I don’t like self-service. It sounds dirty. Plus, I’m no good at it. I learned that years ago, the first time I encountered an unmanned pay station in a parking lot. Against all odds, I managed to navigate the buttons and introduced my credit card to the machine. I even got it back out again. I looked around for a ticket to come chunking out of the box, but there wasn’t any. So I wandered off the lot secure in the belief that some collaboration had occurred between my card, the machine, and a global positioning satellite, and they had sent a halo of paidness over my car.
They hadn’t. A whisper of a receipt had wafted into a slot at the bottom of the machine, intended for my dashboard, and perhaps the next person had gotten it, or not, but my windshield was wearing a $40 ticket when I came back. I sent a note to the authorities explaining that I had paid and was merely an idiot, but I used complete sentences and spelled everything correctly, and they were not moved. If I’d gone in person, my shortcomings would have been more clear. I would have had my money back in five minutes, plus maybe a little something extra to tide me over until my caretaker showed up.
I guess if I knew how any of it works I would be a little snappier about it. I’ve tried to buy a light-rail ticket only a few times. They’ve got machines right on the platform. Two or three trains will go by while I’m prodding the pay box for soft spots. First, of course, I look for the place to put my coins. It’s not obvious. I imagine it’s about at walker-height. But they’d really prefer you use something else. I find another portal to the ticket-world and start hammering away at buttons, but that’s rarely successful either. I always think the machine has just quit on me, but it turns out that somewhere it’s waiting for me to tell it “okay” before it will go on. Everything’s got self-esteem issues these days.
“Okay.” Still no ticket. Then I remember that most people on the train have their tickets jammed right into their phones somehow. I don’t know how they get in there, but I take out my phone and pass it over the machine Ouija-style, up, down, along the sides and underneath, hoping something will go “blip.” Instead a paper towel shoots out the bottom and apparently I’ve also ordered the third season of “House Of Cards.” And this, I think darkly, is a machine in my native language in my home town.
I will not do the self-service line at the grocery store. I will not. I’d probably scan my vegetables too hard and get premature salsa. No, sir: I want human hands on my fruit. Someone whose shirt I’m on a first-name basis with.