Saturday, January 25, 2014

bills of a feather

I am accustomed to having new currency pop out of ATMs.

For the past decade, the United States Treasury has been trotting out the statement every boyfriend and husband dreads.  "You haven't said anything about my hair." 

And we know the response "Because it looks as lovely as ever" is the equivalent of gathering up the blankets and pillow for a lovely night of camping out on the couch.

Each year Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, or Grant would get a major makeover.  The bills, though, took on a look of savings bonds.  (For younger readers, go ask your mother.)  Benjamin Franklin finally had his turn in the engraving room last year.  To me, the new $100 bill looks like the ticket for an exclusive amusement park.

Most of the changes have been designed to counter counterfeiters.  And because counterfeiters are no respecters of borders, Mexico has been upgrading its bills since 2001, as well.

That means there are several versions of any note in circulation -- along with commemorative notes.  All of them legal tender.

But I was recently reminded that not every note can be spent at the local corner grocery.  A friend of mine, who traveled through Mexico in the 1980s, sent me a 1000 peso note he had retained from his travels.  Hoping I could use it.

I couldn't.  In 1993 Mexico devalued the peso and issued new coins and notes.  The old notes are worth no more than a bit of sentimental value -- a reminder there was once a day when chicken buses existed, rather than the sleek ETN buses with more comforts than a first class seat on Alaska Airlines.

I thought of John's gift this week.  I stopped at the Oxxo (the very same store where the robbers escaped in a boat) to buy a few bottles of Coke Zero.  The very indifferent young lady behind the counter handed me my change -- two 20 peso notes. 

But I noticed she took one of them off the bottom of her pile of 20s.  That is it at the top of the post.

Nothing about the bill looked similar to the other bill in my hand -- the series currently in circulation.  The color was different.  Juarez was in a different position.  And, even though I liked the art deco calligraphy, when it was combined with the eagle, the bill had a rather odd 1937 Berlin look to it.

I showed the bill to the clerk and asked her if it was still good.  She nodded her head "yes" in that surly way teenage girls have developed to ratify that all old people are simply a waste of rations.

So, off I went with it.

Now, I must confess, I started thinking about what I could do to foist it off on someone else.  I could leave it as a tip.  Or I could slip it into the offering plate at church.  But good taste (and my conscious) indicated that neither approach would help me ease on down the road.

Instead I took another tack.  I already had good material for a post -- especially, if I had been passed out-of-date money.  I decided to ask the cashier at a restaurant I frequent if the bill was still good.

Her response?  "It's old; like you.  But it's still good; like you."  Simply for being clever, I dropped it in her tip jar.

Here is the bottom line.  If you do not recognize something you receive in change (such as, the 20 peso coin I received yesterday), ask about it.  I suspect if I had pressed the point with Surly Girl, she would have given me another bill.

Or, if it is one of the smaller bills, hang on to it.  You can use it at the next show-and-tell when you get together with friends.

And if any of you do not like the new Benjamin Franklin bills, feel free to send them my way.  I could use them for this year's travel budget.

Come to think of it, that is another tale I should fill you in on.

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