31 years of washing
January 31, 2018 5:01 AM   Subscribe

 
I love this. Now we need a way to easily disinfect luggage and purses--like with high concentration vaporized hydrogen peroxide. Years of environmental microbiology research made me queasy. After a long trip I give my luggage the side eye knowing all the dirty/snot laden/pissy bathroom floors it's been on. After disinfecting my luggage I would like a mint placed on it.
posted by waving at 5:11 AM on January 31 [6 favorites]


What a fun article! It really is the little things that make all the difference.

I stayed at the St. Francis in the early 70s. I was just a kid. My father traveled a lot for business and appreciated grand old hotels; he enjoyed details and the many forms luxury could take. One early morning he and I were in the lobby watching the hotel’s day begin, and he pointed out the uniformed attendant carefully raking the sand in the tall, urnlike ashtrays, finishing the job by pressing it smooth with a wooden disc. Once he moved on, Dad made sure I got a close look at his work; to my delight, the ashtray sand now bore an elegant, raised hotel monogram.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:12 AM on January 31 [20 favorites]


This is a really cool story that has firmly lodged the "shiny new penny" scene from Miller's Crossing in my head for the rest of the day. Both of which are good things.

a hot dog and mustard.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:25 AM on January 31


Tradesmen in the notorious 18th century London slum of Seven Dials were forced to boil their coins in potash and vinegar before anyone would accept them. Without that precaution, people assumed the coins must be carrying disease and turned them away.

Gilbert & Sullivan reflected the neighbourhood's poor reputation by calling it "soapless Seven Dials" in Iolanthe.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:54 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Neat article!

It reminded me of when I rran concessions at my old high school here in Phoenix when they held summer schools for the District. Part of the job, as well as running the concession stand, was restocking and collecting the coins from the eight Coke machines on the campus.

(Kids in summer school in Phoenix were a captive, thirsty, market during their 10-minute breaks. They drank a LOT of soda!)

Every day, I’d have to process the bills and coins from the operation, hundreds of dollars a day. I still remember the greasy smell and feel of the money. I often thought it would be great to wash it all before passing it through the noisy Klopp coin sorter and rolling them up.

I did that job two summers in my late teens to help pay for college. It broke me of my interest in handling money AND of my appetite for most junk foods.
posted by darkstar at 5:58 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Has anyone read 'Dodger' by Terry Pratchett? Based on the life of a tosher in Victorian London. The toshers made a living by recovering loose change that gathered in the sewers.

Dodger could have really used one of these.
posted by adept256 at 6:01 AM on January 31


As a child I wondered why I often saw signs advertising a "coin laundry." Lots of folks must have dirty money, I thought. Years passed before the nickel finally, uh, dropped.
posted by SPrintF at 6:12 AM on January 31 [21 favorites]


> Gilbert & Sullivan reflected the neighbourhood's poor reputation by calling it "soapless Seven Dials" in Iolanthe.

Now you've got me intensely curious about the irony of Dial Soap's name.
posted by ardgedee at 6:17 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Welp, if you're into coin collecting, you better hope you don't get anything interesting in your change at the Westin. It's really not good for the surface of the coin, and can ruin the value.
posted by SansPoint at 6:49 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Thank you for this flashback to my childhood in "the city." "It's a connection to a different time," Holsen said as he rolled up his sleeves and tucked his tie into his dress shirt. "A connection to a more gentle time, when to go downtown was a big deal. Dress up, put on a hat and gloves, and go to Macy's." Or the City of Paris.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:49 AM on January 31


I stayed here as a little kid! It was my first big trip. I remember three things from it:

1. Sea lions
2. the giant (like 3 feet tall) Norfin troll that they sold in the hotel shop (which I desperately wanted but knew I couldn't have)
3. This. That they washed all the money in the hotel. I think white gloves were involved somehow.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:51 AM on January 31


Now we need a way to easily disinfect luggage and purses

Some colleagues of mine did a lot of work on this through the 2000s. It turns out that this is really hard to do without destroying the fabric too. Hydrogen peroxide (better as a foam), hypochlorites (which work better and are easier to get into gaseous form), even UV exposure all attack viruses or bacteria or spores chemically. And the molecules of fabric are just as vulnerable to those reactions as the baddies are.

All of that work was ten years ago, so maybe someone has had a bright idea since, but SOP after really bad bio exposures was safe disposal for fabrics, leathers, etc.... Sorry.
posted by bonehead at 6:54 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


the coins are often very old
by the time they reach the jeweler
with his hands, and ashes
he will try the best he can
he knows that he can only shine them
cannot repair the scratches
he knows that even new coins have scars
so he just smiles


(Pearls Before Swine, although I prefer This Mortal Coil)
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:59 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


My only experience with money laundering (heh) was when I worked the late shift at a liquor store. As you might imagine, the crowd in the 10-12pm stretch was the stuff of Tom Waits and George Jones songs. In one memorable evening, a lady came in straight from the emergency room, and paid with a wad of blood soaked money. The poor cashier (rightly) refused to touch it. As a manager, it became my problem. I told her just to make change and I'd figure something out. Fortunately, the liquor store included a growler shop, and had all the assorted chemicals and solvents required to clean glass growlers. Gloves were found, and the money was placed in a small container with a hefty dose of PBW (a common oxidizing cleaner found in almost every brewery in the world) and the hottest water I could coax out of our elderly hot water heater. It actually cleaned the bills pretty well.

After that day, I look at all my hard currency askance. Cash may be untraceable, but maybe that's both good and disgusting. Clean coins are like a peck on the cheek from your mom, just a reminder that someone's looking out for you in this big old foul world.

Am I going to be the first to say, "ass pennies"? Yeah, guess so. Judge me as you will. Google it at your own risk.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:13 AM on January 31 [15 favorites]


As an avid coin collector in my youth, my reaction is also “oh gods what are you doing don't wash them no no no!” So I guess PSA: if you have coins that are or might be collectible/valuable, please don't clean them.
posted by traveler_ at 7:29 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


I worked at the St. Francis Hotel for about a year, 1971-72, as storeroom manager, and got to know Arnold Batliner, who the story mentions held the money-laundering job for 31 years. Besides coin-washing he had one other task: cleaning the ashtrays in the lobby and hallways. Once the butts were taken out of the sand, he had a stamp that would mould the initials SF in nice gothic lettering into the sand. That part of the job is now obsolete, of course.

At the time — and maybe they still do this — the St Francis would only hand out brand new paper money when making change, also in the interest of keeping clean the hands and clothes of guests.
posted by beagle at 7:35 AM on January 31 [16 favorites]


It's really not good for the surface of the coin, and can ruin the value.

But isn't that true of everything that we do with coins in order to use them for their intended purpose? It seems like it's important, for the functioning of a currency, that the vast majority of users treat its tokens as having a shared and fixed value. If our responses to physical currency were based on its possible worth as an object, rather than its fixed worth as a symbol, it seems like there would be negative consequences for both economics and numismatics alike.
posted by howfar at 7:41 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


the St Francis would only hand out brand new paper money when making change, also in the interest of keeping clean the hands and clothes of guests.

So.. assuming it's not an antiquated thing if yore, how does this work with regards to getting fresh, crisp bills from the, I assume, bank?

I'll take my answer off the air.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:43 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


In my experience, if you're polite and it's not busy, bank tellers can be remarkably helpful getting very specific things.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:47 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Your bank can provide you with new bills should you require them, although they might need advance notice if it is a larger sum... in my job I assist travelers that need large sums of cash in the form of new, uncirculated bills to use abroad. People in other countries love to be paid with US currency, but only if it is in flawless condition. Whereas here in the US, we will apparently accept even blood-soaked bills and, uh, ass pennies.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:55 AM on January 31 [15 favorites]


It seems like this would also require some additional steps for the cashier. If everyone gets their change in cleaned coins and new bills, you'd need one place to organize the money you accept, and another for the money you give as change. And you would need a much larger amount of change kept on hand. Seems like this would make their cashiers a bigger target for robbery.

I mean, when I worked as a cashier in a gas station and later in a liquor store, you were supposed to make sure you never had more than $75 cash on hand and the rest got shoved into the safe (which was large and heavy and bolted down) via a slot on the top. The cashier didn't have access to the safe. Signs proclaimed this. Keeping the theft risk low by not having easily accessible cash around, is highly dependent on being able to make change with the money you accepted from prior customers.
posted by elizilla at 8:06 AM on January 31


how does this work with regards to getting fresh, crisp bills from the, I assume, bank?
I assume the hotel had an arrangement with the bank, as a pretty big customer, to get a daily supply of crisp new bills.

Dirty bills can just go on the bottom of the pile in the cash drawer. The question of how clerks segregated dirty coins from clean is a good one since most cash registers wouldn't have enough bins in the drawer to keep them apart. I think they hand out a lot more change than they take in, though. Even for customers still paying in cash, they don't tend to use coins (ie., exact change) when paying for their room or meal.
posted by beagle at 8:29 AM on January 31


howfar: Yes, but if you're into coin collecting, you don't want to take an already banged up, previously circulated coin, and damage it further.
posted by SansPoint at 8:38 AM on January 31


how does this work with regards to getting fresh, crisp bills from the, I assume, bank?

You can actually "order" money from the bank. A cousin of mine called up the local BofA and had them reserve a currency strap of $2 bills, which is 100 count, as some sort of M'lady-esque pickup artist tipping bullshit strategy*. He actually may have just walked in and picked them up, to think about it now.

* Turns out 20 year old waitresses couldn't give a shit about getting $10 in two dollar bills rather than in ones or fives, and in one case a waitress had her manager come over to yell at my cousin for attempting to pass "fake" money. He gave them to me and now I have a stack of 50 or so sequential $2 bills in my house somewhere.
posted by sideshow at 8:52 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


One city I lived in, a popular strip club would give two dollar bills in change. It was a Thing. You could not give two dollar bills away in that city, because EVERYONE knew where they had been.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:59 AM on January 31 [13 favorites]


I personally like to have $2 bills available to leave as tips when I need a good alibi for a murder I absolutely did not commit, I couldn't have, I was at the bar, ask the waitress, she remembers me.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:00 AM on January 31 [10 favorites]


It's an interesting story, but I am a bit skeeved out at how the wealthy are catered to in small and large ways that they probably don't notice. The good thing about a job handling money is that you see some interesting coins and bills. One of many crummy things is sweaty people giving you sweaty bills. You learn to wash your hands a lot.
posted by theora55 at 9:06 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


I'm with theora55—maybe I'm just a grump but this seems like another toxic manifestation of inequality to me, not some quaint relic of a "more gentle time." It seems like the sort of thing Elon Musk would order the cafeteria workers at Tesla to do.
posted by enn at 9:15 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Every now and then I take my hoard of change up to the credit union to run it through their counting machine (no fee for members!) and I am surprised at how often I find foreign coins in the rejects. I found a Kenyan shilling last time.
posted by thelonius at 9:33 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


I'm slightly confused by the title introducing this 8 year old article about an employee of (at the time) 20 years.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:37 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


thelonius: Dang. I've found a UK 1 pence piece, a Bahamanian quarter, and a silver Roosevelt Dime, but nothing as far-afield as Kenya!
posted by SansPoint at 11:32 AM on January 31


We could save him some time by getting rid of the worthless pennies and nickels. Thereby recyling all that copper-plated zinc (*sounds* so phoney) and nickel-plated godknowswhat.

As an added bonus, this forces those people who price stuff $xx.99 to lower the price nine cents. That will chafe - which is deserved.
posted by Twang at 12:57 PM on January 31


Twang: Don't be ridiculous. They'll just jack up the price of everything by a penny.
posted by SansPoint at 1:00 PM on January 31


kinnakeet: I stayed at the St. Francis in the early 70s. I was just a kid. My father traveled a lot for business and appreciated grand old hotels; he enjoyed details and the many forms luxury could take. One early morning he and I were in the lobby watching the hotel’s day begin, and he pointed out the uniformed attendant carefully raking the sand in the tall, urnlike ashtrays, finishing the job by pressing it smooth with a wooden disc. Once he moved on, Dad made sure I got a close look at his work; to my delight, the ashtray sand now bore an elegant, raised hotel monogram.

beagle: I worked at the St. Francis Hotel for about a year, 1971-72, as storeroom manager, and got to know Arnold Batliner, who the story mentions held the money-laundering job for 31 years. Besides coin-washing he had one other task: cleaning the ashtrays in the lobby and hallways. Once the butts were taken out of the sand, he had a stamp that would mould the initials SF in nice gothic lettering into the sand. That part of the job is now obsolete, of course.

Those two unconnected comments make me absurdly happy. What a small world, indeed!
posted by current resident at 1:26 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


I heard about this a few years ago. I stayed there about 10 years ago. If I had known this, I would have paid for something in cash just to get some of their cleaned coins.
posted by Badgermann at 1:31 PM on January 31


What a cool coincidence; I’ll be staying there for a week, starting tomorrow night!
posted by theperfectcrime at 1:42 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I assume the hotel had an arrangement with the bank, as a pretty big customer, to get a daily supply of crisp new bills.

And an arrangement with the San Francisco Mint for new coins -- all proof.
posted by clew at 2:14 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I'm now sorry that when I stayed at the St. Francis a few years ago I paid for everything on my credit card.
posted by sfred at 2:49 PM on January 31


If you lose your credit card at the hotel, they do not tell you it was lost. Your card is there in your wallet, now hand-carved from teak, gilt-edged, with your name and card number painted on by Arnold Batliner's daughter, using a single camel hair. But you don't notice, because the facsimile is flawless. However, your body is lighter, your eyes more clear. The San Francisco fog is silk against your new skin. Or so I assume.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 3:48 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


Twang: "As an added bonus, this forces those people who price stuff $xx.99 to lower the price nine cents. That will chafe - which is deserved."

We did this in Canada (well just the penny) and prices didn't change at all. All that happens is if you are paying cash you round to the nearest nickle.
posted by Mitheral at 5:11 PM on January 31


All that happens is if you are paying cash you round to the nearest nickel.

That's a distinction without a difference, surely? Given the prevalence of $x.99 pricing, rounding to the nearest nickel is almost always going to result in you paying 1c more. That's precisely the outcome that SansPoint predicted above.
posted by Paul Slade at 7:10 AM on February 1


Only if you tend to buy items one transaction at a time and there is no sales tax.
posted by Mitheral at 12:38 PM on February 1


We did this in Canada (well just the penny) and prices didn't change at all.

A student at UBC did a study on this year. She looked at some large number of grocery stores in the Vancouver area and found that they were collecting on average about $160 more per store per year. Which doesn't sound like a lot, but added up to over $3 Million in aggregate.

It's a number theory problem. As she says: “If every digit has the same chance of appearing, then the net effect of rounding would be zero,” she said. “But when you go to a grocery store most of the prices end in nine, which means when we round things the prices might actually round up.”

Rounding up happened more than rounding down, and lead to overcharging in the store's favour. Not a lot at each store, but measurable.

Not a huge concern, but probably something that should be addressed in legislation, if nothing else to be sure to maintain appearance of fairness in the law.
posted by bonehead at 11:36 AM on February 2


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