The right to a soda.. at any price

I was sitting in the St. Louis Amtrak station yesterday (huh, that would be a glorified name for a shack1) and observing with curiosity people|AMP|#8217;s reaction to a soda machine that was sold out. Given the hot day and my tourist explorations of the morning that left me tired and thirsty, the soda machine was the first thing I looked for upon entry into the waiting room. The two machines I noticed at first were selling snacks and coffee. I couldn|AMP|#8217;t believe that there was no soda machine |AMP|#8211; unfathomable for this type of an establishment in the U.S. |AMP|#8211; so I circled the room. And there it was, of course. The first thing I looked for was to see how much the soda cost. However, instead of a price, I found the words SOLD and OUT flashing. Bummer. But now came the fun part: observing how other people reacted to the sold-out soda machine. At one point I was almost convinced we had a candid camera scenario. It was quite amusing to watch how few people bother to check signs. (This was second in a series that day after having watched just a few minutes earlier a woman in front of me exit |AMP|#8211; or try to do so in any case |AMP|#8211; a building through a door clearly labeled and also taped shut by a sign stating that the door was out of order. After pushing it a few times she noticed the sign at her eye-level letting her know that this was not going to work.)

Most people approached the soda machine with bills or coins in hand and started to feed (or attempted to do so) the money into the machine. The machine seemed to be configured so it would not take bills when empty (good call) and the coins fell through and came out in the coin-return section immediately. These signals did not prompt most people to look for clues about what may be going on. Rather, they continued to attempt feeding the machine with their money. The most interesting case was a young man who walked up to the machine with much confidence and tried to feed a dollar bill into it. Soon enough he noticed the SOLD OUT sign. This did not faze him, however. He decided to try again. You can guess the result: nothing. At that point he walked over to the other two machines with much confidence intent on satisfying his soda needs. His stride made it seem as though by marching with enough confidence those machines would transform themselves into selling sodas. Alas, that|AMP|#8217;s not how it works. Oh, the world is so unfair!

What seems interesting in all this (in addition to the obvious) is that people were ready to buy the soda no matter the price. After all, the SOLD OUT sign was where the price would be displayed. But other than one woman (in addition to me), no one cared to check it before starting to feed their money into the machine. Sure, it may be that all these people go to the St. Louis Amtrak station all the time and are already familiar with the price of a soda, but I doubt that that is the case. People probably have an expectation for how much the soda might cost and are willing to pay in the vicinity of that sum regardless of the specifics. Next up in the candid camera saga is a soda machine that charges $7.50 per bottle. Stay tuned for reactions.

1 The station is so remote (although downtown) that a woman on her way there stopped her car when seeing me walking toward it to offer to drop me off saying that it was all too dirty and messy for me to have to walk to. Some people are so nice. (No, I did not take her up on it, but did think it was a very kind gesture.)

Comments are closed.