Gut Rumbles

February 19, 2007


Originally published June 24, 2005

If you just save your loose pennies, they add up after a while. I am surprised, however, that the bank accepted 1.4 million of them. [Ed. Link goes to front page, not relevant article.]

If I were the bank manager, I'd have done it just for the good publicity the bank could receive. Hell, banks have all kinds of coin-counting and auto-rolling machines, so why not let reporters take pictures while you process 1.4 million pennies out of 55-gallon drums for a customer? Sounds like a good idea to me, despite the time and inconvienience involved.

But it doesn't usually work that way.

I was at the bank this morning and some old farmer-looking guy came in with a 5-gallon bucket full of pennies. He deposited a couple of checks and then tried to deposit his pennies. He told the cashier that he had $152 dollar's worth, but she wouldn't take them. They weren't rolled.

The farmer left in a huff after the cashier gave him a handful of penny rolls and told him to come back when his pennies were properly packaged. I've seen this same thing happen before.

Pennies may be a nuisance today (Can you still buy ANYTHING for penny?), but the last time I looked, pennies were still legal tender in this country. I've never seen a convienience store refuse to accept pennies when someone wanted to count out 250 of them for a pack of cigarettes (yeah--- I've seen THAT happen, too). Why can't a bank do the same thing?

Maybe some of the old River Street heads remember Ronnie Reed and the infamous "Hot Dog Cart" episode in the late 1970s. Ronnie owned the Long Branch Saloon and he had the nerve to put an old-fashioned hot dog cart on the sidewalk outside his bar, where he sold delicious hot dogs with all the trimmings for $1.00 each. You could smell that thing from a block away and it did booming business.

EVERYBODY liked the hot-dog cart. Everybody, that is, except some assholes down at City Hall. They busted Ronnie for not having a "street vendor's license" and shut down the cart (I think they arrested the cart, too), even though it was technically on Long Branch property.

After a brief court battle, Ronnie was fined $1,000. He was livid. He went back to his bar and placed small aluminium buckets all over the place, each one bearing the sign: "FIGHT CITY HALL!!! Give your pennies for the hot dog cart!!!" All he asked for was pennies.

In less than a month, Ronnie collected well over $1,000, all in loose pennies, and he hauled them in a wheelbarrow down to the courthouse, where he dumped them on the floor and said, "There's my fine. Count it yourself if you don't trust me."

The people in charge would not accept the payment the way it was. They, too, wanted the pennies rolled. Ronnie wouldn't do it. I'm not sure if he went to jail overnight on a contempt of court charge or not, but I know that he surely did stir a lot of shit downtown. The city finally relented and took the pennies, but Ronnie never was allowed to operate the hot dog cart again.

I always liked Ronnie's take on things. "I may have lost the cart, but the city didn't get any money from me. My customers paid my fine." (His customers did more than that. Ronnie had about $750 in extra pennies, which he donated to the March of Dimes--- a charity that did not insist that he roll the coins first. In the end, the city came off looking like a bunch of needle-dicked bug-fuckers and Ronnie became a local hero.)

"Besides," he told me one night, "Somebody has to stand up to those assholes, even when you DO lose. Gotta make 'em think twice about doing such shit again. Otherwise, they'll walk all over you like a rug."

I wish more people felt that way.

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