There are few things in the world that have been as consistent across centuries and civilizations as coin currency. Think of the songs and stories that depend on coins, the works of art that show piles and bags of money, the joke about the zen master hot dog vendor (“Change comes from within”), Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool, for God’s sake. But now the age—or ages?—of coins may be over.
The sign of the end came in a supermarket in Honolulu when a woman named Vee Hoffman attempted to pay her grocery bill with her bank card and came up 10 cents short. She had nine pennies in her wallet, but the final one proved elusive. No one else in line had a stray penny, either, because they, too, had stopped carrying cash, possibly because of the widespread coin shortage, or maybe just because it’s easier to swipe a card than fumble in your wallet for money, or, as Hoffman suggested to KITV, which reported her story, no one has any money of any kind these days.
The grocery store—unnamed in the KITV report—was not one of those places with a give-a-penny-take-a-penny tray, and the checkout clerk was strict: Hoffman could not leave until she had settled up her bill down to the final cent. Finally a manager took pity and waived the remaining penny.
Hoffman told KITV that she was laid off from her job as a bartender in Waikiki back in March—I’m sure you can guess why—and has been out of work and short of money, and cash, since. “We’re in times where it brings out certain sides of us, but it’s up to us to choose what we want to do with our opportunities and choices,” she said. “We really try to hang on to that aloha spirit, but it’s really hard when you’re in the dark.”
Or maybe the other folks in line did have the extra penny, but not in an accessible form. I personally can’t remember the last time I paid cash at the grocery store. But this story does make you wonder: can people still help out their random fellow shoppers if they don’t have an extra penny or dollar bill on them?