Dave Simpson: Coin Shortage: Who Could Have Seen This Coming?

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By Dave Simpson, Columnist

In the immortal words of Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

It was at a sandwich shop this week that the guy behind the counter asked if I minded if my change wasn’t quite exact, due to the current shortage of coins.

I resisted the urge to argue – we were both wearing masks and I get a little dizzy from oxygen deprivation – even though I’m one of those guys who picks up pennies I find in parking lots, and who is uncomfortable with those little dishes full of free pennies that clerks use to make change

When a clerk gives me a penny or two to make the change easier, I go out to my pickup and scrounge around for loose change, so I can go back in and replace the penny or two, and pay for what I buy.

The way I see it, if you get casual about pennies, then nickels, dimes and quarters are next, and before you know it, fiscal discipline breaks down, and pretty soon our country is $25 trillion in debt. (Oh, wait, I guess that’s already happened, and the big debate in Washington right now is whether or not to add another $1 trillion to that debt, or $3 trillion. My mistake.)

We should have seen this coin shortage coming.

Several years ago, my bank – Wells Fargo – took out the coin counting machines. I said to a teller, “I guess you guys aren’t in the money business anymore. Where do we go now if banks are above counting the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that make up dollars?”

It was pointed out to me, however, that this teller didn’t make the decision to rip out the coin counting machines. Decisions like that are made much higher up, by the geniuses who have been running Wells Fargo for some time now. It was the higher ups that decided they were way too important to waste time on the jar of coins that fills up on my dresser.

The teller told me I could wrap my coins myself, and bring the rolls of coins into the bank, and they would redeem them for dollars. She gave me a hand full of free wrappers.

So after that, I spent my winter evenings wrapping coins. (It’s not much of a hobby.)

Apparently, Wells Fargo wasn’t worried that I might short them a penny or two, or give them a roll of quarters with one less than required, because they always redeemed my rolls of coins without question. And here I thought bankers were picky about stuff like that. Apparently this new breed of bankers isn’t into bending down to pick up stray pennies in the parking lot.

That went on for a couple years, with me bringing in my coin bag full of wrapped coins every three or four months, and leaving with between $30 and $40 in dollars, plus a few coins to get me started on the next jar of change.

Then along came Covid-19, and a big sign was posted on the front door of our branch bank, saying someone had contracted the virus, so they had to close the lobby. Well, OK, I can go to the drive-up windows.

That went fine until my jar of coins overflowed, and it was obvious that I couldn’t load my rolls of coins into the pneumatic tube system that connects you to the tellers at the drive-up windows.

Put five rolls of heavy quarters in that system and they’ll have to call a plumber to fish the cylinder out of the innards of the drive-up.

So, my only alternative now is to take my coins to the grocery store, where they CHARGE you to take your change.

I don’t think so, Bullwinkle.

The wonder of it is we didn’t see this coming. But then, that’s the nature of this crisis. It’s full of results we should have seen coming. Close businesses and the economy tanks and unemployment goes through the roof. Surprise! Pay people more in unemployment than they make working and they won’t come back to work. Surprise!

Our clueless response to things we should have seen coming brings to mind another famous quote from Gomer:

“Shazam!”

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