Search This Blog

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Principled Science of Road Kill…

Darrell into heavy metalsWalking home from the Valley the other day on the shoulder by Swiss Hall I found a quarter. Tails, it was, as if I’d won the toss…someone’s portfolio twenty-five cents less…my gain, their loss. How it got there is anyone’s guess, rolled off the fiscal cliff, perhaps. In case you’re puzzling over the title of this post, I’d better explain.

One of The Ripple’s first posts entertained the idea of  road kill, not the dead skunk in the middle of the road/dead ‘possum variety (that’s “road pizza,” isn’t it?), but the numismatic kind: the gathering and collecting of lost coins. In that post (“Three Penny Walk,” 2/27/2010 ) I hinted I might treat the subject at a later date, and The Ripple always makes good on its promise. Here’s where you get your two-bits worth out of that quarter.

Years ago about town I would see an elderly gentleman groping the coin return cups in the local phone booths. He would move from one booth to the other fishing for any change a previous caller had forgotten to collect. These were pre-lottery days in Washington State and no doubt this was the old fellow’s pastime. (I’m sure by now he’s been summoned by The Last Calling or I’d see him in front of the lotto kiosks caught up in a scratching frenzy. Besides, in this age of cells and I-Phones, the telephone booth is an endangered species.) The old guy, I’m sure, knew the location of every phone booth in town and like the postman, went on his rounds daily.

When I finally escaped from the world of work, I vowed three things: first, I’d not take up golf; next, I would not purchase a metal detector and cruise abandoned parking lots or sites where public gatherings were recently held; and third, I’d not become the old coin-pilfering fellow’s successor.

But I have scooped up considerable “coin” over the years.You might say, in fact, my vigilance for dropped, misplaced, lost coins borders on compulsion. Monetary “Road Kill,” I call it. My obsession grew during my teaching years when I would spot small change in the school hallway from time to time. By the time I left the profession, I had gathered enough loose/lost change to fill a pint jar. A penny found is a penny earned: nickels, dimes, quarters…so much the better. ( The Ripple’s “lost coin” post cited the  fact if it takes you longer than six seconds to snatch up a downed penny, you’re making less than minimum wage.) My quest for displaced coins prompted a thoughtful Christmas gift from my mom a few years back: a Mason half gallon canning jar, the glass the color of that antique bluish-green. I fitted the jar with a ring and seal into which I sliced a coin slot. My Road Kill jar, I call it, and over the years in my attempt to fill the jar, not only have I become accustomed to scanning the ground for coins, but I believe I have taken this pursuit to such a level I can truthfully call it a “Science,” The Science of Road Kill,” and I’m willing to pass it along to The Ripple’s readers:

Likely places to find coins…parking lots, of course: the expanse of territory makes for prime hunting ground because of the traffic that uses them daily. Where there are vehicles, there are drivers who fish their car keys from their pockets or purses and in the process spill out loose change. Shoppers seek parking spots closest to the store and most coins will be lost in this area, roughly the top third of the lot: the farther from the store, the less the likelihood of finding downed change. There’s an exception, though, to the coins/proximity to store ratio: handicapped parking spaces;  I can’t recall finding coins in a handicapped spot because those parking spots experience much less traffic than the parking lot proper. Also, the smaller the parking lot, the less chance one will find coins. Note: park across the lot from where you wish to shop, especially in the mornings when the sun glints off the surface of  lost coins. Besides, striding through empty parking spots means extra exercise: no RK coinage, after all, will replace your health.

Gas stations. Until Prius, Smart Car, and electric vehicles are the rule, gas stations will be high traffic areas. Again, drivers fumbling for keys proliferate coin spillage. Gas station/convenience stores double your chances…two parking areas in one!

Vending machines. Many require change, so some is bound to slip through the fingers of the customer. Check the ground around the outdoor soft drink stations, especially in summer. Supermarket change stations. Because of the frequent exchange of cash, coins often end up on the floor in these aisles. Customers in a hurry scoop their change from the coin returns and disregard the occasional coin that slips to the floor. (An observation: it’s surprising how many people won’t bother to stoop and retrieve a lost coin.) Coin Star kiosks (not all the change dumped into the machine rattles through  its works; every so often a coin or two ricochets off the hopper). And not all the change makes it into the tip jar at Starbuck’s either.

Out and about. It’s surprising how many coins end up alongside the road. Years ago I visited a friend in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and spent a couple of nights in a motel in Coeur d’alene.  On an early morning walk, I found nearly a pocketful of change in the gutter along my route. Pennies, I suspect, some people just toss from their cars to rid themselves of  the weight. Discarded nickels, dimes, quarters, have me perplexed: would you discard your change  just to save the fabric of your jeans?

All sciences need an ethical balance, and this is true of the Science of Road Kill. Just what qualifies as “road kill?” My general definition is any coin that finds its way to the ground, floor, or in the case of my quarter, on the shoulder of the road and lies there cold. It is poor form to scoop up a rolling coin (unless it has escaped your grasp). Change in coin returns is Not the ground; the coins absentmindedly left in the return receptacle by the customer ahead of you, leave them for the clerk or deposit them (conspicuously, if possible) in the charity jar on the checkout counter. In the  pure Science of Road Kill you let the coins find you, not the other way around—certainly not by scouting every change receptacle in town. And if for some unknown reason you feel inclined to tack back and forth across parking lots with a metal wand in your hand—especially if you’re a man my age—please do it under cover of darkness. Now young Darrell, pictured above,  in this era of weak economy, gets a pass from The Ripple.

Then there’s the currency RK…you find it, too. What dollar denomination goes beyond the ethics of RK? A dollar bill, a fiver, a ten spot, a “Jackson?” Where do you draw the line? Years ago I found a twenty dollar bill in a bank parking lot. In those days, before twenties spent like fives as they do nowadays, a twenty to most people was a considerable sum of money.  Obviously, a bank customer had lost the bill.“The right thing to do,” I thought, “is turn the money in to the bank manager.” The manager thanked me, put the money in an envelope, wrote my name on it, and said if no one claimed the bill in a month, it was mine to keep. (I believe I ended up with the money.)  Half a dozen years ago I found another twenty dollar bill in a mall parking lot. A dozen or so businesses occupied the mall and trying to find which shopper might  have lost the bill seemed futile. “Legitimate RK,” I told myself as I pocketed the money; the bill, now buried under several layers of change, still nestles in the half gallon jar of RK. I have yet to find a bill larger than a twenty, so  I’ve not had to reexamine my RK ethics (excepting the $1,500 I found in the Valley April 1, April before last.)

Now say you’re a disciple of the Science of RK but a timid and self-conscious one. You’re in the checkout line. Your hypersensitive coin radar goes off. There’s a coin, a penny (not shiny, but drab), nearly trod upon by the customer checking out ahead of you. An abandoned coin…ON THE FLOOR and well within the ethical parameters of RK; however, there are three people behind you. If you stoop for the likes of a penny, all three, including the clerk about to wait on you, will see you bend and scoop up the coin. What will they see, you fear? That same old scrounger going from phone booth to phone booth fisting out change. Even though the author Annie Dillard said she’d hate to meet a man who wouldn’t stoop to pick up a penny, you feel their gaze on you, impressions whirling around in their heads. I have the answer—a Science of RK solution. As the two feet straddling your prize shuffle off, step forward, take your car keys from your pocket, and “accidentally” drop them next to the downed penny of your desire, and in one deft swoop retrieve keys and the coin simultaneously. Who, after all, hasn’t accidentally dropped his car keys? Instant empathy—and you are one penny richer!

I weighed my RK jar the other day and it tipped the scales at 16.4 pounds. The pile of change is now level with the neck of the bottle; add a few more coins and they’ll no longer drop through the slit in the lid. Back to the quarter I slipped into the RK  jar. It was one of the state quarters, those coins the U.S. Treasury designates “collectible” so Americans will save more money. Mine was a 2000 New Hampshire quarter, abused and abraded by vehicle tires, as most RK is. The New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” quarter may very well prove to be the most collectible of all the state quarters because of the geologic formation featured on the reverse of the coin. “The Old Man of the Mountain,” a  famous New Hampshire landmark on Profile Mountain, slid off the cliff May 3, 2003, and no facelift will be able to restore it.N.H. State quarter

At this point you may feel you’ve gotten too much for your two-bits, so I’ll wrap up my RK post with one last anecdote: this one tinged with a little irony. Three years ago a stray cat showed up on our neighbor’s porch and in keeping with her love of animals, she set out a bowl of milk and dish of cat food and that sealed the deal. The cat was jet black. “Midnight,” our neighbor named him. For a year Midnight was a regular on our properties…main courses on the neighbor’s porch, appetizers at our bird feeding station. One morning as I was leaving the driveway, I saw a black mound on the fog line in the northbound lane of SR 203 and decided to investigate. The mound was Midnight, of course, lying just three feet away from the safety of the shoulder, a whole new world to explore just one yard away. I thought I’d spare my neighbor the grisly sight—certain sure she would see the cat when she left her driveway—of what once was Midnight sadly now was road kill. I lifted the cat’s  mangled body from the pavement, carried it down the bank, and gently lofted his carcass into a thick covert of blackberries to his final resting place. Now here’s the irony: on my way up the bank I discovered a damp ten dollar bill lying  in the weeds—Road Kill.

Whoever said a black cat brings bad luck.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment