Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gateway Journal Day 07: The Mechanized Market

Just across the Great Canal is the neighborhood known as Watertown, so named because it is surrounded on all sides by water. Here there are also many canals and waterways, but it is a bit more working-class and industrial than Canal-City. There are numerous warehouses and small factories of various sorts and the waters a little more polluted. Today I ventured there by water taxi to see something I read about in a guidebook.

In the center of Watertown is a small but well-known market called "The Mechanized Market". It is found in a wide, but fairly dank and lightless alley that stretches about half a mile. Here, there are no merchants standing behind stalls or in tents, calling out to you to buy their wares. Nope, here all the selling is done by machines... vending machines of a sort. And everything is for sale, and I do mean everything.

The market got its start a long time ago during a period of uncommon prosperity. Merchants found themselves with an overflow of stock, and often could not sell many items because they did not have room to display them. So an enterprising young merchant named Kilao built a machine that would sell his overflow stock (usually shoes and umbrellas) for him. Customers put a coin in a slot, turned a knob, and out popped the desired merchandise. He called it a "Personless Merchant". He chose a well-travelled alleyway that saw a lot of daily foot-traffic and soon it became a great success.

Other merchants took notice and followed suit with their own machines, all of varying designs, and all custom-built to sell specific items: toys, flowers, live animals, dead animals, animal skulls, music-boxes, spectacles, newspapers, postcards, snacks, wigs, clothing of all types, alcoholic beverages, glass eyes, vegetables, spices, magical trinkets, wands, baubles, fabric, daggers, maps, watches, raw meat, and even small boats!

According to some locals, there was once a vending machine that sold corpses of recently deceased folk who made no arrangements for their interment. This machine had appeared very suddenly overnight and was the subject of much scandal and shock. The owner, a secretive mortician from Tower City named Cornelius Crane, defended his machine, noting that there were many legitimate uses for fresh corpses. But the city council saw the matter differently, and ordered the machine removed, which also began a new era of regulation and taxation on the machines.

Today, the alleyway is still busy with activity, but perhaps not as much as in its heyday. There is still an impressive variety of "Personless Merchants" here today, but one also notes the many long-unused machines, or some which are in serious disrepair, barely working and often guilty of stealing coin or vending expired merchandise.