by Janiece Kent
There are any number of reasons why each of us wants to be in control of our money. A teller in a credit union one time counted fives into my friend's hand instead of twenties at closing time, with no one to monitor the action. He found out later, but how would a blind man's word stack up against a trusted teller? He just got his money mixed up.
Another time, a friend handed me a $50. I was determined to hold onto it because it was such a generous gift -- one to be spent on something special. And then, when I misplaced my credit card and badly needed cash, I found out it was a one.
I've had at least two cab drivers hand me the wrong change -- a one which he called a ten, or a one instead of a five. One can't get out the handy Note Teller (if it were in my purse, which it never is) when the cabby is anxious to grab the next fare. I don't usually afford drivers whom I'll never see again that opportunity. But it's hard when ATMs only spit out $20 bills and when cab fares hover around $10.
I've also been a ticket taker with cash as an alternative, and folded the bill a blind person gave me as a five the way I fold mine, only to find out later it was a one. Who knows why that blind person got mixed up? Maybe someone deceived them. Maybe they have a multi-compartment wallet and hurriedly pulled from the wrong section.
Have you ever noticed that even clerks counting money into your hand by denomination say "and ten makes twenty," when the ten's really on the bottom - - the first bill counted into your hand? Smarter ones say, "The ten's on the bottom." At that point one must move aside for the next in line and try to shove that money in pocket or purse, folding the stack with the large bill on the outside (my preference) for later folding by denomination, as most of us do.
I knew a woman at my workplace in the '60s who never carried any bill larger than a five and paid most bills in ones. Can you imagine following her in line at the grocery store cash register?
Well, all of that is a pretty long introduction to the real meat of my message. I always thought money readers (Note Tellers) were pretty expensive. For many years after I started working music jobs with a tip jar, I had somebody count my money the next day, or two days later when my reader came, or, once in a while, after work. I didn't relish my restaurant boss knowing the exact amount of my tips, so the after-work counting seldom happened. Not many raises come if bosses think you're getting "enough" in tips. Once, in a taxi on the way to a meeting with a colleague, I asked her to check the previous night's paper money. She was hesitant, but I knew her as being unquestionably honest. Looking at one bill, she leaned very close to my ear and said, "This is a one with two zeros after it!" I asked her if she meant $100, and she assured me that was her meaning. What if I had been short that day and had dipped into my tips to pay the cab driver?
And then there was the scanning program on my computer. To identify each bill, you painstakingly placed it in the scanner, smoothing it as best you could, closed the scanner so that the bill would remain stationary, and then pressed two or three keys to get things going. I never counted the seconds, but it took AT LEAST 10; and then a voice would say such things as "probably a one." If you tried three or four times, repositioning, smoothing, closing, etc., it might say "one." It was laborious, time-consuming, and infuriatingly inexact. It could also say, "probably a five," or "Probably a ten." And if you receive 15 bills a night, there are likely to be three "probablies."
My Note Teller money-reading days began as I dared to bite on a 10 percent convention discount just as the exhibitor was checking out of the hotel. And as some comedian used to say, "No present like the time!" It really does take less time from the time of insertion till the voice begins speaking; I count three seconds. Of course, the end of the bill you insert can't have a bent corner, must have relatively small wrinkles, and must be one the machine was programmed to recognize. Yes, as the currency is redesigned, money readers must be reprogrammed. To the programmer's credit, the synthesizer was not programmed to say "Probably," but it does say "CANNOT READ" quite a bit. Well, just like most vending machines, fare machines, and the like, one of the four ways you insert the bill usually works. Five-dollar bills work only one of four ways. The Note Teller is fairly lightweight and fits into a relatively small purse or briefcase, but no pockets I know of.
So let's get to the heart of what scanners do somewhat that identifiable bills would do better. Why spend $270 on independence when good friends with good eyes don't question your independence as much as they question the government's seeming inability to make money we can identify? Well, I want to know about my money as soon as possible. If I think the audience was tuned in, and I received some requests, do the tips reflect it? Taking a handful of bills from the jar doesn't tell you much until you know what they are. When someone palms a folded bill to me I usually fold it again or place it in pocket or purse to see what it is. It's often a five or more but not always. A customer says, "I want you to have this" -- sometimes for show -- and when I check that bill, it's a one. If I recognize the customer, I'll now realize he/she's a drama tipper. When a number of bills are folded together, it's almost a rule that they're ones; but one can be a five -- ALL OF THEM can be fives or more. That kind of situation often happens with a very responsive table of folks. There are demographics that seem to influence the denominations for people's tips. My husband works in a different part of town with predominantly younger customers. He receives generally more money but many more ones. These are interesting things we can more easily examine, if we at least check the bills the same night.
Remember I said that there is no "probably," and a fairly high rate of "cannot read"s? Well, there are other mistakes once in a while. I tend to fold $50 bills in a sort of triangular shape. I don't get them often; and the easy folds are given over to ones, fives, tens, and twenties. So what about twos? I've been known to fold them as triangles as well. On one occasion, someone left me three new two-dollar bills. I folded them as triangles, putting them in a remote compartment of my purse to give a friend who thinks they're good luck. These twos were really new, so they creased well and had lines running at angles. I came upon them one day, having just about forgotten about them. I put one of them into the money reader with difficulty. The first response was "Cannot read!" The second was "fifty!" In disbelief, I turned the bill over and tried again. This time, it said "two," but I tried a fourth time and got "two" again. I hear you wondering, "Why would she fold twos and fifties the same way?" The answer is, "Not anymore!" But who would have thought the machine would read a two as a fifty? It has called a one a ten and sometimes the reverse. If you have a hunch you're looking at a ten and it says "one," you have it read the bill again. But with tips, there aren't always hunches.
As you can imagine, when a real $50 comes along, it's generally exceptional, whether it's life in general, or the tip jar. From the jumble of bills I have wadded unceremoniously into my purse, I pull a bill that resembles many ones; it's limp, torn at the edge and has some tape on it. Not surprisingly, the Note Teller says, "Cannot read!" It says this three times, and on the fourth try says, "Fifty!" Often, tippers hand you large bills, rather than placing them in transparent steins. I was therefore in disbelief when the Note Teller gave its ID. I went around again -- three "cannot reads" and a "fifty!" Gord said he believed the machine, but I still took it to a sighted verifier. "I can see from here it's a fifty," she said. I folded it a new way and stowed it away for surprising someone else.
Wouldn't it be nice if you knew the drama tipper right off? Wouldn't it be nice if twos and fifties were drastically different sizes? Wouldn't it be nice if you only had to ask trusted friends about bills not quite intact or money laundered in the Maytag? Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to invest close to $600 in money identifiers? Yes, we have two because repairs take a long time, and my husband and I may have eight nights worth of tips to count each week.
I've seen a scanner that seems to handle accurately bills that our identifiers might need to read at least twice. But each bill takes 15 seconds. If you receive 30 or so ones along with money in other denominations, quite a bit of time is invested. And speaking of investments, the accurate 15-seconds-per-bill reader is an investment equal to about 15 money readers without the 10 percent discount.
The other night, there were few customers all evening. No one was applauding much, and there were few requests. Several people complimented me as they were leaving and left a tip. One man came out the door behind me and handed me two bills folded together. I thanked him but didn't know what he was giving me. I have known people to be that persistent in handing me two singles. As it turned out after communing with the money reader, there were two fives. I could have known this sooner, if money were intelligible; maybe paid my cab fare with it, since it was ready to hand; may even have behaved slightly more gratefully without seeming effusive. And of course, you can't even pull out the smallest appliance to reveal the value of the bills. I've never done that with a cab driver, but they get downright furious if you ask a third party to check a bill they said was a five or ten.
Indeed, I think it would change the dynamics of interaction considerably, if we instantly knew the value of money exchanged. I'm not sure there wouldn't be more people giving fives and fewer giving single ones. I'm not sure anyone could muster up much drama when handing me a one, if they knew there was no mystery about what they put in my hand. Imagine how different it would be if the change maker handing us bills could not entertain notions of deception because we have to ask which one's the five. Many is the time when we hand someone the correct bills, and they ask how we could know. Not knowing is the prevailing expectation.
Any number of subtle and not-so-subtle instances where unidentifiable money highlights a difference between sighted and blind people can be laughed off by blind and sighted alike: We cope so well. We design folding and storage schemes. We don't press our luck by expecting all strangers to give correct change for large bills. We ask good-naturedly what the denominations are when clerks, waiters, even friends hand us mixed, unnamed bills. We buy our money identifiers and pay for upgrades, postage to Canada for repairs, nine-volts every month or two to feed them power (no adapters for plug-in power). And we watch the government spend millions to redesign the money without making it accessible.
It's good that larger numbers of people are concerning themselves with the varied life situations in which unidentifiable money makes us different -- where identifiable paper money would make a difference.