Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Frank Watson
Gazette Columnist 

The Perils of Plastic


September 20, 2018

I received a call from my credit card company last week informing me that my card had been used in Brazil, and I needed to verify a thirty-six cent charge at a fast food outlet in Rio. I have never been to Rio. It is on my list behind Rome, Australia and Christmas Island, so I was pretty sure it wasn't me. My wife went shopping in Spokane that morning, but she hadn’t had time to get to Rio, so I ruled her out too. As neither of us had made the purchase, the agent for the credit card company said they should cancel the card and issue me a new one. I told her that I wasn’t concerned about the thirty-six cents. What can you buy for that anyway, even at a fast food place? Coffee at McDonald’s costs more than that. She convinced me, however, that this purchase was probably a test to see if the card worked, and I should expect more and larger charges in the near future. She promised to have my new card in the mail before the end of the day, thus, I began life without a credit card.

I am one of those weird people who only have one credit card and try to pay the monthly charges so as to keep a zero balance. We had planned to visit an elderly friend of ours in Lewiston that afternoon and needed to fuel the car before we went very far. I had to borrow my wife’s card for the gas pumps. What a humbling experience. It was like asking your high school date to pay for cokes and french fries. No doubt in my mind that I had lost status in her eyes forever. When we returned home, I dusted off my old check book and vowed to made it to the end of the week on the four remaining checks. I wrote one for the boy who mows our lawn, another for the appliance repairman, and a third to the mechanic for an oil change on my car that was now running below a half tank of gas. I was down to my last check on Friday when I stopped by WalMart to order spare eye glasses for our vacation in Italy.

The clerk gave me the bill, and I wrote my last check. They had one of those automatic check scanners that immediately take the money out of your account and return the check for your records. The check scanner demanded I verify who I was, so I opened my wallet to my military ID. I am proud of that ID; it gets me discounts at the movies and Ace Hardware. She asked me for the number. I showed her where it was on the card, and she keyed it into the machine which immediately refused my check! She said the machine wanted my driver’s license. I seldom use my driver’s license. The last time I got it out, I received a traffic ticket. The memories are not good ones, and didn’t get any better when the machine still refused my check. The clerk sent for her supervisor who promised to resolve the issue forthwith. She asked if I had funds in the account. I told her I paid for my last Mercedes with a check from that account, and I certainly had sufficient balance for a spare pair of eye glasses. She jabbed some more keys and announced that the problem was my military ID. It confused the machine beyond salvage. I couldn’t believe that WalMart, within spitting distance of Fairchild Air Force Base, would hiccup over a military ID. She said my only options were to either pay cash or come back after I received my new credit card. I asked if I had to show an ID to pay with cash, and she said my military ID would suffice. Maybe I should get a spare credit card.

(Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and a long time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free lance columnist for more than 18 years.)


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