the most startling, even unsettling thing.
You know, change? Quarters and dimes and all that? He even had a handful of pennies, which aren’t actually legal tender anymore.
I know the pandemic has kind of warped our understanding of time – things that happened weeks ago feel like yesterday, 2020 feels like the summer, and anything pre-COVID-19 feels like it never happened at all – but honestly, loose change? What year is it?
But there he was, like an old-timey character from A Christmas Carol, paying for his excessively large energy drink – at 7:30 a.m. no less – by counting out money on the counter, while I waited not-so-patiently behind him, waiting to purchase gas with plastic like a normal person.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I can’t remember the last time I paid for something with paper money, let alone coins. I’ve had the same $10 bill in my wallet since the summer, and I don’t even know how it got there.
It was also the first time I’d been inside a gas station in what felt like years, a trip necessitated only by the fact that the pay-at-the-pump system wasn’t working.
Already running a bit late for work, I had to dig my mask out of my glove box and trudge inside to buy gas from a real, live person, just like the pioneers must have done when they were filling up their F-150s.
A simpler time.
Eventually, Tiny Tim paid for his beverage and left. God bless us, everyone.
I did likewise, pumped my gas and went on my merry way.
After spending a few weeks dealing with gas restrictions, why not end the year with one more bit of fuel-driven frustration?
Of course, having to wait in a line should be old hat by now – doesn’t it feel like just yesterday we were waiting in physically-distanced lineups for everything from bread to booze?
Nevertheless, having bid farewell to 2021, it’s probably best to look forward, not back. Sure, some good things probably happened, but as we cautiously inch our way into 2022, and as a new COVID-19 variant sweeps across North America, it’s becoming tougher and tougher for many of us to remember.
About four months ago, my wife and I booked a short, out-of-country trip for late January, thinking that by then, we’d be all clear to leave. Sure, we’d have to wear masks and we’d likely still be required to pay for expensive COVID-19 tests in order to return, but it was going to be our first vacation in two years, so we were happy to make any sacrifices necessary to stay safe.
In the weeks since, a strange phenomenon crept over us – I think in the before-times it was called excitement, but I’m not entirely sure. Joy, maybe? Remember joy?
Anyways, now we aren’t sure we should go – or even if we’ll even be able to. Like so much in our world right now, it will depend on whether or not the Omicron variant continues to run through the population unabated.
I guess we’ll wait and see. And if we have to cancel, we’ll adjust on the fly – another thing we’ve all become increasingly good at this year (and last). Maybe we’ll just stay in the country – how’s Winnipeg in late January?
But no matter how it turns out, here’s hoping for better things, whenever they may arrive – a life that includes vacations, but not masks or Plexiglas dividers. A society in which people don’t pay with change, or failing that, a world in which people aren’t so aggravated from nearly two years of pandemic stress that they lash out and write 675-word columns about the time they had to wait in a line for a minute.
Onward, to the future.
May our debit machines never be down.
Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.