Thursday, November 08, 2007


...is not plastic.

It arrived in the mail a few weeks ago and I didn't really know what to do with it. Without asking me, my bank replaced my normal ATM card with a gold debit card. Gold. For a guy who once lived in his car, that's not the kind of color I had ever expected to see staring back at me from my wallet.

I remember when gold cards were first introduced in the 1980s. I was working in a fish store and some guy handed me the colored piece of plastic. He gave me a look that indicated I was supposed to be impressed. I just smiled and began leafing through the newsprint mailer the credit card companies sent us each week.

If you're older than 40, you don't need to read the following paragraph: You see, kids, there wasn't always an Internet or credit card machines and stuff like that. Instead, each time we had a credit card purchase, we had to look up in the credit card mailer to see if the card had been cancelled or used in some kind of fraud. If there was any question, we had to call a toll-free phone number.

Checking on credit numbers was a time consuming and cumbersome process and most customers would get impatient with us. But Gold Card Guy was quite upset that I would even dare check his card. It was a GOLD CARD! What part of GOLD CARD didn't I understand? They don't just hand these out to anyone.

As it turns out, his card wasn't stolen, and his purchase went through without any further hassle. But I learned an important lesson from this exchange: people with gold cards are dickheads.

In the decades since their introduction, credit card companies really will hand out gold cards to just about anyone. The colored plastic arms war has produced platinum cards, and even mythical black American Express Cards that can't be applied for and are only for the super rich. (They really do exist. I knew the guy who ran the call center for the a competing white card put out by Visa. But that's another story.)

So gold status in the credit card world doesn't mean as much as it used to. As near as I can tell, everyone who has a Washington Mutual ATM card now has a gold card. But I'm still uncomfortable whipping out a gold piece of plastic when I buy something. I feel like that wanker in the fish store all those years ago.

Today I actually made my first physical purchase with the card. I was buying pizza.

"How do you want to pay for that?"

I hand him my new gold card and say, "They just sent me this. I didn't ask for it or anything."


"Oh, it's just... they mail these gold things to anybody. I don't know why."

"It's all fine by me as long as the computer approves it."

"Oh yeah, I understand. It's just odd, you know... they paint your ATM card gold and you're supposed to feel honored by it or something."

"Sign here."

"I mean, they're everywhere. What's the big deal with it being gold, right?"

"Your pizza will be ready in about 15 minutes."

"If it takes longer, that's no big deal for me. I'm just a normal guy. I'll wait like everybody else."

"We'll bring it right out to you when it's done."

Overall, I think it went pretty well. Perhaps I am cut out for gold card membership after all.

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At 4:11 am, Blogger Birchsprite said...

Mine's white with a horse on it. The horse is very pretty.

At 7:21 am, Blogger imitate said...

WAMU did the same thing to me. I was kind of ticked off, actually. My card USED to be blue and pretty. Now it's an awful shade of pseudo gold and I hate it. It's ugly. AND, the kicker was, it also USED to be a VISA and all the sudden they decided that they were going to change it to a MasterCard. No one asked ME if i wanted a MasterCard. Bastards.

At 12:40 am, Blogger Birchsprite said...

(a wee bun is a northern irish cupcake... Hi)

At 10:09 pm, Anonymous tim said...

the funny thing is that Visa really DID copy off of AMEX with their new black card (well it's not that new, I guess) and have used the hype built up to fabulous effect for their corporate coffers...


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