Mysterious men with a mysterious machine...
October 29, 2008 5:15 AM   Subscribe

A few years ago at a restaurant in a small Southern town, I witnessed a strange event involving a group of serious-looking elderly men, a bunch of coins, and a mysterious contraption…

It was mid-morning, and there were about eight men in their 70s and 80s sitting at a large round table with big piles of coins in front of them. There was a slightly younger man, in his 50’s, who had a machine about the size of a large shoebox that I think had some vertical metal tubes across the top that reminded me of a change dispenser with little levers that a bus driver might use (that’s what sparked my memory of the thing, when I was buying a ticket from the bus driver yesterday). I think there was also a larger lever on the side. My memory of the actual contraption is hazy – All I know for sure is it had something to do with coins, it was old and solid-looking, and it didn’t use electricity (it didn’t plug into the mains, at least, it might have been battery operated but I doubt it. I think it was purely mechanical). The man with the machine also had a notepad and was writing things down.

As I can’t imagine a large group of elderly men meeting at a restaurant to get their coins counted, the only thing I could think of was that they were gambling. That doesn’t seem right, though, because everyone was extremely serious and quiet and there were two on-duty sheriff’s deputies sitting nearby who weren’t paying the least bit of attention. Even if the deputies were choosing to overlook a little small-stakes illegal gambling, it seems strange that they would let it go on right there in public like that at a big table in the front of the restaurant. Also, the machine didn’t have that fun, light-up, whiz-bang look that I would associate with gambling. It was a plain, solid, serious machine.

I didn’t get to see the machine in action, because after about two minutes the waitress seated us in another room. The men were gone when we left. I asked the waitress about it, she just shrugged and said they came in every few weeks and she’d never asked them about it. She seemed a bit shady herself, actually. I asked her what the machine did and she just gave me a tight-lipped smile and shrugged. I couldn't tell if she was keeping a secret or if she just wanted me to shut up and leave. She was kind of rude from the start so it might well have been the latter.
posted by Wroksie to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Was it something that looked like this, but with less markings on it?
posted by jeanmari at 6:07 AM on October 29, 2008


Ugh. "Fewer" markings, not "less". I changed part of that sentence and I'm pre-coffee. Sorry.
posted by jeanmari at 6:11 AM on October 29, 2008


Something like this? A coin sorter/wrapper.
posted by steef at 6:25 AM on October 29, 2008


As I can’t imagine a large group of elderly men meeting at a restaurant to get their coins counted, the only thing I could think of was that they were gambling. That doesn’t seem right, though, because everyone was extremely serious and quiet and there were two on-duty sheriff’s deputies sitting nearby who weren’t paying the least bit of attention.

I don't know about this machine specifically, but I do know about gambling. In my experience playing poker and going to casinos, the extremely serious and quiet part still fits, depending on the crowd. If it's not a group of good friends with an emphasis on having a good time, gambling is normally a somber affair.

As for the deputies not caring, bars in rural areas tend to have slot machines that are officially "for entertainment purposes only" but in reality will be payed off by the bar owner if you win. I haven't seen anyone do that sort of transaction in front of a cop, but obviously if they wanted to enforce the law they could easily charge the bars with participating in illegal gambling.

So I have no idea if they were gambling or not, but it sounds plausable.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:31 AM on October 29, 2008


My money's on the coin sorter, too. Ockham's Razor, and all that.
posted by metalheart at 7:43 AM on October 29, 2008


I'm betting on a coin sorter. The older guys collected the money from newspaper boxes or gum ball machines and turned it into the younger guy who counted it and turned it into the company. The restaurant was probably centrally located and they could count the money and get a cup of coffee while they waited.
posted by wrnealis at 7:54 AM on October 29, 2008


I have seen groups of older gentleman doing coin sorting in diners before. I always assumed they were from one of those fraternal groups that sells you plastic poppies outside of the supermarket.
posted by bcwinters at 8:08 AM on October 29, 2008


While the machine looked nothing like Steef's example(it was metal and really solid and heavy- looking), it was definitely a mechanical coin sorter or counter of some kind. It totally makes sense that they were turning in coins from vending machines. Filling and collecting money from vending machines and newspaper machines is exactly the kind of part-time job older men take on after they retire. I don't know why that didn't occur to me. I guess the fact that they were so serious and quiet made me think they were up to something more shifty than simply turning in the takings from their perfectly legal and ordinary jobs.

Thanks everyone!
posted by Wroksie at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2008


I go with the proceeds from some form of charitable activity myself.

Typically, if they were collecting from machines/routes that each would "own", they would do it themselves.

But then again, usually a group of old-guys with coffee can be pretty loud as they argue/discuss this/that and the other thing, especially if they were friends doing charitable work together.

Probably from paper-routes. A larger route, with several boxes is not a bad part-time job in a low-cost-of-living area. (I had a 250+ customer route in a rural area with several boxes - it was only bad when; a. the paper went on stike and b. my vehicle started costing too much to maintain)
posted by jkaczor at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2008


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