Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode XIX: Interlude, with Change

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 June 16.)

In the Old Home Café, business was slow, which seemed to be a common occurence as 3 P.M. rolled around. The late lunchers had gone, and the Coke and chocolate shake kids had yet to return from school. Time for a break, thought Jon, as he kicked back in the booth nearest the pay phone and began reading the latest issue of Daredevil.

Larry, Jerry and Jerry Two were out back of the Café, pitching pennies on the cracked concrete slab where once stood a garage. The slab wasn’t perfectly flat, and they did need to spend a few minutes with a weed whacker to clear off the vegetation, but as penny-pitching playing fields go, this slab was good.

Pitching pennies is not a highly physical game, so while they sipped on cans of soda and flipped coins, the summer crew of the Old Home Café waxed philosophical.

“I wonder how large a pile of a million pennies would be,” Larry mused.

Jerry though for a moment. “Not too large, I’d guess. About a dozen feet cubed, maybe.”

“Larger, I’d say,” said Larry, tossing a 1999 D towards the crack that they’d selected as a target. “A pile of dimes would be smaller. What about quarters and half-dollars?”

“Well, we could just do the math,” suggested Jerry. “How large is a penny? Got a ruler?”

“There’s one on Jon’s desk. I’ll get it,” said Larry, entering the back door of the Café, which went directly into the kitchen. He returned less than a minute later, holding a six-inch stainless steel ruler with engraved lines every 1/32nd or 1/64th of an inch, depending upon which edge you were using. He pulled a penny from his pocket; it was a 2002, bright and shiny.

Holding the ruler against the edge of the penny, Larry estimated its thickness. “Looks like about 3/64 inch thick, and about 3/4 inch diameter. A million of them would be…” he paused, making a quick calculation. “… about 3900 feet high.”

“Yeah, right,” said Jerry. “Who’s going to pile a million pennies in one stack?”

Jerry Two looked amused, but he didn’t say a word.

“Okay, then, I’ll break it down,” said Larry. “If a million pennies are 3900 feet high, then half-a-million are 1,950 feet high, 250 thousand are 975 feet high, 125 thousand are… I need a calculator. Jerry,” said Larry, referring to Jerry Too, “Would you get the one on Jon’s desk? The little blue calculator.” Jerry Too stepped into the kitchen.

Jerry sighed. “Nice day, isn’t it? Take a break, and it turns into a math lesson.”

Jerry Two returned with the calculator. Larry took it and, with a few fast taps upon the keys, arrived at the answer. “One million pennies, stacked in 256 columns of 3900 pennies each, would be 15 feet high, 16 feet wide and 16 feet deep. Approximately,” he added, “about the size of the garage that isn’t here.”

Jerry Two paced off the sides of the concrete slab. Jerry said, “But what would you do with a million pennies, if you had them? Build a tent and charge admission?”

“Good question,” said Larry, pondering the answer. He picked up the calculator and ruler. “Be right back,” he said, stepping into the Café to return the borrowed items to Jon’s desk.

Jon was at this desk, continuing the work which he had begun with the newspaper clippings from the display case in the dining room. Larry put the ruler and calculator on the desk. “What are you going to do with the pictures?” he asked Jon.

Jon leaned back in his chair. “After I scan them, I’ll print replacements for the case. These,” he said, sweeping his hands across the yellowed newsprint, “are getting hard to read. Then I’ll store the originals somewhere safe.” He noticed the items that Larry had brought. “What were you doing?” he asked.

“Useless trivia,” said Larry. “We were wondering how much space a million pennies would take, and if anyone would pay to see a million pennies.”

“Interesting,” said Jon. “When you get a million pennies, let me know. You want to keep watch out front?” asked Jon. “It’s 3:30. We should be getting a school bus in town about now.”

“Yeah, I’ll get ready for the after school specials,” said Larry, as he headed for the main room.

As Jon scanned another article, he thought about Larry’s comment on pennies; he wondered if anyone would actually pay to see a pile of pennies. And how much would they pay? And even then, you would first need to get enough pennies to create the pile and…

That’s when the idea slapped him in the face. Larry’s investigation may have been trivial, but it was an inspiration. You didn’t need a million pennies to start; you only needed one. Like the Field of Dreams, “build it, and they will come.”

The Old Home Café was about to add a new offering to its menu.

Next: The World’s Largest Pile Of Loose Change?

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