Welcome to the machine

 

A couple of days ago I escorted a lady friend of mine to the underground car park near my flat, and on the way out I fancied a snack, so I passed by the vending machine to buy a bar of chocolate or something else to satisfy my craving. All the usual suspects were there…Oreols, Twix, Kit-Kat, Pipas sunflower seeds, chewing gum, Durex….Durex!

The one thing you can be sure of with most vending machines is that they will usually only have things to fulfil an oral fixation – something to eat, to drink, to chew – but this is the first time I’ve seen a combination of things that went beyond the gastronomical. Okay, it would be easy to make some comment about a blow job being oral, but let’s face it – in that case, why the hell would you want a condom!

But it set me athinkin’…we’re so used to buying the odd bar of chocolate and packet of crisps from the silent salesman at almost any hour of the day, but if we can now buy a packet of jonnies along with the packet of nuts, what else is available?

My car park meanderings might have come to nothing if the next day I hadn’t strolled past the kiosko of my friend Pepe. Defunct kiosko is probably a better phrase, because he and his lovely wife, Carmen, retired a couple of months earlier. Where once a couple of delightful people dispensed newspapers, magazines, sweets, chocolates and big smiles, stood a machine that dispensed cans of coke, packets of crisps (chips to anyone outside the UK), disgustingly lurid, teeth-rotting tubes of sugar-saturated sweets – and not a word about how your day had been. What a loss to the barrio.

So… I decided to find out just how far this vending machine malarkey went…and I’m happy to say that if all we can buy in Spain is a can of fizzy pop and an overly salted packet of industrial waste, then we aren’t doing badly, thank you very much!

It’s easy enough to buy a packet of ciggies from a machine, although made difficult now for the juveniles because they have to ask the barman to give them the key that unlocks the ‘under-age’ button – which shows that I’m not a smoker because I’ve no idea what the laser-key actually does, but I believe it’s to deter under-age smoking. In Tokyo they go one step further because their vending machines have electronic eyes that evaluate customers’ skin and wrinkles to determine whether they are old enough to buy tobacco. With the state of my skin they’d probably refuse on the premise that I’ve obviously done enough damage to my health that I don’t need another fag. In some of the more fancy Canadian bars, the ladies rooms are equipped with vending machines with flat irons to allow the dears to defrizz their golden locks – not something I’d need to use, being almost as bald as a coot. But you have to hand it to the Arabs for the one-upmanship of putting machines in upscale hotels that dispense gold bars and coins at more than $1,000 an ounce

It seems that we like to do more of our buying ‘on the hoof’, without having to talk to a hoity-toity sales person. As far as shops are concerned, it’s becoming so expensive to rent property and pay all the overheads that a machine sat in a good position is pretty cost affective. And it’s not just a can of Coke or a bar of Dairy Milk you can buy; Body Shop are offering skin care products with ingredients like hemp and vitamin E in deluxe machines at airports, and will soon be installing them in shopping centres. There was one place in Washington, called Shop 2000, that offered eggs, nappies and condoms that met with a roaring failure and was shut down. Perhaps if punters had bought more of the latter there wouldn’t have been a market for the product in the middle.

So it seems that the vending machine in my local car park may be the thing of the future, with its couple of spiral shelves of Durex. Although I think we’ve still got a long way to go to catch up with Asia where punters can buy underwear, umbrellas, toys, pizza and organic strawberries. Although I hope – very, very, sincerely – that they come from different machines.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

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