“Where’s My Change?”

Ken Steinhoff toys c 1953 03-03-2015

Nanci Griffith sings about having to change buses when going from North Austin to South Austin when she was a teenager. The transfer would give her just enough time to run into the Woolworth’s store, grab a vanilla Coke, look in the record bin and “wink at the boys” on her way to catch the next bus.

In her song, Love at the Five and Dime, she says, “All Woolworth stores are special. They all smell the same. They smell a little bit like popcorn and chewing gum wrapped around the bottom of a leather-soled shoe. They all have the same sound.”

Standing in the toy aisle

Main Street w Woolworth Store 04-05-2010She could have been describing the one in Cape. There I was, standing in the toy aisle of Woolworth’s clutching a crumpled, much-handled one-dollar bill and trying to make up my mind.

Just down the aisle from the toy section was the long lunch counter. It produced a mixture of sounds: silverware clinking on heavy china plates, the whirrrr of mixers cranking out milkshakes, the squeak of the revolving vinyl-covered red stools, and the low murmur of the town’s movers and shakers solving the problems of the world while sitting next to teenagers on dates and mothers with kids in tow.

Vintage soap scum

Sensing that Mother was getting impatient, I finally picked the toy boat on the right, something that is still covered with soap scum from probably around 1955.

It was marked “99¢”

I handed my limp dollar bill to the cashier and stood waiting patiently. She finally noticed I was still there and said, “Is there something else?”

“I’m waiting for my penny change.” Even then, I was a hard negotiator who was determined nobody was going to rip me off.

“There is no change”

“There IS no change,” she dismissed. “The toy was 99¢ and there is a penny tax. That’s the whole dollar.”

That was a rude awakening. I must have been about 6, and my faith in math and economics was shattered. It was much like when Son Matt got his first paycheck at 13 or 14 and came in hollering, “Who is this FICA dude and why is he taking my money?”

I can’t wait until we plop the grandkids in the tub to give another generation a chance to float those boats. I’m gonna get my buck’s worth.