Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Gold Coins, and, The Battery Sellers

There's always someone on the street trying to sell you something.

Right now, there's a man at the counter of the coffee shop, scruffy beanie and untrimmed beard, trying to ask how much change he can get for a solid gold coin.

Sacajawea coins aren't solid gold, of course. They're not even gold-plated, gold-coloured. They're just coins, and they're brass-plated. Shiny.

When informed she'll give him exactly one dollar for it, the old man looks offended, refusing to part with his treasure for "less than seventy or eighty bucks."

The shy girl at the counter shakes her head when he's gone. "That's me in a few years," she says.

And then, there is the batteries.

They tell you in elementary school to beware of drug pushers.

If there's one item that strangers on the street actually try to sell you more than anything, it's batteries.

The latino guy approached me conversationally today. "Hey, man, that's going up fast," he says, pointing to the civic, under construction. I nod my assent, look at the red light in front of me. "Hey, man. You good on batteries? Double-A? Triple-A? Two bucks for eight, five bucks for twenty-four."

I'm really curious as to why this happens, and what exactly they're selling you.

Now, granted, a market for cheap batteries on the street --must-- exist, because in the digital world people's digital cameras, CD and MP3 players, and other devices constantly are in need of power.

I joke that I need to implant a large lithium cell into my abdomen, so that I can simply plug myself in as I sleep at night, and anything I need to power throughout the day I can simply plug into myself. It'd be simpler that way.

Back to the batteries for sale -- what are they, and where do they come from?

At a convenience store, batteries are one of the most overpriced commodities out there. Four name-brand double-A's often cost five or six bucks, which is ridiculous. At costco, of course, you can buy something like forty-eight batteries for twenty bucks.

But the street vendors, I doubt, are just buying in volume and selling at a discount.

Do they sell the batteries because they are relatively compact, universally required, and easy to sell? That would mean that they're shoplifters, stealing the packs from grocery stores and running with their loot.

On the other hand, they could be scam artists: they could have a single battery package, and in their scavenging, find bunches of discarded, dead, useless batteries. They could be cleaning up the throwaways, inserting them into the old pack as a sales display, and passing them off as good.

Any ideas?


  • At 1:43 AM , Blogger ryan said...

    This is just a guess, and it may well be completely wrong, as I have a very rudimentary knowledge of the Oregon food-stamp system, but maybe batteries can be purchased with the Oregon Trail Card? Frankly, I find the idea of these people shoplifting them to be more realistic, but maybe they do both.

  • At 8:05 AM , Blogger Argentius said...

    The Trail card has two separate functions: Food stamps and as-cash benefits.

    The "food stamps," the easier part to get, can only be used to purchase items classified as "food." While this includes several dubious items, i.e., twinkies and soda, it doesn't include batteries. Unless you eat those.

    The "cash" portion, somewhat harder to qualify for, is welfare, counts as cash, used as cash. You get this mostly if you're an out-of-work single mother or something, I believe, but you can actually get cash back with this method at the grocery store, so there'd be little need to buy and sell batteries.

  • At 9:56 AM , Blogger Argentius said...

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