Brave New World

Wonders never cease in our society of increasing artificial “intelligence”...

At Starbucks recently I ordered a latte and muffin: total cost $5.88. As I offered, as payment, a 10-dollar bill, the cashier’s hands flew up. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but we cannot accept cash.”

I gazed left, then right, and also behind me, to make certain I’d not suddenly been transported somewhere else. I even looked down to make sure my fly wasn’t open. A store not accepting cash for payment? This was like a priest not accepting confessions for sin. In fact, never before had anyone I’d offered money to not snagged it.

“Oh I get it, you think this is a—!” I finally responded waving the bill, yet stopping mid-thought that it could even be possible this cashier suspected me of trying to pass a counterfeit. She was young, and quite radiant, like a computer screen in a dark room, with freckles and big saucer dimples, and blessedly of an age at which innocence still wrapped her snuggly.

“I’m sorry,” she began again, “but as I said,” this time placing a hard emphasis on that legal-tender word as nearly old as humanity itself, “we cannot accept cash.”

“Then what am I to do?” I asked. “I want my coffee and muffin.”

“We’ll need a credit card,” she said.

“I don’t have a credit card,” I said. (I lied; I didn’t want to pay with a credit card.)

“Debit card, then.”

“Strike two.”

“Well, of course we also accept smart phones,” she pressed on, meaning, of course, apps.

“No smart phone, either,” I said, showing her my flip-up cell phone with holster, circa 2004.

By now the shift manager, who’d sort of been listening in, lumbered over. “Go get some paper and record this customer’s order,” he instructed, adding, “and start keeping a list in case you get any more of these cash orders,” his face as red as a coffee bean before it’s picked. Then he looked at me. “This machine, sir,” he said steadfastly, referring to the uppity point-of-sale unit (alias cash register) that was the cause of all this trouble. He paused. “That is, the system that makes this machine work, sir,” he elaborated, “—it is not presently allowing us to accept cash, only plastic and apps.” Again he paused, this time either to catch his breath or unscramble his brain. Then he quickly finished: “So why don’t we just go ahead and swipe a credit card now — we accept almost every kind — and then everything will be all hunky-dory, shall we?” And with this the girl leaned over and whispered the awful truth in his ear.

Meanwhile my latte and muffin had just arrived on the counter, and to free up my hands I put the lonely 10-spot back in my pocket. At the same time, to the girl the manager muttered something to the effect that of course they’d had no choice but to honor my order; it wasn’t my fault the cash feature of their compu-register had crashed so that they couldn’t access the money drawer. And then away he stomped, turning back only ever so briefly to add, “District ain’t gonna like this.”

I smiled at each then in turn, and, backing away with my free breakfast, bid them adieu.

But by then I was just static to the Starbuckians.

For it seemed their present concern was how to make things right with the machine....