Sunday, April 17, 2011

Change, We Can Believe In II

We're lucky to have a really good coffee store near our offices - because, this being Mexico, we put in longer, harder hours than a lot of other countries whose names we could mention, so we're constantly in need of a caffeine fix. It takes about three minutes to walk there, which is fortunate because the process of actually obtaining coffee takes longer than some surgeries we've undergone. Today we set a record of nearly 30 minutes to pick up our usual order: a kilo of the house blend, ground for paper filter.

Though the shop sells nothing but coffee, so grinding and bagging coffee is literally all the kid who works there has to do, he approaches every order with the same tentative sense of wonder and apprehension that we image he felt on his very first day. Watching him work reminds us of ourselves wrapping Christmas presents: It's pretty simple, and we know how to do it, but we don't do it very often and would hate to fuck it up, so we bring a certain gingerness to the process. In the end, two 500-gram bags of fresh-ground coffee were successfully sealed shut with scotch tape, and we all exhaled. And then we made the mistake of trying to pay for 135 pesos worth of coffee with a 200-peso bill.

"Do you have anything smaller?" he asked, after several minutes rummaging for change in the back room. We explained that the next smallest bill in the Mexican currency system, the 100-peso note, would not actually cover the cost of the coffee, but that in any case, no, we didn't.

"Wait here," he said, and - in a time-honored Mexican tradition - took off down the street in search of change. For 15 minutes, we stood alone in the coffee shop - more than enough time to have gone home, gotten exact change, and returned. Or to have pulled our car around and loaded it up with the store's safe, the coffee roaster, and a couple of 50 kg. bags of Chiapas beans.

After a quarter of an hour of searching, he returned empty-handed - because how could any merchant in the centro of a large city at 3:00 in the afternoon of the first day of the biggest tourist week of the year be expected to have the equivalent of 15 dollars in change?

Back into the storeroom he went, and we could hear the methodical plink-plink-plinking of someone counting out coins. The usual way to configure 65 pesos would be one bill and two coins - maybe two bills and three coins if you don't have any 50s. Instead, our boy comes out with what we later counted out to be 83 coins, mostly 50-centavo pieces, muttered something that sounded like an apology, and poured them into our cupped hands. Then we walked home more slowly than usual, trying not to drop them.

5 comments: said...

Now you will have plenty of change for the public transport.

Anonymous said...

why didn't he take some of the coins out into the neighborhood and trade them for bills? alternatively, why didn't he put your coins into a cup or a bag for you?
makes life more interesting the way he did it -- viva mexico!!

Manny, Moe and Jack said...

Those coins make good shims when realigning the car's suspension after hitting a few thousand potholes. Save them!!

Charles Pergiel said...

According to my calculations, you paid $5.29 US a pound for your coffee. A quick glance at the internet shows coffee runs about $13 a pound with free shipping. I can't tell you how much it runs in the stores, the only coffee I buy is from McDonalds, and it's 75 cents for a small cup, with the senior discount. I must be getting old.

Burro Hall said...

Oh yeah - no complaint about the actual price of the coffee, which is well below the price I'd pay in NY. But in NY, I could pay with a $20 without the clerk leaving the shop unattended for half an hour.