too many words by laura lemay

vending vidi vici

I am starting to develop an unhealthy fascination with vending machines.

At the company I formerly worked at there was the giant ice cream sucker machine. I loved this thing. Here we had a normal chest freezer, filled with ice cream bars of various kinds arranged in neat rows and columns. The entire chest freezer was encased in a vending machine with a glass front. When you chose an ice cream bar, the vending machine would spring to life, an arm would reach out and open the chest freezer, revealing the ice cream. And then a vacuum hose would zip out from the corner, move to the location of your ice cream of choice, suck up your ice cream bar , move to the front of the machine, and drop it into the slot.

A vacuum hose! How cool is that! I bought ice cream way more than I should have at that job (at $1.75 a pop) just so I could watch the ice cream sucker operate. (yes, if you must ask, I AM easily amused).

Today at the company I’m currently working at I discovered the big soda bottle shoving machine. This is a soda machine that dispenses 20 oz plastic soda bottles ($1.10). The machine is at least twice the size as any other vending machine. In the main part of the machine there are rows and rows and rows of 20 oz bottles, all on display behind the glass. I put in my cash and selected my elixir of choice. I had expected the bottle to just drop into the open slot at the bottom like all vending machines work. But NO. With a loud mechanical noise the slot itself — a metal track — moved up to the appropriate row, and then paused. And then my bottle was SHOVED out the slot with a pop and fell sideways into the track. The track moved back down to the bottom of the machine where I could reach in and get my bottle. How considerate: since the bottle only had a little ways to fall when I opened it I did not spew soda all over myself. Cool.

I really wonder how successful these rube-goldberg-like vending machines are compared to your normal average vending machine. Do they sell more? Do they have to be repaired more? Of course for most normal vending machines I never see the inside — press a button, stuff comes out the slot at the bottom — so they could be even more complex and hard to fix and these vacuum hose and moving slot machines are actually LESS complex. They’re definitely more fun to watch.

But of course I have to mention the snack machine with the goddamn spiral dispensers. Ideally one puts one’s money in, the spiral bit turns, and one’s snack drops down to the slot, moving all the other snacks forward in the process. Of course it never happens this way. The spiral bit turns and your snack gets stuck there, hanging by one tiny corner right in full view but still refusing to drop. There’s a big sign on the machine with the international sign of a man getting squished by a vending machine that says “DO NOT ROCK” but you do it anyhow, and even solicit the help of some co-workers to jolt the machine around, but still no such luck. You’re doomed. Should have used the ice cream sucker.

I long ago stopped trying to rock these machines and instead I bolt back to my office for more change. And here usually one of two inevitable things happens. One: some co-worker scumbag comes by while I’m off gathering more change and buys my hanging snack out from under me. Scumbag. Two: I put in my second change, the spiral turns, the first snack drops, and then THE SECOND ONE STICKS. ARRGGGHHHH.

There was one afternoon where I ended up with one hanging bag of M&Ms, and then a second one, and then I got so irked by the whole thing I bought the whole goddamned row because it stopped being about having the munchies and it was about the PRINCIPLE of the thing.

Should have used the ice cream sucker.