No Overhead: How the Wyrd Machine became wyrd…

An interview with ABQ Zine Fest founder, Marya Errin Jones, who piloted the Wyrd Machine, an artwork vending machine, at Sister Bar in Downtown Albuquerque.

Apparently, the guy who invented the vending machine was a hero. As in, his name was Hero (sometimes Huron). While history sleuths are still undecided as to whether our Hero (of Alexandria) ever actually constructed his machine, his plans are proof of the idea's existence as far back as 1st century Rome. Unironically enough, his machine was designed to be installed in a place of worship on a pay-per-squirt basis. For a penny, parishioners could receive a measure of holy water thanks to a plate-and-lever mechanism that allows the weighted coin to slide off the plate into the secured catch box. Pretty “clutch” if you ask me. Vending machines would capture our popular imagination again in the seventeenth century, when they began showing up at bars as honesty boxes. In England, honesty boxes allowed pub patrons to purchase a pinch of snuff or tobacco for a halfpenny.

Fast forward to the 20th century…and now we have modern innovations in Black vending! In 1933, Colt, Arkansas native and World War I veteran Sandy H. Love would secure a patent for the refrigerated vending machine. Because, much like Black History, refrigerated vending items should never have an expiration date (and if they must, they ought to be more than a month). Which brings us to today and the future of vending! Just a few years ago, polymath and multihyphenate Marya Errin Jones piloted the Wyrd Machine at Sister Bar in Downtown Albuquerque. Journalist, artist, musician, actor and ABQ Zine Fest founder, Jones vends creative confections (primarily of the non-edible variety) from a meticulously curated network of makers. All this while also pursuing her MFA in Dramatic Writing at the University of New Mexico, yet she still made time for a few curiosities about her nonperishable curios.

Marya at the Wyrd Machine. Photo by Hakim Bellamy

Me: What’s the hardest part of the business?

Jones: Packaging is always a challenge. It takes some creative thinking to decide how to package things (if they don't come vending machine-ready). I try to use recycled materials where I can,like cardboard backing for items,, but it's most important to me that items look like fun to have. The next challenge is the stuff - what goes in there! I am trying to get more local art in the machine - that's the real goal for me. As it stands, most of the items come from women-owned, national companies, and a few local friends. I enjoy supporting artists who make vending-ready items - they get it. It's a weight off my chest to know that those items will drop just right! I also like helping artists new to this type of vending.

Me: Sounds like “vending school” is in order! So, when I think about vending machines, at least as a snack aficionado, I think about serving size. How does the “bite-sizedness” of items in an art vending machine come into play?

Jones: Items are designed to fit the machine so I like exploring those size items. Books and tote bags are the largest things that fit in my machine. I still have to meet the challenge of filling the gum and candy slots! I don't know if form and function is the goal - just trying things to see what works and what's fun! 

Me: Micro Machines are the first thing that come to mind for me. I loved those lil’ toys growing up! Speaking of childhood “feels” (read: feelings) … what is the unique magic of vending machines? The visual menu. The anticipation. The turning coils and the mystery of choice. Why does it stir up all the childhood goosebumps, regardless of the consumer’s age?

Jones: I remember traveling the Florida Turnpike in the 1970s to see my grandparents. We'd stop at this rest stop that had a vending machine that produced wax items, like an orange, or a pirate or something. You made your selection and then you watched the machine "make" our item. I still have this green Loch Ness Monster bank from one of those trips. Today, like back then, I like to watch those coils turn, as the item "drops." Your anxiety warns you that there's always a chance the item gets stuck - but your youthful hope and joy is what keeps the machine working.

Me: I’d say! Generation after generation … it just works. Unless, of course, it doesn’t. Then a lil’ booty bump is in order, I reckon. So, what got you into vending, Marya?

hand holding some earrings from The Wyrd Machine, art vending
Photo from Marya Errin Jones

Jones: Many years ago, Taylor Valdes, who owns The Venderia, a fleet of vending machines in Portland, Oregon, asked to carry some of my zines in her vending machine. I was thrilled to have been asked. When Taylor created her creative vending online course, I took a leap, took the course, then I decided I wanted to move forward with my own creative vending machine business. I'm also very grateful to Zeus at Sister Bar for giving me a chance! 

Me: Boom! The magic of buying local inside of a place where you are also buying local. Love it. So, what’s next? Where is the most improbable place, other than the White House, that you’d put on your wish list of locations for a Wyrd Machine to pop up? 

Jones: The Sunport. But aside from a New Mexico machine at the airport, I would like to do what these folks did at the Oakland Cafe x Bakery. Maybe even a history book vending machine, and put it in schools.

I, for one, LOVE the idea of a Banned Book Machine in the high school cafeteria. Reminds me of that time Richard Carlile attempted to vend Thomas Paine's Age of Reason without running afoul England’s sedition laws in 1822. At any rate, sky’s the limit for Marya as she literally puts the “small” in small business with her invention machine. Shattering yet another glass ceiling (this time in the vending industry) with the scaled down customer experience that we’ve all come to expect from vending machines, minus the overhead. 😉 An easy and entertaining way to buy local and buy Black. If you would like to partner with Wyrd Machine as small batch maker, a location host or a fan, reach out on Instagram here. -hb

Shout out to TechStuff (available on iHeartRadio) and their episode titled “The History of Vending Machines.’