Expedition 13: Vending Machines

October 11, 2023. There’s something so satisfying about using a vending machine. You select your item after perusing all the offerings, put in your coins (well, now it’s usually a credit card), push that button and watch your purchase be pushed forward to drop into the tray, soon to be in your hands.

I remember making a point to visit the last Horn and Hardart Automat in New York before it closed in 1991. It was decidedly uncool then, but I was charmed by the fun of getting a slice of pie from a little glass doored compartment. Spurred by contactless meal service during the pandemic, automats are making a comeback! 

But first, I went to the Compound Gallery to patronize their art vending machines. I got a cool set of printed coasters from one machine (the machine next to it dispenses pencils with fortunes printed on them), and these famous artist tokens from the gumball machine. I didn’t try the owl claw machine but it looks cool. Over the years I’ve visited other art vending machines; one was an old cigarette machine with a knob to pull out to make your selected artwork. 

Next I visited the Cal campus. Late Wednesday afternoon it was packed with students. Thirsty ones, apparently. I’ve never seen a totally empty vending machine before! The big machine was a game rental machine in the student union. Tobtos is a brand of sleeping mat, for between class napping, I guess. I love this study aid vending machine. And I’m charmed to learn that students still take tests using Blue Books! 

My main destination was Ramen Station on the Embarcadero in Oakland (or Okurando). I absolutely love this place. I had such an amazing time in Japan so I was happy to be immersed in this subway station themed restaurant. One video screen shows what you’d see on a Japanese subway car, complete with the announcements in Japanese and English (as it is in Tokyo). Another screen had street scenes that made me pine to go back. 

I chose the Black Garlic Tonkatsu and it was delicious. You order on a screen and wait for your number to be called. A disembodied hand places your order on a tray to pick up. And there’s a clean restroom, just like in Japan! There are four drink vending machines with drinks I saw in Japan (water, coffee, tea and Pocari Sweat!) plus cute sodas. I couldn’t resist buying this little Rilakkuma tin which contains marshmallow flavored candies shaped like his face! So kawaii! 

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