But It’s Cash

The First Essential Scary Truth

Last week I found myself at the doctor’s office to have my left ear cleared of a nasty wax build up.  As I am in the middle of changing my health insurance, I paid cash.  Dr. Larry charged me $40 for the office visit and ear cleaning procedure combined.  The guy next to me had Blue Cross, a monthly payment of hundreds of dollars and the poor bastard still had to fork over a $35 co-pay.

Cash is king.  An old saying that remains as true today as it was back in 1811.  And with the advent of the ATM in the 1970’s, no one had to go wait in line at the bank Monday-Friday to withdraw a budgeted amount for a few days/weekend whatever.  The bank teller was mounted in a wall and was available 24/7.  However going to the ATM in the middle of the night on the Lower East Side or Beverly Hills or Topeka could be dangerous.  Scumbags galore seemed to gravitate to the vestibules and drive-thru’s.  Walking/driving in or out of an unguarded with a pocket full of $20’s remained an exercise in danger for many.

In an attempt to decrease the danger involved with simply going to an ATM, some bank geek somewhere came up with the idea of the Debit Card.  Thanks to the wonders of wireless technology, all a person has to do is present a bank card with either a Visa or MasterCard logo and as if by magic the fee for whatever item is automatically deducted from your checking account.  A win/win moment for consumers, merchants and bankers alike: banks charged fees for account maintenance, transactions etc.  Merchants don’t have to do night drops or keep large amounts of cash on hand and consumers no longer have to worry about having cash on hand.  It’s all in the ether these days.

There are a few drawbacks, however. People regularly overdraw their bank accounts acquiring new fees they can barely pay.  Plus the lack of actually seeing the greenbacks has allowed basic cash handling skills to fall by the wayside.  When training a new bartender, server or cashier they have to be shown the proper way to count cash even if the bills came right from the bank, why the cash must never be out of sight if it’s not in the register or safe.  A brave new world has arrived but common sense seems to have gone by the wayside.

Yesterday I went to one of the few Irish bars in this Scottish themed town for a Guinness and shot of Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish whisky.  I left $3 as tip on the edge of the rail.  “What do I do with this,” the barmaid asked.

“That’s your tip.  Put it in the tip jar,” I replied.

That statement prompted a long discussion between over what to do with the cash.  After a few minutes of pigeon metaphorical talk, I asked the ladies if they pooled their tips.

“No.  We all keep what we make,” the barmaid said.

“So what’s the problem,” I wondered.

“Well it’s cash,” she said.

The second our Groucho-Chico routine concluded I had a moment of epiphany: bright lights, angelic harps and James Brown asking me if I can see the light.  The Great Recession.  I get it.

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