Friday, September 14, 2007

Line Picking and Platinum Cards

A past weekend I was at Bed, Bath, and Beyond in Fashion Valley to buy a new shower curtain. I think it was move-in weekend at the State school in America's Finest City. It was pretty full with freshmen and women that were dressed like they should be at the beach instead of shopping with their parents. Of course, these youngin's avoided being seen with them to maintain their perceived coolness. Because parents can be embarrassing.

Needless to say, I didn't want to hang around. I got my shower curtain and dodged the kids while heading for the exit. Lines everywhere, like most places in San Diego on a Saturday.

When I pick a line to check out in, whether I'm at a retail or grocery store, I have a few selection criteria that I evaluate registers within my line of sight:
  1. Length of line: this is a function of the total number of items yet to be scanned as well as total potential transactions. Shorter lines always win. I have things to do.
  2. Appearance of clerk: I'm shallow, I know, but I'd rather be checked-out by someone who looks like they are having a good day. They are more likely to give me favorable discounts when I'm chatty.
  3. Entertainment factor of last group in line: This is highly variable and subjective, it's impossible to tell ahead of time when someone will do something stupid, hilarious, or objectionable. If you know me, you know about my ability to read people in a short amount of time.
This time, the choice came down to the third criterion. I picked the line with a wannabe-Gothic Hot Topic-clad freshwoman with two seemingly well-to-do parents. They were doing their darnedest to embarrass her, histrionic folk, looking around to see if anyone was witnessing their pain of a daughter that clearly wanted to be somewhere else. In Orange County, these kinds of parents would just give the kid an American Express Platinum Card.

Instead, this pair of nouveau-riches parents decided to show off their plastic Platinum Card. Cheap thrills from the $625 annual fee for two or more cards.

When I complete a transaction, I pull out my non-Platinum card and swipe it or hand it to the cashier. I do not wave it around and loudly ask my significant other, "Should I put this on the Platinum Card??!!" I do not delay in swiping it to make sure everyone in line gets a glimpse at my piece of plastic with magnetic stripe, coveted or not.

At least when you swipe a Platinum Card, you never have to worry about it declining, because it simply doesn't decline. I mean, the ability to afford the $625 annual fee is the paragon of fiscal responsibility and success beyond measure.

So needless to say, when the mother's Platinum Card declined, the only thing keeping me from laughing out loud was the forced seal of my lips. I think they heard the involuntary guttural part of my response so I started looking at the ceiling as if I wasn't paying attention.

"That's a Platinum Card! It isn't supposed to decline!" exclaimed the father, with a tone of indignation to the poor girl behind the counter. "Try it again!"

She did. It declined again. Now the daughter is laughing - either at my visible attempt to avoid cracking up or the fact that people at other registers were now watching the drama unfold.

The father knows best, so he pulls out his own Platinum Card. "It must be something wrong with your reader, try my [emphasis his] Platinum Card," he says, loud enough for everyone paying attention to hear.

She does. It goes through. I smile at the daughter, nonverbally agreeing on how pathetic her parents were.

Clearly still embarrassed, the father continues his rant about the declining of his wife's card.

"There's something wrong with your machine. Look! Both cards have the same number!"

At that point I was about to get instructional about how those things actually work, but decided against. They briskly departed after their failed attempt to save face.

It was my turn at the register. The girl, obviously relieved that her previous customer was gone, scanned my curtain.

"I hope this doesn't decline..." I joke as I hand her my American Express Blue. She smiles while swiping it. Approved. "...Whoa, it went through! And it's not even Platinum!"

She laughs. "Well, unlike them, you actually have the money."

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