By Michael Scully
Many years ago in this fair land, about the only way one paid for food purchases at a grocery store was with cash. It’s so much neater and less complicated nowadays: Simply insert your credit card into the handy little card reader and follow the instructions on the screen. No messing around with bills and change, just take the receipt and go — easy peasy!
One thing I don’t miss are the times that I put more than I was able to pay for on the belt, which would lead to a somewhat embarrassed me having to decide which items not to buy in order to get back under my limit.
This would sometimes occur in spite of my best efforts to not exceed the amount I had in my wallet as I gathered my desired food items. I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to.
So now our only concern is being able to pay the credit bill on time and not exceeding the card’s credit limit. Ah, it’s never easy.
Anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m a bit flaky. I want to share a story from the 1980s that demonstrates this dubious trait in the context of paying for groceries with cash.
While in my 20s I got my very own apartment in North Buffalo, which was very cool and exhilarating for a while.
But it soon became apparent that I’d bitten off more than I could chew in terms of being able to afford the rent and bills on my meager salary as a social worker.
One extremely snowy night, I noticed that I was running low on cat food for my two cats, Sally and Sue, with a few days yet until payday. I was tapped out money-wise, with the exception of a Canadian $5 bill.
So what did I do? Just go to the nearby Bells at Central Park Plaza, buy cat food and take the hit on the exchange rate? (The Canadian dollar was much stronger at the time).
No, in my decidedly flaky style, I figured that I’d get more bang for my buck if I went to Canada with my Canadian five to find food for my hungry cats.
So I hopped in my car and drove to the Peace Bridge on that wintry, snowy night in 1986.
There were few, if any, other cars crossing the bridge as I approached Canadian customs. Back in the ’80s, and for most of my life growing up, crossing the border was generally very routine, with no need for passports or heightened security.
So when I told the customs agent that my purpose in going to Fort Erie was to buy cat food, I figured I’d just get waved through as usual.
The customs man was not amused, however. I don’t know if he thought I was being flippant or if I was just out of my mind.
He came right up to the window and asked me a series of questions:
• Where do you work?
• How much money do you have?
• Have you ever been arrested?
It was not fun.
He eventually let me go when he saw that I was actually serious about crossing the border to buy cat food.
I promptly went to the A&P grocery store in Fort Erie, bought two boxes of cat food and headed straight back.
Amazingly, the U.S. Customs man let me right through when I told him why I’d gone to Canada. He must have realized that, even more than fiction, truth can be quite strange.
Michael Scully, of Williamsville, no longer drives to Fort Erie to save money on cat food.