I’m not entirely sure what the point of this blog post is, but it’s rattling around in my brain and I need to get it out.

When I was a little kid my Dad was a volunteer fire fighter, and would sometimes bring me to the firehouse. I remember one day we were particularly thirsty and wanted to split a soda, so he walked over to the refrigerator, took out a can of Diet Mountain Dew (his carbonated beverage of choice), reached into his pocket, fished out a couple quarters, and dropped them into a coffee can sitting on top of the fridge.

Equal parts amazed and bewildered, I asked him what he had just done.

“I took a drink, so I put some money in the can to cover it,” he said. I mean, maybe. It was like twenty years ago and I was around four years old, so it’s not an exact quote.

I didn’t understand, so I asked for him to explain it a bit more. He told me that there was a coffee can on top of the fridge, and whenever you got something out you were supposed to put in the money so that when it came time to replenish the soda there would be enough to cover it from the people who had been the ones who had used it.

It blew my young mind. It seemed like pure anarchy and chaos, a system without any oversight or accountability where the soda was plentiful and everyone was on scout’s honor to pay for it. Dad explained how sometimes people were in a hurry or didn’t have change, so they’d take a soda without paying, but then down the line they would sometimes come back and put in even more than they were expected to, and that everything “worked itself out” in the end.

There were no punishments for those who took without paying. There was no set price for a soda (my memory here is fuzzy, but seems like there might have been a list of what was in the fridge with a note about how much each item cost to replace). People just chipped in. There was always soda, just as there was always money in the can when it came time for whomever supplied the soda to go to the store. It all came out in the wash.