The $20 Project: How I Spent my Day

What the Robot Left Me

I was really kind of stoked about this project when I first heard about it. I kept thinking of all these ways I could approach it: all the stuff I could get at the 99 cent store, (Like I don’t have enough crap) a slew of 1″ rock pins at Capitol Rock on Hollywood Blvd, (Though that’d just turn into a list of bands I like) or maybe do a miniature version of the Futurama episode where Fry drank 300 cups of coffee, only with twenty bucks instead. (No.)

All these great ideas, then the damn thing just snuck up on me. I suddenly realize we’re two days in! This thought is almost fleeting as I drank my morning cup and got ready for the multitude of errands I have today. I jump in my car and race to a coffee shop for a meeting with some friends of mine, order an espresso and as I hand Martin, the barista, a twenty, I think, “Here we go…”

After the jump we’ll see what happens to a double sawbuck as I run around L.A.

So Martin hands me my espresso, takes my twenty and rings me up. $2.17 including tax, and I toss him a buck tip. That’s $3.17, and we’re off and running. I put the change in the pocket of my hoodie, instead of my wallet/pants pocket, because I want to track this twenty, y’know? I don’t want to get it mixed in with all my other bills.

(Oh, in case you’re wondering why I tip a dollar for a $2.17 espresso, it’s because I’m not a Douche Bag. Wait, did I just call you a Douche Bag? Well, if you tip less than a buck for an espresso drink or less than 20% in general -or at the very least 15%- then yes, yes I am. For those of you about to get indignant and explain yourselves in the comments, I’ll just respond now: You’re wrong. If they simply hand you a cup of drip coffee, you might be allowed to just dump your change in the jar. If you’re a cheap ass.)

So, meeting’s over and I’m back in my car. I gotta run by work to: A- pick up some money and B- make some copies and stuff. I don’t have a working printer at the moment, so I blatantly use the supplies at work. I work at beeg fancy restaurant at beeg fancy hotel, and I need to pick up tip money. Waiting there, where I pick up my tips, is Oscar, one of the Bus Boys. See, we’re a pooled house, and it seems Oscar forgot to put his name down for one of the nights, and, basically, I owe him four bucks.

Does that count? Should that be included in the tracking of a twenty in the $20 Dollar Project? Well, it’s in there now, screw you. It’s my twenty, I’ll do what I want with it.

I hand Oscar a five and he gives me a single back.

I go and make my copies, stuff the letters in some giant envelopes (My envelopes. I didn’t steal them from work. Largely ’cause they don’t have those kind of envelopes at work.) and hop back in my car. We’re off to the Post Office. Whoosh.

The Post Office is kind of fun, ’cause I get to use the big scale/label printer thingy. Basically, it’s kind of like doing your transactions with a robot. An actual robot robot, too, not a person who has been mashed down into a robot.

So I go to mail the envelopes I put together at work. They’re headshot packages. This is the L.A. Metroblog site, after all. Would we really be painting an accurate picture of our fine city if someone didn’t use part of their twenty on something to do with headshots? I did mention earlier that I work in a restaurant; as a waiter in L.A., I’m kind of contractually obligated to be an actor, as well.

Not that every waiter in L.A. is an actor: some are musicians, too.

So, I’m doing business with the Robot. Rather than speaking, which would be a little too “Meet George Jetson,” the Robot spells out what it has to say on a little screen in front.

“What do you want from me?” it asks. (I’m paraphrasing here)

I indicate I need to mail something.

“What is it? Box, envelope, big ass envelope, what?”

I indicate it’s big envelope.

“Does it contain any of this list of things that would be really stupid and/or dangerous to mail?”

I let it know that it contains nothing of the sort.

“Cool. Put it on the scale.”

I do so.

“Looks like it weighs [x amount], that sound about right”

I indicate that the robot probably has a better idea than I do.

It asks for the zip code, which I provide.

“That’s gonna be $.97 cents,” it tells me, “But I need to charge you at least a dollar on your credit card. Do you want to buy a book of stamps or something?”

I tell the robot I’ll take a single $.41 cent stamp, as well.

“Anything else?”

I indicate I have another, similar letter. After some discussion, the robot tells me it will be another $.97 cents.

“Do you want to buy a $.97 cent stamp, or do you already have some postage?”

I indicate I still have the $.41 cent stamp the robot just sold me.

“See? I knew you were clever, I was just testing you. How about a $.56 cent stamp then?”

I indicate that that will be fine. We conclude our business and the robot thanks me for stopping by. The robot’s really very nice.

So, a dollar ninety four at the Post Office. I take two bucks from my hoodie pocket, put it my wallet and find six cent in my pants pocket to square things off. I jump back in the Noxiousmobile and head back to the house for a shower, then I’m off to Acting Class.

I make my way across town to Los Feliz, and realize I tengo some freakin’ hambre if you’ll pardon my Spanglish. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and that has to change soon, or people will die. I park, but I have about five minutes before class starts. I run into the 7-11 and grab a Big Bite hotdog and a banana, breakfast of champions!

(Shut up, I actually like 7-11 hotdogs. I am, however, terrified by the fact that I can find no Nutritional Information on them anywhere. Scary. And Delicious. With Jalape├▒os. )

After class, I’m still a little hungry. I hit up El Greco for a Lamb Gyro with Hummus. Mmmmm. That’s $7.15 with tax and tip. (See above about Non-Douche bag status.)

I check the remnants of my twenty. I have $1.33 left. I consider Psychobabble, the coffee shop, but it’s too late for coffee, and anything I want will put me ridiculously over budget. Too bad, it’d be kind nice to start and end with a coffee, but, oh well.

So I wander back into the 7-11. Maybe some chocolate milk? It’s not marked with a price. I ask how much.

“A dollar something.”

Great. I have a dollar something. Turns out it’s $1.39. Ta’ hell with it; chocolate milk is tasty, and I’m six cents over budget.

So, $20.06 on a Tuesday in L.A. nets me:
An Espresso,
Four Bucks I owe a Bus Boy,
Some Postage, (Robots!)
A Hot Dog,
A Banana,
A Gyro, with Hummus
and some Chocolate Milk.

Works for me.

12 thoughts on “The $20 Project: How I Spent my Day”

  1. I’m cheap-ass douche bag. C’mon, this tipping scam has gotten out of hand. I can see tipping for an espresso drink but for a friggin’ coffee? So the kid pouring it will think I’m nice or cool? I’m not nice and I like being upfront about it.

  2. I always try to tip a dollar, but to be fair usually end up using my credit card… so when I do have cash on hand, that buck is easy… but it probably averages out to .25 cents each time.

  3. I think douche nozzle is more precise. Bag?!? Big deal. You want the business end to make your point. Douche nozzle.

    I can’t figure out where you went for coffee. However, you do refer to the guy at the counter as a “barista”. That sounds a bit too swank for, say, Starbucks. If so, does one tip at a fancy coffee shop but not at something as pedestrian as Starbucks?

    I’m asking cuz I used to serve popcorn at the movie theater and no douche nozzle ever tipped me. Thanks for the information.

  4. Awesome post, and that’s coming from someone guilty of selective douchebaggery. I tip barkeeps for pulling me a beer but I never thought about doing the same for a barista pulling a shot.

  5. “Tipping Scam?” Sorry, that’s the way the service industry has been set up, for a century or more, in this country. When you don’t tip, they don’t think, “Oh, he’s not cool,” they think, “Oh, I just worked for free.”

    Otherwise, believe it or not, your coffee would cost at least twice as much as it does now. Labor’s not included in the price, beyond that minimum wage your server gets.

    And before you try and come back with, “Get a different job,” that’s easier said than done. Otherwise they’d quit their job by telling you what an asshole you are on the way out the door.
    (I’ve wanted to do that SO many times. Can’t wait ’til my last day in the service industry.)

    If you can’t afford to tip: MAKE YOUR OWN FUCKING COFFEE. (Stay home.)

  6. Oh, Elzed: If there’s a tip jar, put a buck in it. At least. Starbucks, Subway sandwiches, where ever. I’d tip the people at McD’s if there was a jar, but the Clown won’t allow it, or for them to accept tips at all. That’s not really why I don’t eat there any more, but it sure ain’t a selling point.

  7. Seems the service industry needs to get into fucking strike mode, you shouldn’t be expected to subsist on the tipping nature of the customer to make up for the lack of adequate compensation the bosses refuse to give. I know people that live on that minimum wage and get no “tips” in the process.

  8. The logistics of that are impossible. It would be more likely to see, say, a complete overhaul or elimination of the income tax system in this country, or perhaps the removal of the Electoral College in the election process.

    It’s THAT entrenched, throughout the entire country. And unlike the examples above, accountable to no one body. Also, it’s been like this for at least as long as Income tax has been around, if not far longer.

    There are Service Industry unions. I’ve heard there are good ones, but the ones I’ve witnessed become hugely bloated and corrupt. The rules get written by people who have never worked in the industry, and smaller restaurants get crushed. The only one I’ve been directly involved with was a miserable place to work. No one would leave, however, because the money and benefits were too good.

    The logistics of trying to change the whole tipping system are mind bogglingly impossible, truly. And, ultimately, it would not help the consumer.

    (It’d be nice to have health care in the Service Industry – seems that could/should be accomplished another way, though, but that’s another issue.)

    Just put a dollar in the jar. Or buy an espresso machine.

    T.I.P.S.= To Insure Proper Service

  9. i have so many friends in the service industry. as you might imagine i’ve heard some shameful accounts. i’m a total airmiles slut, but i always carry cash to tip. in addition to the problem of undertippage ‘tards, our government sucks w/regard to taxing their tips.

  10. As a barista, I thank you for your tipping rant. Just as I thank each and every one of my customers…whether they leave me a tip or not.


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