You think your economy has issues? Try the black market financial infrastructure we naively refer to as Peter Piper Pizza.
My kids came home from Peter Piper Pizza the other day, their pockets loaded down with extra tickets that they carelessly neglected to feed into the Ticket Eater before they left. Anyone who’s spent five minutes in that place knows that you never leave Piper with the tickets; you always, always get those digits on a piece of heat transfer paper. God forbid you inadvertently leave the tickets in your jeans, and they go through a wash cycle and a spin in the dryer.
What you get on the other side are little bleached pieces of cardboard that used to be worth at least a little something, but now can’t even qualify for the recycle bin. It’s like they’re throwing money down the toilet. Where do they think we live – Greece?
I don’t know where they learned this.
It certainly wasn’t from me.
If anything, I’ve tried too hard to teach them the value of a hard-earned token. They’ve heard me tell them again and again to make their investments wisely. I’ve told them to watch the listings closely, that depending on the time of day the exchange rate could be anywhere from eight tokens to the dollar, to a cool hundred of those suckers for a twenty dollar bill. You just have to know what to look for when you make the trade. It’s a market, just like the NYSE, or Groupon Daily Deals. And people get swept up in it and taken for a ride every day. It’s heartbreaking. You find them wandering through the arcade, scrounging for spare coins left in those crumpled plastic cups and trolling the carpet for half-tickets the better-offs let drop.
But even the sad cases know that half a ticket isn’t worth a damn in times like these.
I always try to avoid eye contact with them, mostly because my pockets are probably token-heavy and bling-jingling and stained with pizza sauce in the spots where I ran out of napkins and just wiped my hands on my pants. How awkward would it be to have them ask, “Got a token, mister?” and have to tell them, “Sorry, buddy…I’m all out,” when they can hear my good fortune chime-chime-chiming as I walk past? I’m not soulless.
I do have some sensitivity when it comes to this stuff.
And better than that: I have insight.
I see beneath the glamour of the situation in a way not everybody can. Time is the great equalizer in this instance. Maybe we aren’t all lucky enough to be Peter Piper one-percenters. And maybe we can’t all be fortunate enough to clean up in the dollars-to-tokens market. But when it comes to the secondary transfer of tokens-to-tickets?
Well, friends, it simply doesn’t matter how well we’ve done for ourselves.
We’re all getting screwed in that deal.
Every last one of us.
You may have come in with twenty bucks, and you may have turned it into a hundred tokens, and you may even be finishing out the day with a mad-fat stack of a thousand Pepto-pink tickets. But no matter how big the number is on the receipt from the Ticket Eater, you’re poorer now than when you were still sitting at your table, waiting for your coaster to light up and vibrate in your pocket.
Still, it stings…every damn time it happens.
And it all comes back to the Prize Gallery — known better as Hell’s Half Acre by anyone over the age of thirteen whose had to wait for their own offspring to choose between Hello Kitty stickers and Phineas and Ferb temporary tattoos. It’s like somehow in walking the three feet between the arcade and “here” you’ve moved from a thriving, robust first world economy to some Technicolor third-world bazaar. Only in opposite.
Everything is bargained up instead of down.
A typical interchange between vendor and customer: “You have 50 tickets…you want the parachute guy, the army men or the Tootsie Rolls?”
“Um…how many parachute guys can I get?”
“How many army men?”
“How many Tootsie Rolls?”
If you math it back, someone just spent twenty dollars for their kid to earn fifty tickets, which will net him a dozen Tootsie Rolls.
I wonder if the FTC knows about this.
How much should a Tootsie Roll cost, anyway? I’m no economologist, but by my misguided estimation those things end up costing over a buck fifty a piece. And we’re not talking the full-sized sticks, either. They’re the Midgees. Fruit flavored.
You know…the trick-or-treat crap you throw away first.
And in case you’re wondering: you’ll probably won’t ever walk away with enough tickets to get your hands on the Fender Strat with the carry-around amp, my friend. That’s pie-in-the-sky stuff right there. The only people who garner access to that kind of swag are the one percent of the one percent, the super high-stackers with Gold Ticket status. That sort of love gets you access to the executive pizza room, where the hookahs are filled with soft-serve, and the Prize Gallery includes Cuban cigars, high-end watches and lap dances.
And you’re never going to get there if you keep wasting your tickets on penny candy and tattoos.
So, yeah. You can see how it’s a little disappointing for me to find out my kids are treating their money like it’s garbage.
I can just imagine the damage they’ll do when I get them to Vegas.
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