Count Your Change

I came across what I think was a pretty good scam attempt the other day, and thought I might warn you about it. I was retrieving a friend’s car from the short term parking lot at an unnamed central North Dakota airport not so far from my house while he and his wife were on vacation. As I drove up to the toll booth window, I grabbed a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and handed it and the parking ticket to the fellow in the booth. He stuck the ticket into his machine and said “That’ll be four dollars.”

I nodded and he proceeded to make change. He was a fifty-ish looking fellow, a little on the stout side, dressed in plain work clothes, and probably didn’t earn much more than minimum wage as a parking lot attendant.  Now, normally, change from a twenty-dollar bill, for a four dollar charge, would be a ten, a five and a one–sixteen dollars. But this fellow instead grabbed a fistful of bills and began counting out change. I was at a bit of a disadvantage because my friend’s car is a little foreign job, so my head was somewhat below the level of the window of the booth. Still, I could see that he was making quite a production out of getting my change, counting through what appeared to be a stack of one dollar bills. Counted once, twice, and then turned and handed me the stack of bills. At the same time, the crossbar in front of me rose to let me escape the parking lot.

Now, this is the point where, I’m guessing, most people would have just grabbed the handful of bills (just picture for a minute six one dollar bills in your hand–they’re a bit crinkled, and they’re a real handful, and they can leave the impression you have plenty of change there) and, distracted from the money by the bar rising in front of the vehicle, driven off, stuffing that wad of bills into a purse or pocket. Most people in that situation are probably returning from an airplane trip, are tired, are thinking about all the stuff that needs to be done at home, and they really just want to get out of there.

But something about the whole encounter just didn’t feel right. I HADN’T been on a trip, I WASN’T tired and I found myself wondering why he had given me a ten and and a bunch of ones instead of a ten, a five and a one. I had my wallet in my hand and was about to stuff the bills in there when I noticed there was a one on top of the stack and a one on the bottom.  So I fanned them out, to make sure that I had the right change. Indeed, six one-dollar bills–but no ten. I puzzled over that for a minute, and checked the stack again but still found no ten. I glanced up in my rear view mirror and saw the guy behind me was looking a little impatient. Then I looked over and up at the attendant and said “I gave you a twenty.”

“Okay,” he replied, and immediately handed me a ten-dollar bill that had to have been either in his hand or right on the counter next to it. That’s all he  said. “Okay.”

I had my correct change now, the bar was still up, the guy behind me, who probably HAD been on a plane, and probably WAS eager to get home, was about ready to honk, so I drove away. But as I drove, I replayed the whole incident in my head, and that’s when I decided that getting the wrong change was no accident.

At the end of a trip, like most people, I think, I tend to be a little careless with details like change, and if I noticed later that I seem to be ten dollars short, I wouldn’t have figured out where it went, or I would have decided I was wrong, I only gave the parking lot attendant a ten. And that would have been that.

So I thought about it for a while, and then decided not to report the guy, because, for one, I couldn’t prove it, and two, the guy looked like he needed the job and probably wasn’t suited for much else.

Now, I could be wrong. It could have been an honest mistake. I’m generally a pretty trusting fellow. There’s no way I’ll ever know. But somehow, it just didn’t feel right. So I’m just warning you, and warning myself again by writing this–always count your change. Especially when you get six ones instead of a five and a one. And especially at an unnamed central North Dakota airport not far from my house.

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