New York Lesson No. 329: Large Bills, Small Change

I resent having no choice at 99% of the ATMs out there but to get $20 bills. I remember a time when one could get $5 and $10 bills as well as the 20s depending on the amount requested. Now, rarely, I’ll find one that dispenses 10s.

What am I gonna do about it, though, right?

All I had one morning was a $20 bill, and I really wanted a bagel. I stopped at Kossar’s Bialys on the way to work, because their bagels are lovely. I asked the baker for a sesame-seed bagel and sheepishly pulled the bill out of my wallet — “It’s all I have,” I pleaded pre-emptively. One glimpse of Andrew Jackson and she began to protest, rolling her eyes and sighing loudly.

“Oh, no, no, no, no,” she said.

“OK, I’m sorry,” I said, turning red, wanting to run. “I’ll just come back later.”

I was willing to run down to Rite Aid or something and get a pack of gum to get change so I could run back for the bagel. (They’re good bagels!) But I guess she recognized me from my many visits there, because she told me to go ahead, take the bagel, and just come back later to pay her. Because, as she sized me up and committed my face to memory, she knew: If I did not pay her, I’d never be able to set foot in that place again.

I was shamed. I had just bought a 65-cent bagel on credit.

I returned to pay her back just minutes later after getting a coffee down the block. I tried to give her a whole dollar for her trouble but she refused and gave me back 35 cents.

New York can be a small town, too.

She might have taken a $20 later in the day after collecting a lot of smaller bills and loose change. The typical purchase at Kossar’s must be less than a couple bucks per person. And it’s a pain to take a bunch of smaller bills early in the morning. I was once verbally flogged at a post office in Minneapolis for daring to use a $20 bill early in the morning.

“You know, you’re lucky we do the early-bird service. And now you’re gonna come in here and gimme a twenty? Gimme a break.”

So much for Minnesota Nice.

Incidentally, a friend of mine recently got two $50 bills from an ATM when he withdrew $100 from his account. To his gastronomical disappointment, none of the Indian restaurants in my neighborhood would take a $50 from him. So, he had to do without some really, really good chow.

…Until he came upon a Taco Bell that would take his $50.

He was forced to substitute a burrito supreme for sag paneer. Thanks, Chase Manhattan!


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