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This is a report of something that I am not sure exists. On the internet, there is supposed to be a record of everything, especially technology, curated by people who obsessively study everything and have dates and model numbers to fill up infoboxes. I can find lots of information about related topics. Vending machines for postage stamps exist. So does the transportation issue. But whether all these things existed together at the same time, I don't know.

I remember it, though. 1996. I had just gotten my GED and started community college. There was one computer lab on campus with internet access, which was metered to 30 minutes, and I spent it clicking around on links. That might have been my first time on the internet. I paid my tuition with crisp new 100 dollar bills, the ones with the "big portraits", that are the normal money now. I apologized to the registrar, "sorry, this looks like monopoly money". This was Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon, and like many community colleges, it was a mixture of brutalist architecture from when it had opened in the 1970s, and a series of portables that had been thrown around the campus as it grew. And there, in the admin center, was a little cog oriented postage stamp vending machine. You put coins in, turned the handle, and postage stamps came out. I remember the stamps coming out being either the transportation issue, a common type of make up stamp in the 1980s and 1990s, or the postcard rate stamp showing a blue jay. In a fit of whimsy, as a bon vivant of the postal world, I would affix two 20 cent stamps to a letter, paying the extra 8 cents over the 32 cent rate.

I was in Salem, and my friends were in Portland. I have always liked writing, and have often had the habit of accounting for it, building numbers. And putting postage stamps on turned my letter from a mere collection of scrawlings to a thing, reified by those stamps. This was in the days before the internet, when the relative difficulty of communication making it that much more important. I imagined my letters going out from that nodal point, the reliable blue box next to the community college admin building, and reaching some friend all those 60 miles away, and becoming into a discussed epistle, passed around, my words of wisdom noted and categorized. And so there I was, with my big ball of string, the coil stamp vending machine dispensing little energy pellets while the magical blue box stood right there.

Besides I don't know if that happened. I mean, I certainly did mail letters from a box on a community college campus. That isn't that esoteric. Maybe the campus had a vending machine for stamps on campus. But was it a gear operated machine that dispensed a single stamp at a time? Vending machines that used coil stamps were a real thing, but all of the examples I can find were from much earlier, from other countries, or both. Maybe I bought the stamps from a clerk. Do community colleges sell stamps in their registration lines? Sure, why not. The Blue Jay Stamp, (ooops, I just disproved my own disproof) apparently was issued as a coil stamp. Being a coil stamp doesn't mean it was vended from machines, though. The transportation issue, which were coil stamps, would have been used mostly for unusual postage in non-profit settings, and it seems unlikely they would have been vended out to the general public. I have a piquant and atmospheric memory, a memory of a piece of technology that was old at the time but seems old-timey now...but I don't know if it exists. I don't know if I was mixing together a variety of different things. But I also don't know if it is not real. Despite the internet's dearest attempt to act like everything is settled and sorted, there are still things floating around out there, things that we can remember through stories and experiences, even if we can't find all the precise data on them.