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A wise man once said, “There’s nothing more depressing than an empty snack machine.”

That wise man was me, because it’s what I said the day our old snack machine at the JG-TC offices was removed in favor of a fancy, state of the art space-age model with big blinking lights and a digital readout. I caught glimpse of the old one and its big click buttons sadly tucked away into a back corridor waiting to be taken away to wherever old snack machines go.

And it’s what I said once again last Friday when two men in coveralls from a company I won’t name wheeled a little handtruck into our office and took our vending machine away, for good this time. Reason? It wasn’t selling enough.

I’ll forgo giving you all a transcript of the little fit I had, but I will say it all boiled down to the fact that I had no idea it was my obligation to continually donate money to a snack machine for fear that it would be taken away.

I’ve been around, you know? And in all my time I have never, ever, seen a snack machine disappear. You plant one of those suckers into the ground and that’s where it stays pretty much forever, sometimes holding its ground even after the businesses near it have shuttered its doors. I’m reasonably sure there are a couple vacant lots near you that that mysteriously still have vending machines in them.

Look, I get it. At the end of the day it’s a pretty small thing to get that worked up about. You may very well work at a job where you’re out and about in a vehicle or on a jobsite where you can just reach into your trusty cooler if you need a snack. But for Johnny (and Jonni) Punch-clocks like us, just knowing there’s a rectangular friend a few rooms over that’s prepared to sell us a pack of Pop-Tarts or some of those spongy peanut butter cookies when we’re having a bad day is enough to help get you through those long days.

In an era of such technological wonders there’s still something about a vending machine that can amaze. Every once in a while there’s a co-worker here who, due to a scheduling issue, will have their kids drop by the office in the evening while I’m wrapping up and friends, nothing warms my heart more than when they continually freak out over our vending machine. And who could blame them? All the food they’re not supposed to be eating all in one place? And just a dollar bill away?

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My first ever recollection of interacting with a snack machine would most definitely be those childhood trips with my father to Effingham Truck Sales, a place which always felt to me like some kind of intergalactic starport right out of Battlestar Galactica...the ‘70s one with Dirk Benedict.

And while my dad shot the you-know-what with his buddies at the long counter with the huge parts catalogs, I would retire to the room with a T.V. mounted on a ceiling bracket and the entire wall of snack machines, including one for, and I’m sure I remember this right, soup. That’s right, soup from a vending machine. Yumm-eee. I’m still a little foggy on if my dad threw me a buck just so I could watch a grubby metal nozzle spout florescent yellow broth into a small Styrofoam bowl behind a smeared plastic window, but I’d like to think he did.

I remember my very first day here at the JG-TC, an over-educated but under-experienced lout scared to death he wasn’t going to be able to handle something as simple as keeping track of the letters to the editor. During my very first break I retreated to the break room to have a minor freakout and ended up finding solace by familiarizing myself with the snack machine.

The very first thing I ever got out of it was a roll of stale, knock off Certs from the bottom row where they usually stick the stale Juicy Fruit. Upon realizing my choice was a mistake, the second thing I bought, from the tippy top row: A grab bag of T.G.I. Friday’s Cheddar and Bacon Potato Skin Chips. And as I took that first crunch, I knew I was going to be all right. And I have been.

If that snack machine could only talk it would no doubt tell the story of the JG-TC office, at least in snack terms. From the infamous back and forth over the Jack Links Meat and Cheese Sticks; to the even more infamous tussle over the Strawberry Pop Tarts. Or the time that someone, who shall be unnamed, kept burning the bags of Act II Microwave Popcorn, and those glorious two weeks the bottom rack had some weird iced fritter-pastry called an “Apple Ugly” that so entranced one of us that they actually put a Post-It note on the machine begging the vendor that we needed “more Apple Uglies” (they never returned, by the way). And on a personal note, the day I realized that slots C7 and C8 were set to the same gear because if you bought something from one, it gave you something from the other. That also was the day I learned to fall in love with (free) Fig Newtons. But now, it’s all over.

Today, everything’s different. There’s no action anymore. Now I better be a fortune teller and buy something ahead of time at the gas station each morning. Because if I don’t, then I get to take the circuitous trek into the mall craving Tato Skins, but knowing I’m going to end up with a bag of circus peanuts or peach gummies; I get to live the rest of my life looking for a snack.

For it turns out there’s actually something much more depressing than an empty snack machine. It’s the gross space on the break room floor where the snack machine used to be.

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"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at cwalker@jg-tc.com.

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