Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bomb Loader

This evening I was standing in line at FoodMaxx with, about 8 cases of soda, wondering how I was going to write this "day in the life" article about running a game store. I was distracted though, because of the soda and the task lying ahead of me the next morning. My most dreaded task is one only I can perform. It's not balancing the books or managing employees, two things I also don't care for that only I can do, it's loading the vending machine.

When we started a few years ago, I had the bright idea of buying my own vending machine. The intention was good, but the execution was not so great. A drink cooler would have been smart. A vending machine is an uppity mechanical anachronism best left to professionals. The one I purchased is based on an old fashioned design. It takes exact change only, can be disabled with a nickel (the exact wrong change), and has an archaic loading process that literally tests my nerves.

This drink machine has cans lined up on horizontal ramps. When exact change is inserted, the cans roll backwards down a horizontal ramp, through a metal gate, down a chute and arrive in front of a door at the front of the machine. There are very specific loading instructions. The bottom cans have to be loaded first and then each row is loaded from bottom to top. It's a really simple process in theory. In reality, this design is antiquated. It's based on an alternate reality in which cans are constructed with reasonable amount of aluminum. Today's cans are extremely thin.

If you load according to the instructions, about one in ten cans will develop a pin prick of a puncture as it slides down the ramps and hits open gates and other cans. Since the can is getting a good shaking from the loading process, this tends to spray high fructose corn syrup onto the other cans and throughout the inner workings of the machine, which later makes its operation even more problematic.

Once a puncture develops, you have another problem. To get that bad can out, you need to unload all the cans in front of it, and using coins to actuate the machine! This is done while that bad can is spraying a fine mist of soda over everything, including you. So by the time you get that can out, there's usually soda running down the ramp and all the other cans of that type are sticky. Worse, once the cans have been through the loading process, the can's structural integrity is a bit suspect, which increases the odds that re-loaded cans will puncture. It's almost better just to throw them away and put them in the fridge for later.

Loading the vending machine then is very much like loading bombs. Rather than following the instructions of letting those cans roll down the ramp and smack around, I carefully insert the can, stick my arm into the machine, and gently roll the can into place as much as possible. If I'm lucky, all the cans load properly. If it's not my day, if I'm not lucky, I'm likely to get a spray of soda on my shirt, arms, and glasses that will leave me sticky all day. My only time using profanity in front of a customer was when this happened.

So now that I'm planning to buy a cooler (thanks Chris), I'm debating on whether to keep the vending machine or dump it.


  1. NP. I hate to see anyone get tied up in Coke's non-sense.

    They really made drink sales harder to manage than planned, less profitable, etc.