I stopped by the 7-11 yesterday for the first time in years. I was thirsty and wasn’t willing to wait until I got home for a glass of water. I grabbed a $1.59 bottle of Aquafina and headed to the checkout stand.

A woman and her two teenage daughters were in front of me. They were purchasing three Big Bite hot dogs, a Slurpee, and a couple pieces of candy. From the way they acted, this seemed to be routine for them. They knew where everything was and how much it cost. There was some confusion at first as to the price of the Big Bites, but the woman was right and the clerk was wrong. The total bill was $7.21.

The woman me ran her credit card through the machine. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” said the clerk. “That card was declined.”

The woman frowned and whispered to her oldest daughter, who then rummaged through her pockets and handed her mother some change. The woman turned and asked the clerk, “Can I put part of it on credit and pay for part of it with cash?”

“Er, yes,” said the clerk. “But the card was just declined.”

“Oh, I have six dollars on the card,” said the woman, and she ran it through again. Sure enough, the card was accepted for six dollars. She paid the remaining $1.21 in cash.

While I waited for the transaction to be completed, I examined two signs taped to the cash register. The smaller of the two read: credit not accepted for lottery transactions. The larger sign, which was hand-printed, declared: lottery tickets cash only. I felt like I was in another dimension, a dimension where charging lottery tickets was an acceptable investment strategy, a dimension where people knew to the penny how much room they had left on their credit cards.

As the woman and her family left the store, I wondered what sort of advice a person could offer them that might have any practical use. I wondered what their future might be like. What would the woman do now that she had reached her credit limit? And why was she buying her meals at 7-11? There’s a grocery store across the street.

After paying for the expensive water, I climbed in my car and drove away. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I spied the woman and her two daughters sitting on a sidewalk in a nearby alley, munching on their Big Bites and sharing the Slurpee. They seemed perfectly content.

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