Living the Cash Life in the Big City

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The downtown Houston Randall’s on Milam was in full after-work mode yesterday when right around 6 p.m. an announcement came over the PA system to the gist of: We’re sorry. Something is screwed up. Everyone has to pay in cash.

It might as well have been an announcement that the Dow had crashed to an irretrievable point. Most people stopped in the aisles and looked blankly at each other. As in any good disaster situation, strangers started to talk to each other. The shared experience: Who carries cash?

The never-say-die customer-service rep designated to spread the word came back on the PA system. Shoppers, there’s an ATM machine here. She also said something about being back in working order in 15-20 minutes, so some shoppers stalled for a while, but when that hope seemed dimmer by the second – the red-faced manager kept leaning in and out of his office giving directions to the staff while he remained on the phone – shoppers started lining up, or leaving sans essentials.

I took a look at the cart, took a few things out, didn’t get others on my list and thought I might be able to make it with the $60 I had from going to the bank the day before. I hesitated at $58, but with the cashier and bagger urging me on, I stupidly went for it. The bill topped out at $88 and change. My Randall’s pals told me: just get the rest from the ATM. I turned around and there were already seven people ahead of me.

End of story: I got out of there more than a few minutes later with groceries, a $2 ATM fee and more ATM charges ahead of me from my own bank. No word on whether Randall’s will reimburse shoppers for the fees. Randall’s personnel did apologize profusely; the sense of camaraderie with other shoppers was kind of nice; and maybe it was all just a test run for our future lives if the credit situation maintains the dive it’s in right now.

Margaret Downing

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