It’s 2:30am and I’ve just finished stir-frying some noodles. I eat it and now I’m thirsty. I’ve got bottled water, but I want something with sugar in it. The vending machine down the hall has Five-Alive. It’s not the best, but I don’t want Coke as this time of the night.

I get to the machine and I put in $1.50. Yeah, it’s outrageous how much it costs for a can of Five-Alive. I push the button for it. Nothing. Strange, the light wasn’t out, so it appears it’s got some more. I ponder the situation. Again, I push the button, increasingly feeling like some Pavlovian subject. Nothing again. Press, press, press, press, press…. nothing.

The soft drinks costs $1.75 so I put in an extra quarter. Now I start pressing the soft drink buttons. Nothing. More pushing, now randomly… nothing. Now I’m peeved. The electronic display mocks me now by showing how much money I’ve given it… for nothing…. $1.75 it flashes.

I try the refund button. Nothing. I swear that button isn’t even hooked up. What company would ever want to give you back your money once it has it?

Now I’m standing there feeling like an idiot, an idiot who’s still thirsty. I look at the top of the machine. A sticker proudly announces this machine is serviced by the Aramark Corporation. There’s even a phone number, 540-7677. I burn it into my memory.

I do the angry walk back to my room. I am no longer Erwin the grad student, I am Erwin the peeved consumer. Once back, I grab the phone. I fully expect to get a machine where I can leave a stern, yet effective message to the fine folks at the Aramark Corporation, a multi-national giant of a company. To my surprise, a woman answers.

“Hello, one of your machines gladly accepted my money but did not give me my frosty, cold beverage,” I say.

“Oh, whereabouts are you located?” she replies.

“St. John’s College at UBC,” I say.

“And our machine did not provide you with a product?” she continues.

“No, it took my money, which I believe is now part of a dividend being dispersed among your shareholders,” I offer.

She mentions something about scheduling a service call. She asks for my name. I give it. She asks me to spell my last name. This is good.

“T-A-N-G, like the drink, like a drink I wanted to get just now, but couldn’t, ha ha ha,” I say.

She doesn’t see the humour in the situation. My phone number is next. She tells me that someone will call me. I thank her and hang up.

I can tell you one thing, Aramark better call me… and offer restitution. I’m not a stupid consumer. All my life I’ve watched my dad go about complaining to companies in the wrong way. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do.

For example, a Swiss Chalet closed down near my house a few years ago. I complained to Swiss Chalet that I had to drive far now to get my chicken. They gave me two free dinners. That was nice. I’ve also received free gift certificates from White Spot because I wrote a letter to them stating their noodles weren’t ethnic enough. True story.

I’m not a scam artist, and if I’m writing or phoning to make a comment, you can be sure something was wrong.

I’m interested in seeing how this is gonna all play out. I’ll definitely keep you posted.

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