Vending Machine Spenard

By Darcy Stein

As a proud resident of the very unique and charming neighborhood of Spenard, I relish in the fact that I can bring my camera out for a leisurely stroll and come back with a plethora of interesting frames. But I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about one such day that exceeded all of my expectations for bizarre: the day I was literally the most parched I have ever been and moments later stumbled upon a vending machine nestled among the carports of a charming Spenard apartment building.

My husband and I enjoy walking around Spenard with our dog who is an adorably skittish medium-sized Husky mix from Bethel. We adopted him about 4 years ago from one of those shelters on the south side that was later shut down because it was so dang filthy. You know the ones I’m talking about. Anyway, the three of us regularly set out on neighborhood adventures; Sochi, our dog, laser-focused on whatever stick is in his line of sight at the moment, my husband trying his very best not to get his arm pulled out of the socket by said dog every time he sees a new stick and then there’s me. With my camera strapped around my neck and my brain processing my surroundings at what feels like light speed, my attention is divided between the company I’m with and the ever-changing and intriguing scenery that is Spenard.

This was just a walk like any other walk. The three of us set out with the intention of finding some hills to walk up and down. I don’t know about you but this whole pandemic situation has really thrown a wrench in my cardio game. We settled on a familiar route; a cute little pocket of Spenard we’ve walked through many times consisting of a hilly area behind West Northern Lights where there happens to be a vintage-looking green building called Tall Timber Apartments. Tall Timber has a quasi-east coast vibe to me, it feels like an apartment building I would have seen in the small-yet-hip city of Ithaca I lived in before moving from upstate New York to Anchorage about nine years ago. As soon as we begin descending upon the Tall Timber carports I realize how thirsty I am. Not like a “oh I’m just feeling a tad parched” thirst but closer to a “holy hell my mouth is dry and about to catch fire I’m so thirsty” thirst. I begin explaining this to my husband, as if there were anything he could do to remedy the situation. I ask him if he brought along any water knowing full well he did not. My thirst begins to multiply as my mind goes farther and farther down the frightening black hole of having no access to a beverage until we return home. Doom and gloom mode sets in; all hope is lost.

But just then, like a sugary oasis in the middle of the Nevada desert on a 110-degree day, the mirage of a vending machine appears to my left. I immediately feel confused and ask my husband if he sees a vending machine or if my thirst has taken control of my mind and is making me see things. He confirms that he does indeed see a vending machine coming up on the left and all of a sudden, like magic, a glimmer of hope shines down on me. I walk up to the vending machine cautiously as if it’s a skittish dog I want to get close to without scaring away. I study it vehemently and upon seeing the indicator on the scrolling screen that a soda will cost me a dollar the next obstacle presents itself: how am I going to scrounge up money for this beverage I so desperately need? I turn to my husband who has been waiting patiently with our dog several feet behind me as I experience my existential thirst-induced crisis. I ask him if he has a dollar and he replies that he does not; neither of us brought our wallets or much else along with us on the walk.

But just then, like an angel, a voice emerges from behind us:

“I have a dollar for ya,” says a man’s voice.

I turn around to see a man and a woman sitting on some camping chairs. They’re at the top of a small hill where a little trail behind them leads down to a grassy yard where some other folks are barbequing and talking. In between them sits a small table where my greedy little eyes are immediately drawn to a shiny stack of quarters.

“Oh my god,” I say with a hint of desperation and a whole lot of gratitude, “are you sure?”

The three of us begin walking towards the man and the woman. The woman politely asks if she can pet our dog as the man hands me a stack of four quarters. My husband hangs back and chats with the man, the woman pets Sochi while I, gripping the quarters for dear life, walk back towards the vending machine. This is it, I think to myself, sweet relief for my near-debilitating thirst is nigh. Now let me preface this by saying I do not regularly drink soda, but this is an extenuating circumstance—a vending machine full of high-fructose corn syrup sent from heaven—so I allow myself a pass for today. I put the quarters in one at a time and press the little round white selection button for Coca-Cola.

“SOLD OUT” reads the little scrolling screen that once displayed the “$1.00” price.

No big deal. There are two other buttons for Coca-Cola. And there’s always 7-UP or Barq’s Root Beer as back-ups. Stay cool, Darc.. I press the next button down to make my selection.

The same “SOLD OUT” message flashes in front of my eyes. I swallow and realize that we might have a serious problem looming on the horizon. Third times a charm though, as they say, so I press the third button down to select Coca-Cola.

“SOLD OUT” the little scroll sign reads.

In a frenzied panic I start pressing all of the other buttons. Nothing happens. No sweet sound of an aluminum can crashing down into the plastic slot where my greedy little hand can reach in and gulp up some sweet relief. My mind starts to ponder whether or not it would be rude to ask for another set of quarters if for some reason the machine forgot about the dollar I already paid it over the course of giving me all the “SOLD OUT” messages.

The man who gave me the quarters notices me desperately pressing all of the selection buttons (which have always reminded me of those candies Mentos) and asks me if the machine is giving me trouble. I reply that it is and relay the “SOLD OUT” messages and the subsequent inactivity of the machine to deliver my sugary goods.

“Hold on, let me get the owner of the machine down here,” the man says, “he likes a satisfied customer!”

“Oh no, please don’t worry about it,” I start, “I can just w—”

I’m cut off by the sound of the man shouting up to a window above his head, presumably to the owner of the troublemaking machine. Seconds later, a very nice man with piercing blue eyes exits the main entrance of the Tall Timber apartment building and comes to my rescue. He opens the front of the vending machine with some magical soda key and all of a sudden the inner workings of my sugary oasis are revealed. I see that absolutely no sodas are SOLD OUT, as falsely indicated by the scrolling sign, but rather the machine is chock full of cans. Cokes, 7UPs and Barq’s galore. Piercing blue eyes asks me which soda I was trying to get.

“Just a Coke please, thank you so, so much,” I say, “I really appreciate it.”

He smiles and hands me not one but two cans of Coca-Cola. We say our thank-you’s and goodbyes and continue our journey through the rest of the carport and onto our next Spenard destination. I hand one of the sodas to my husband and we clink our glorious red cans in a “cheers” gesture to each other before taking the first, delicious, heavenly sugary sip of soda and I can’t remember an instance that a bunch of chemicals and high-fructose corn syrup in an aluminum can ever tasted better.

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