Sweet, Vender Moments

john tappenFriends, I have a story for you. Years ago, I remember a buddy of mine returning to our dorm room after spending the better part of 24 hours writing papers and finishing projects in Coykendall Science Building. He walked in, dropped off his books and left again. Several minutes later he returned with M&M’s, Fritos and a bag of Keebler fudge cookies in hand.

“There’s something so satisfying about a vending machine meal,” he told me.

That satisfaction is based entirely on circumstance. Assorted junk food should never be satisfying. The exception being, when a person is desperate and starved.

Those moments come after hours of hard work, late into the night, when there’s nothing on your mind but sleep and nothing else to eat but Doritos.

Vending machine purchases must skyrocket sometime after 2 a.m. The only time Mr. Goodbars and those raspberry cookies look appealing enough to purchase — when a person is in enough of a stupor to overlook every cogent reason he or she shouldn’t.

When I lived on-campus, I used to complain a lot about the quality of campus food. But vending machine meals are a new low — one I unfortunately continually stoop to.

But there are some crevices of the vending machine that are so dark, even I never approach them, like the Lifesavers, or the dry and disgusting wafer crisps that line the bottom.

I remember being in high school and scrapping together change off the sweat-stained floor of our locker room after gym class just to buy a Gatorade.

And that Gatorade machine, with its neon light, was a beacon of salvation that illuminated the grimy basement locker room and managed to overpower the stench of jock straps and gym shorts.

I also recall the back of the lunch room, where kids would camp out, waiting for someone to approach so they could ask “lemme get a dollar?”

As far as loans go, for whatever the reason, this always seemed the seediest type. That moment was your chance to either show your generosity, or an opportunity to be creative and decline with the meanest joke.

All of my vending machine experiences happen at odd hours or in strange locations, or include some disgusting element. Which is why I’m so surprised by Japan’s vending machine culture, where vending machines seem to be omnipresent — prominently displayed in parks and on trains. And they offer an odd array of items, like sushi, flowers and jewelry.

The way Japan views vending machines is warped. Vending machines aren’t meant to be expansive, easily accessible or even fully functioning. Which is part of my theory as to why the monstrosity that is the Shop 24 machine outside the Student Union has been such an utter disappointment and crapped out on so many kids the last two years. A vending machine should never be displayed outside or remotely celebrated. Throw it in a crummy corner in the basement of Haggerty where it’ll be forgotten and maybe start working.

Vending machines should never be high-class. They are low-tech and lowbrow by design. And the conversations I’ve had at vending machines have been representative of that: generally pedestrian. Like when we’re nearly done with production night at 4 a.m. and Andrew and I walk to the machines:

“Thought we’d be done a lot earlier this week.”

“Yeah me too. I don’t know what happened.”

That’s it.

Of course, sometimes the vending machine brings out the worst in us. Last Thursday morning I witnessed a man kicking the machine after his M&M’s got stuck.

These are our darkest moments. We cross paths with vending machines when we are vulnerable — when we are so tired we can hardly speak, or ready to burst into a fit of rage, or in front of paid programming at 5 a.m.

They’re just a staple of life that doesn’t get recognized as much as they should. Half of this week’s opinion section should do them justice.

Snack well.