I stopped my bike and leaned down to pick up a penny from a crack in the asphalt. I've been doing this for so many years, it has become a reflex. An awkward and increasingly futile one, but a reflex nonetheless. I think about the rhyme: Find a penny. Pick it up, and all the day you'll have good luck. Not much of a rhyme, now that I think about it, but what do you want for a penny.
The idea has always been that if I kept picking them up, eventually I would have five cents, then ten, and so on. I dutifully take these pennies home and drop them in the coin-counting bank where they await eventual wrapping in convenient rolls of fifty. Suddenly, it all seems worth it. All those bends at the waist with the attendant "old man noise" as I reach for the coin. Every so often I am rewarded by a flurry of dropped change, perhaps even the occasional dime or quarter. If I can avoid the oncoming traffic, I figure it is all, literally, money in the bank.
But for how long? Just a few years back, the U.S. Mint informed Congress that the cost of making a penny and a nickel will soon exceed the actual value of each coin. Plans have been afoot for at leas that long that include a slow phasing out of the penny, creating a reasonable rounding system, increase the production and circulation of the two dollar bill as well as the Sacajawea golden dollar, and possibly change the composition of coins to include less-expensive metals. Since then, we have seen the redesign of the penny to reflect Honest Abe's two hundredth birthday. I found one of those in the street just the other day.
And so, while the consumer in me bristles quietly at the notion of fishing for that extra penny at the cash register, the pinching part of me continues to snatch pennies from the ground. Their amassed worth may eventually pay for the elaborate network of trusses needed to save my spine from all that bending over. As for the luck part, it was just the other morning after I had plucked my second cent from the pavement and was back to pedaling when a black cat trotted straight across my path. No word yet about whether Congress might seek to diminish the severity of the bad luck brought forth by ebony felines.