Recently, I found myself in a predicament that required the use of a card. What heightened my predicament was the fact that my card was MIA and all I had was cash. Hotel after hotel, the front desk attendants nearly broke into hysterical laughter at the idea of a person trying to retain a room with greenbacks. Hello, my name is Rip Van Winkle (a rant for another time) and I’ve slept through whatever catastrophic event befell the Earth rendering cold-hard cash a fumbling idiot sidekick to a plastic card imprinted with a scenic view of the mountains. I’m in the midst of a plastic invasion and it took the scoffs and jeers of hotel attendants across Seattle to realize that the aliens had, in fact, landed!
Consider the unique and rather bizarre situation: Rent, car loans, utilities, hotel rooms, online CREDIT reports, EVERYTHING requires plastic… Let’s fall deeper into the rabbit hole, Alice, and discover how insane this whole thing REALLY is. You give your card to, say, a hotel to reserve a room. In the old days, it was merely a promise of payment. Like a lonely desperate friend, the business would smile and pray to God that you were a GOOD friend and they would get their money. Cash was reliable because it was backed by those great hoarders of precious and shiny gold, the United States Treasury. Somewhere between then and now a gamma ray burst from outer space must have struck the Earth and upset the natural order of things. You’re okay if you want to buy a bottled water at the gas station, but God help you if you want to book a trip to Cabo. The genius behind the insanity is hidden charges and fees. Go to the wrong ATM and you’re charged by YOUR bank, the ATM bank, and the place that OWNS the ATM. Hotels charge cancellation fees, long-distance calling fees, and miscellaneous fees (whatever those are). Cable, internet access, cell phones, all of the other accessories of American life, change rates rapidly, tax us heavily, and slip hidden fees right by us and, yet, right in plain sight.
They use clever language like “usage fees” and “service charges” which are very fancy terms for robbing us blind ten or twenty cents at a time. Ask the public utilities department what exactly you’re paying for with their “service charge” and count backwards from one hundred as the customer service representative hems and haws and, finally, changes the subject. The insane head to this body of insanity is that there IS no money. It’s called “funds” and it’s all electronic. It’s never REALLY seen, touched, or handled. It’s simply MOVED from one plastic card to an agency’s database, volleyball punted into another agency’s database then… Whew! My brain is turning into goo just thinking about it! Imagine you’re ten years old again and playing tag in the park with your friends. Fun, right? Now, imagine the same scenario only THIS time you don’t touch anyone! This time you only POINT at the other kid and ask him to be “it”. The other kid doesn’t move a MUSCLE until he is absolutely POSITIVE that you are serious about him BEING “it”. Somewhere someone’s got to get tagged officially, but, in the end, all YOU can do is point and promise.
Something to think about.
David Endre Feaman