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Monday, June 13, 2011

Another Portland moment

I found myself an old man amidst the hipsters of Mississippi Avenue in north Portland yesterday afternoon. Lucky us, there was some kind of bike race going on. The streets were a rat maze of detours, and the place was teeming with statement-makers. All that was missing was Fred Armisen.

I finally parked the car and headed to the pizza place for an event. After dutifully waiting in line, I ordered my slice and handed the young woman behind the counter a $20 bill. It was the older type of twenty, with the smaller portrait of Jackson and without the security stripe on it. I didn't even notice, but the counter person did. She held it up to the light, peered at it for a while, and informed me that she would have to go ask her manager whether she could accept it.

She left, and after a while she came back and announced that they don't take those bills there any more, because "they might be fake." It wasn't worth a single breath arguing about. I snatched the money out of her marginally employed hand, grabbed my old man hat, and walked out.

Call me a sorehead, but that is the last money I will ever try to spend at the establishment known as Mississippi Pizza.

Comments (33)

Just be glad you weren't trying to pay with $2 bills. (I'll bet a vintage $20 that she didn't even actually check: she just sat in the back and waited in hopes that you'd leave. I used to deal with that in Portland all of the time.)

Wow. Just wow. I've always thought high schools should offer a Basic Finance class on balancing a checkbook and distinguishing between borrowing and earning money. It never occurred to me that identifying US currency should be part of the curriculum too.

I'd suggest a letter to the Oregonian as well as Mississippi Pizza. FYI, the pizza there is just OK. Next time, try Bella Faccia, 2934 NE Alberta. Way better pizza and they still accept old twenty dollar bills.

You'd think Mississippi Pizza would be hungry for business, now that its gravy train has left the station.

A business that doesn't want to accept perfectly good $$$. Now that's keeping Portland Weird. It's not like you were trying to change a $100 bill after buying a pack of gum or something.


Great two dollar bill story. A long time ago, I worked in a busy nightclub where a semi-regular customer (who was fairly average in most respects) always tipped with two dollar bills. He wasn't overly generous with them (probably 20-25% on average) and he only came in a couple times a month. Still the uniqueness of his tips made him memorable and every server wanted to wait on him. It was brilliant way to get top shelf service without going broke.

I don't know how this won't end up being in a Portlandia episode. it's all too much. People "back east' are certain that while the earth isn't flat, this continent is tilted westward -- the proof is that all the loose nuts end up out there.

Not to mention that it is actually illegal not to accept American currency.

I have a better reason to stay away from the joint. THREE YEARS after it opened, I got a call from a kitchen worker there who was having trouble filing a workers' compensation claim for a knife wound to her hand. Long story short, it turned out that Mississippi Pizza had the bad taste to ignore the statutory requirements to obtain workers' compensation insurance for all of its since since the date they had opened. In addition to getting stuck with the full cost of my client's injury, the restaurant was required to pay a civil penalty to the State of Oregon in the amount of $23,000 and change. Ouch! Biggest civil penalty for that particular violation I have ever seen.

I would have left, too. And I'm not even an old man like you.

Not to mention that it is actually illegal not to accept American currency.

Under Sharia Law, this is entirely proper, unless the pizza is halal.

He wasn't overly generous with them (probably 20-25% on average)

That's not generous???!

And what are the odds she'd have known how to make change for that $20 without the electronic register telling her?

It's not exactly illegal to refuse to accept American currency; rather, American currency is legal tender for all debts, meaning that if you owe someone a sum of money, and you offer American currency, that constitutes a tender; if your creditor refuses to take the money, the creditor can't later ding you for the consequences of not having paid the debt except for the debt itself. However, if you're offering something for sale, you can specify in what form you will accept payment, and refuse to accept payment in other forms. Even the post office refuses to take certain denominations of American currency.

Speaking of $2 bill stories, here's Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) telling his story about how he was mirandized by the Secret Service about his use of $2 bills in Vegas.

I'm only 40, but I would've done the exact same thing. Only then I would've written a really bad review on Yelp to make myself feel better.

If I was this young woman's parent I would be deeply embarrassed. When is it that good sense flew out the door?

Re: "It's not exactly illegal to refuse to accept American currency"

Far from being "illegal to refuse," apparently some legal currency is illegal to proffer; indeed, doing so may imperil one's freedom and financial well-being. As in most interactions, behavioral context appears to be critical:

"The 38-year-old medical patient didn’t believe he owed the Vernal, Utah medical clinic $25, and apparently repeated attempts to prove his case didn’t exonerate him of the charge. So he decided to go there in person and pay the fee—and make the clinic pay as well.

He asked the staff if the facility accepted cash payments. When they replied that they did, he showed up with the 25,000 pennies, dumped them on the receptionist’s counter and demanded that they all be counted.

The clinic wasn’t very amused by the little stunt and called the police, who came and arrested West on the basis that his particular protest “served no legitimate purpose.” His initial $25 medical fee will most certainly be growing—as the penalty for his charge can reach as high as $140. There’s no word yet on what currency West will use to pay it, but it can be expected he won’t try to pull a similar stunt."“penny-offense”/229114/

Given the attention paid on this blog to pennies, it might be a reasonable precaution to inquire of a creditor or vendor whether coppers are cheerfully accepted before proffering a bag of them for a slice.

$2 bills, btw, are not as unfamiliar in Stumptown as some might imagine. Citizens Photo, for example, used to give them in change. Whether that idiosyncratic custom has been retained since the move to SE 6th remains to be determined.

"It's not exactly illegal to refuse to accept American currency..."

Isaac, thanks for explaining that. I've always wondered how Apple Stores can get away with not accepting cash.

If I was this young woman's parent I would be deeply embarrassed. When is it that good sense flew out the door?

Whoa. I agree that this would be annoying, and I too would probably not return. But it is apparently the store or management policy, not that of the poor counter girl, who appears to only be doing her job as she was instructed. As someone who has worked for people who demand strict adherence to inane policies, why don't you give the poor gal a break?

Besides, a bank isn't going to take a counterfeit bill and give you a real one for it, so a business gets stuck with it if they take it. Checking for the magnetic strip is an easy and fairly fool-proof way of quickly discerning if a bill is real. I've worked for people who have said they'd take the $ out of my check if I take a bad bill. I don't know if that's legal or not, but employers do put that on their people sometimes.

Would everyone chill out? I've been going to trivia on Wednesdays at Mississippi Pizza for over a year, and I've always found the staff very pleasant and courteous. And I think the pizza's delicious. For some reason, when it comes to pizza, a lot of people think that their individual preference is some kind of quantifiable evidence beyond dispute.

Yeah and don't try to spend a $100 bill anywhere. Why does the government continue to print them? Are they that easy to counterfeit? Jeebus Jack! You sound like me on this one!

The food cart corner on Greeley and Killingsworth has a pizza joint that turns out wood-fired pizzas that make everything else seem lame, although they are probably as clot-inducing as the others.

Unless Citizen's Photo has moved again, I believe it is history.

Never trust anyone in a duffers hat who thinks you're hipster.They will punish themselves by boycotting good cheap food.

I'd rather starve than deal with stupid people with bad attitudes, of any age.

And the hat is of a type appropriate for someone of my age, but you also see it quite often on the trustafarian 20-somethings in these parts. Oh, the irony.

However, if you're offering something for sale, you can specify in what form you will accept payment, and refuse to accept payment in other forms.

In this case, they would take $20 bills, but only the new $20 bills, not the older ones. That's quite an interesting distinction.

Miss. Pizza is an old-school hippie pizza joint that pre-dates the uppity-scale gentrification that's been imposed onto that neighborhood and frankly, I've wondered how much longer they'll be able to hold out before going the way of "It's a Beautiful Pizza"?

Mississippi Avenue is destined to go the way of NW 21st, NW 23rd, SE Hawthorne, SE Division, NE Alberta, SE 13th, etc, and all the other hippie/artist/anti-establishmentarian/cheap-rent/interesting districts that were once all over Portland, and Seattle for that matter.

I will say I've been there many times over the years, and if I find myself there again and I don't have my debit card I'll be sure to ask if they accept US currency before I order anything.

I'll add my comments to those who say don't blame the counter girl for following store policy. Perhaps they were passed a good number of bad 20s over the years, and are gun shy to accept one of the "old" bills now?

I thought that was Mick Jagger on the new twenties, rather than A.J. Thanks for the schooling.

Now that I'm in the bland midwest, I will say that I miss Gladstone Pizza in Southeast though. That's a good pie.

Next time, try a sack full of pennies.


The $2 bill tipper was a good tipper (somewhat above average, but nothing outrageous).

My point was that he got premium attention because of the $2bills. If he had tipped the same amount with one's and five's he wouldn't have attracted the same attention.

Apologies to the host for this thread tangent.


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