Can I admit something embarrassing?
Until the mail came yesterday, I’d somehow lived some 36 years without a credit card. It just never interested me. I found the whole idea repugnant. My reasoning’s informed by my own persnickety liberalism and an inherited hardscrabble streak. The liberal side bemoans an America obsessed with status, or the illusion of status, that credit cards encourage. The hardscrabble side rustles up the common-sense orneriness of Grandpa Frye and his never-ending train of homilies. Never buy what you can’t afford. The high is nice, but the bill comes due. All you should owe is what no man can claim. Anyway, what’s so appealing about being in debt?
All that righteousness crumbled two weeks ago when I was forced to admit defeat. It’s been two years since I’ve enjoyed anything remotely resembling a vacation. When I came into a little freelance flow, with the promise of consistency, I decided it was time my labor-fruits did something for me. So I clacked about the Internet, looking for my getaway. Something reasonable and within my means. Seattle sounded enticing. It wasn’t too far away. I could take the train up, get a room, roam the city, finally check out Experience Music in person, bleed some text in foreign digs, and call it a lost weekend.
Small problem: No credit card. I naively asked about paying in advance. No dice. No credit card, no hotel, no train, no identity, no reason to live. It took every cognizant corpuscle to keep my boiling froth at bay. Dear Corporate Hotel Lackey Suckass: How could you possibly deny payment up front? Isn’t that more reliable and responsible than the equivalent of a glorified IOU? I guess you business types aren’t happy unless SOMEONE owes you money. Does it make you feel important? Do you feel like Jesus when weary travelers stumble into your Naugahyde Jerusalem looking for lodging? “Your money’s no good here, sir; what we seek — nay, demand — is your blood, plus interest. We’re not satisfied with providing a temporary roof. We want to haunt your credit report FOREVER.” WHAT kinda DEMOCRACY would INSIST its CITIZENS be BROKE? Well, I would rather sleep in an unlit alleyway than between your tainted sheets. Fuck you, and fuck the train I couldn’t ride in on.
After an hour of proper stewage, I was struck by an even more alarming epiphany. Holy shit, I gasped. I can’t leave town! I can’t reserve rooms, book flights, or rent cars. I suppose I could take the bus, as I did in 2007, but once I arrived at my destination, if I didn’t know anyone, I’d be out of luck. The credit-card companies had me cornered at last. After all the enticing fliers I’d ignored in college and the breathless offers I’d dumped as junk, they finally had me with the concept I’d been brazenly throwing in their faces for years: Freedom. You can survive without credit cards in 2009, but it’s a lonely life.
That said, I pray my new Visa’s life is just as lonely. Gotta take some kind of stand.