My Precious (Metals)

Every new week begins with a recurring anxiety attack – will I make it to the weekend? Will I collect enough of the precious commodities needed to survive in San Francisco?

There are two very common commodities being used in the Bay Area – Plastic, and Quarter Dollar coins. Without any of them, you are doomed.

Plastic, apparently, is very cheap. So cheap that a company would prefer to issue you a new plastic card (preferably a credit card) and send it to you by mail, before even asking whether you need it or plan to use it. It’s even OK if they send it to the wrong guy…

I therefore have in my possession 5 different credit cards, some club member cards, and possibly a health insurance card of previous tenants in my apartment.

Anyone thinking “Identity Theft” right now is perfectly normal…

The American Express Card - Don't leave home without it, or we'll send you 3 more!

The source of my weekly anxiety, however, are those nasty little quarter coins.

Wash & Dry Laundry? 14 Quarters for one load. Imagine facing 3 loads a week. (I am a messy guy, I know).

Parking? $4 an hour (16 quarters!) into the meter.

Taking a Muni? 6 Quarters each way.

And so on and so on.

I even had a collector’s tip session from some friends – some use the “go into the bank and ask for $50 in quarters” technique. Others use the “Always ask for your change in quarters, and never give anyone yours – they are too rare to find…” technique.

My own technique (don’t tell anyone, I am sure there is some law against it) is to change dollar bills into quarters at a Muni station on my way home, without (here’s the tricky part), taking the Muni afterwards.

It is hard for me to describe the delight I take in standing for 5 minutes trying to make a machine accept very old and wrinkled bills. The only thing that beats that is watching the people stand in line behind me in patience. The (bizarre) culture of standing in line and enjoying it will require its own post, however.

The only other place in the world I am aware of which has a similar shortage of coins is Buenos Aires, where the Peso coin is in such a shortage that shops prefer to give you 2 pesos of change instead of 1 peso to save on their coins.

Extrapolating from Argentina's recent financial troubles and the current US crisis, the only conclusion is that quarter coins are to blame for Wall Street falling down.

A Quarter Coin, a.k.a, "The item that holds the nation by its balls"

My only tip for visitors is this - next time you see some guy begging for a quarter in the street, don’t turn him down thinking “poor homeless guy - he’s probably going to use it all for alcohol and drugs".

He might just want to park his Porsche, and at 16 quarters an hour, he would probably be happy to a $1 to quarter exchange rate…

- Ron