Sunday, April 10, 2005

A tale of customer service, justice and currency as funny as a $2 bill: "Put yourself in Mike Bolesta's place. On the morning of Feb. 20, he buys a new radio-CD player for his 17-year-old son Christopher's car. He pays the $114 installation charge with 57 crisp new $2 bills, which, when last observed, were still considered legitimate currency in the United States proper. The $2 bills are Bolesta's idea of payment, and his little comic protest, too.

"For this, Bolesta, Baltimore County resident, innocent citizen, owner of Capital City Student Tours, finds himself under arrest."

"With his Capital City Student Tours, he arranges class trips for school kids around the country traveling to large East Coast cities, including Baltimore. He's been doing this for the last 18 years. He makes all the arrangements: hotels, meals, entertainment. And it's part of his schtick that, when Bolesta hands out meal money to students, he does it in $2 bills, which he picks up from his regular bank, Sun Trust.

"'The kids don't see that many $2 bills, so they think this is the greatest thing in the world,' Bolesta says. 'They don't want to spend 'em. They want to save 'em. I've been doing this since I started the company. So I'm thinking, "I'll stage my little comic protest. I'll pay the $114 with $2 bills."'

"At Best Buy, they may have perceived the protest—but did not sense the comic aspect of 57 $2 bills.

"'I'm just here to pay the bill,' Bolesta says he told a cashier. 'She looked at the $2 bills and told me, 'I don't have to take these if I don't want to.' I said, 'If you don't, I'm leaving. I've tried to pay my bill twice. You don't want these bills, you can sue me.' So she took the money. Like she's doing me a favor.'

"He remembers the cashier marking each bill with a pen. Then other store personnel began to gather, a few of them asking, 'Are these real?'

"'Of course they are,' Bolesta said. 'They're legal tender.'

"A Best Buy manager refused comment last week. But, according to a Baltimore County police arrest report, suspicions were roused when an employee noticed some smearing of ink. So the cops were called in. One officer noticed the bills ran in sequential order."

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