The Computer has Spoken about your Root Beer

Out to Lunch, 1997

One drawback to getting ideas for columns is that inspiration out to lunchusually hits at the most inopportune times. For me, that’s usually while I’m driving somewhere.

Inspiration hits miles from the site of intellectual provocation and I find myself steering with one knee, controlling the gas with the other foot, trying to scribble notes on a chocolate-stained napkin with a pen I salvaged from the legion of biscuit crumbs and bottle caps that seem to always find their way underneath the seats, balancing a Gargantuan Gulp in my lap and attempting to hold a Reese’s cup between my teeth without it melting and drooping onto my shirt.

I look and feel every bit like a piece of modern art, and my notes resemble the incoherent tracks of a beetle suffering muscle spasms after walking through an ink vat.

Not too long ago, I stopped in at one of those icons of immediate gratification, the Qwiki Mart. Aside from selling everything from milk to motor oil at healthy prices, convenience stores certainly throw a wrench into the good intentions of anyone attempting to spell in English.

Having said that, I should confess that certain local establishments have dedicated entire aisles to me in honor of my frequent business there.

I had been craving IBC Root Beer, and somewhere close to the Georgia line decided to stop in for some on the way home. It would have been more fun to cover myself in chicken fat and slap the nearest pit bull on the nose.

There was only one pack of root beer remaining in the cooler, and one of the bottles had been removed. It is, after all, the era of immediate gratification, and the perpetrator likely drank the root beer before making it past the pickled egg jar.

Not to be outdone, I took the pack to the cashier and asked if there were any more in back.

No.

“Well, can you deduct the price of one bottle from the price of the six-pack?

No.

“So, I have to pay the six-pack price for a “five-pack,” so to speak?

Yes.

“Why can’t you charge me for only five?

The computer won’t allow it. Besides, you’re already paying $4.29 for that “courtesy” cup of ice.

After recovering from the unexpected flood of conversation and thinly veiled ridicule so deftly delivered by the attendant, I realized I had inadvertently hit upon the cause of so much post-modern angst prevalent in society.

The. Computer. Won’t. Allow. It.

What has been heralded as a great time-saving device was wreaked havoc upon the ability of typical people to improvise, to accommodate, to make allowances.

Standing in the Kwiki Mart that day, debating petit economics, discovering the practical limits of modern mathematics education, holding four dollars’ worth of ice and hoping I wouldn’t lose three dollars’ worth to “global warming” before reaching the car, I realized that I was a symbol, a type, a representative of all sentient life forms unfamiliar with silicon chips, modems, bytes, bits, RAM, ROM, and not requiring alternating current to exist.

I now live in defiance of Computer, and sit around the house with my abacus, grey matter, pencil and paper, doing in hours what those Online can do in seconds.

Besides, has anyone else stopped to think that labels such as “Internet” and “World Wide Web” all refer to bondage?

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