¿What’s Bueno But Ultimately Worthless? ¡1984 Olympic Bus Tokens!
Now here’s something you don’t see every day.
Recently, over at the extremely dog-friendly Woodland Hills 99¢ Only store, I happened upon a magnificent and unusual example of What’s Bueno At The 99¢ Only Store – an item which is sort of a throwback, in a couple of ways, to the 99¢ Only Store’s glory days – when it was much less of a discount food store and much more of a closeout store; and where heaven only knows what sort of bizarre treasures you’d find!
There – for 99¢ Only – you can purchase a set of not one, not two, but twenty-four transit fare tokens “created for the Southern California Rapid Transit District in cooperation with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, for use during the 1984 Olympic Year.”
Again, you’re not getting just one of these coins, but a complete set of 24, still sealed after thirty years, and presented in a handsome navy blue padded case, each token mounted in its own receptacle on a flocked velvet board inside.
There was a stack of a few dozen of these boxes, all similarly sealed, at the store, half-hidden towards the back of a bottom shelf. I’m not greedy (nor stupid, as you’ll see, but you should already know that): I bought just one. And frankly, I bought it solely for the purpose of the blog.
It was only later when I thought of a pal who, bless her heart, must rely on public transportation, and wondered if perhaps these tokens were still good. After all, tokens don’t expire, do they? Sure they were “created…for use during…1984,” but that wouldn’t preclude them from being legal bus and subway fare tender today, would they? They’re like the coinal equivalent of the US Postal Service’s Forever Stamps, right?
Turns out I’m wrong. The Southern California Rapid Transit District, or “RTD” as it had been known, hasn’t existed since 1993. Thankfully, it’s been a while since I’ve had to take a filthy LA bus, though for the last 21 years, I’d still been considering LA’s bus service “the RTD” (when I’d considered it at all). And brother, the only time we car owners even think of LA bus service is when one of those enormous land-barges is in front of you on the road and you can’t get around it. Anyway, turns out LA’s bus service has been “Metro” or “LA Metro” for two decades, and while I guess that sounds familiar, I haven’t been thinking much about it. You know, being a car owner and all.
My point is, either as bus fare or as collectibles (and hopeful eBay sellers are being disappointed as we speak), these tokens aren’t worth the bronze they’re minted on.
But what’s really fascinating, at least from the perspective of a fellow writing a blog with an unnatural and/or uninteresting focus on a Southern California dollar store chain, is that when I searched online for these things, the only result – from whatever very specific parameters I used – was a posting on a Google-archived Usenet “misc.transport.urban-transit” group, where the author mentioned having found these for sale at the 99¢ Only store as well. But the post was quite a bit older than this one: It was written in 1994!
According to the twenty-year old post, back then, 99¢ Only was cracking open the sets, dumping the individual tokens in boxes, and selling them two for 99¢ Only – as “slammers.” Like for use with pogs. You remember pogs, don’t you?
The original poster, him- or herself a fan of the 99¢ Only store as I am, wondered the same thing two decades ago – if they were still good for use as bus fare. (And even back then: No.)
How crazy is that: Two internet posts about the same ultimately good-for-nothing 99¢ Only offering, two decades apart!
And if you enjoyed this, and you did, imagine how fascinating it will be to read about the next person to be struck by the Curse of the Worthless Olympic Coins scheduled presumably for 2034 when 99¢ Only will be selling an entire case of sets for a buck. Mark your calendars!