I was in Memphis, Tennessee, returning with two military friends from Alabama on a TDY. We decided to grab dinner at a Taco Bell north and east of Beale Street, but on the edge of a good neighborhood, while we waited for the showtime of the movie we intended to see.

I like to think I'm a smart individual. I don't say this to brag, just to set the stage. I have (gasp if you will!) an engineering degree. The three of us were returning from a month of wargaming and brainstorming and creative problem solving and group leadership projects. We had been told, for the last 28 days, that we were the nation's best and brightest. And then I finished my burrito.

I approached the trash can, and noticed a speaker (or possibly a mike) grid above the shiny metal trash hatch, and a darkened LED. What's this? I was curious, but I figured when I threw away my trash, I would find out what it was for. Only, well...

the hatch wouldn't open

. My tray bumped feebly against it. I thought perhaps this trash can had especially stiff springs, perhaps linked to some sort of sensor array that would illuminate the LED or turn on the mike/speaker. So I pushed harder. My tray wouldn't budge it. I tried pushing with my hands, and still no love. I figured I'd try another trash can, but they were all Borg. Each sat silently, tight-lipped, unreceptive, and starkly silent. I looked at the girl behind the counter who was watching me nonplussed... she wasn't laughing at my failure to use a trash can, she was just watching, as though we weren't the same species, as though I were a hamster in her habitrail now that we had finished the required exchange of hard currency, meat products, and pleasantries.

She would tell me the trick if it weren't obvious... I must be missing it. I wandered around the Taco Bell, tossing her helpless chagrined looks as I went from can to can... finally, desperately wondering if I were missing the point, I leaned down next to the speaker and said, as loudly and clearly as I dared in public,

"Open Sesame."



"open, please?"

My friends were laughing their asses off. Or maybe they, too, were trying to solve the mystery. I just remember feeling very embarrassed as I took my tray to the high school student behind the counter and admitted to her, sheepishly, "I'm not smart enough to use this trash can."

She looked over at them, looked at my tray, and cocked her head, before she said in a monotone, "Oh, the trash cans ain't workin' today."

No "sorry," no "can I help you with those?"... nope. She was simply resigned to passing out food wrapped in disposable wrappers, and not telling any of the customers that they would be unable to dispose of their trash on the premises. I don't know... am I expecting too much? Am I unjustly supposing forethought on the part of others? Or am I just bitter because a Taco Bell shitcan outwitted me?

Epilogue: I dined in a Taco Bell last night, and the trash cans were of the same variety. Another customer placed his tray against the metal door, and it swung open and held itself wide for him, while he dumped his litter into its mouth. The LED flashed in a perky manner, and a disembodied voice said, loudly, "THANK YOU." The first time it happened, I had a mouthful of burrito, and almost sprayed it out as I giggled, stunned at the machine's helpful, cheerful simplicity. Maybe someday they'll replace the clerks.

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