"Bob Levey speaking."
"Bob, this is one of your readers down at Agriculture. How are you?"
"Doin' fine. How are pork belly futures today?"
"Only kind of pork I know is chops. Listen, me and some of the girls, we were arguing about something, and somebody said, 'Let's call Bob Levey and see what he thinks.' "
"I'd better warn you that I charge $100 an hour to solve the world's problems."
"That's all? Hey, you're pretty cheap, Bob."
"That's exactly what some of my old girlfriends used to say."
"I wouldn't touch that one with a pole. Anyway, Bob, here's the question."
"One of the girls was about to get on the bus over in Northern Virginia this morning. She comes to work real early, so there weren't but a couple of other people around. Suddenly she discovers she doesn't have exact change for the fare. And the other passengers couldn't change a dollar. So she goes into the drugstore on the corner to get some change."
"And they wouldn't give it to her."
"Are you psychic or something?"
"Nope, just wise to the cruel ways of the world."
"Well, you hit it right on the head. Here's a big drugstore chain -- I'm not going to mention the name -- and the cashier gets all snippy and says she's been told by the manager not to give change for the bus. The only way you can get change is if you buy something."
"What did your friend do?"
"She ended up buying one of those purse-sized packages of Kleenex. And she didn't even need it because she already had one she hadn't even opened."
"I'll bet you want me to keel over in outrage because the drugstore wouldn't change a dollar, right?"
"Well, don't you think that's a pretty rotten attitude?"
"Sure. But, listen, ma'am, change isn't free. The manager of that drugstore has to go to the bank every morning before he opens up to get change, and he probably has to pay a fee for it. So why shouldn't he recoup that cost by forcing you to buy something? He's there to make money, not to act like a bank."
"I can see that. But how many people could there be who come in asking for change for the bus, anyway?"
"You'd be amazed. I used to live near a very popular Peoples Drug Store on a main bus line that ran down Connecticut Avenue. I'd be in there looking through the magazines for 10 minutes, and in that time alone, three people would come in and ask for change. And this wasn't at rush hour, either."
"One of the girls made a good point. She said, 'You know what the easiest way out of this would be? If the bus driver made change like in the old days.' "
"You remember why they gave that up, don't you? Bus drivers were getting robbed all the time. One driver was shot and killed down near 22nd and P by a teen-aged kid for something like $7.75. I remember covering that story for The Post. Spring of 1968."
"But that's 15 years ago. Don't you think they could try it again? Maybe on just a few routes?"
"I doubt if that would fly politically. What if drivers made change only in the suburbs because the statistics showed the crime rate was lower there? Don't you think the D.C. politicians would scream?"
"OK, you're right. But I've got another idea. What about change machines at bus stops?"
"If you want to know why that won't work, ma'am, just take a look at half the soda and candy machines around town. Thieves break into them all the time. I'd give a change machine by a bus stop about a day and a half, tops."
"Well, what's the answer then, Bob? After all, an answer's the least I can expect for $100 an hour."
"Hey, it's cheap at the price, and don't you forget it. The answer? Do what I do. Always pay for things with larger bills than necessary. If the tab is $1.43, give the cashier a 5 or a 10, not a 1 and two quarters. You'd be amazed how quickly your change will mount up."
"Thanks, Bob. Good idea."
"I appreciate your call. Say hello to the girls for me. The pork bellies, too."