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Have cards, will travel -- and marry, vote and buy

By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2002

I have two wallets.

I have two wallets.

I have two because all of the cards I need to carry at one time or another can't fit into one and, yes, I have thought of a purse and, no, my masculinity isn't threatened by carrying one. I just keep losing them.

George Carlin once said that we flatter ourselves in our perceived ability to destroy the planet. The Earth created man, Carlin said, "because it needed plastic."

Our economic and social system seems to be contributing to that.

I have to carry "insider" cards from two grocery chains and a truck stop chain if I don't want to pay extra for food and gas. (They call it "savings.")

I also have a card from one bookstore chain, and another one keeps bugging me to get one, so I can have more "savings."

The YMCA demands that I have a membership card to get into the gym. (Okay, I admit I'm not there so often that they would recognize me.) One place where I vacation requires a membership card for entry, and I have to present two cards so that I can get air miles and, of course, "savings."

The alleged savings nature of many of these cards forces me to ask, "Why don't you just charge me a good price for your service or product and count on that to ensure customer loyalty?"

That's what it is about. They figure if you are willing to carry their card so you can be part of a group that gets charged less than the great unwashed, then you will do it. It's sort of like belonging to a youth gang or living in a subdivision that abhors the thought of middle-class people moving in and creating a slum. It excludes others and makes you feel comfortable.

Ask why they give you the card and you will get a blank stare. "Because," an employee will tell you earnestly, "it will save you money." Your choice then is to try to explain addition, subtraction and Economics 101, or just swipe the damn card and be done with it.

My company wants me to carry a card that tells me the right thing to say in court if someone tries to close a hearing for the wrong reasons, and a judge will give me a chance to ask for time to call one of our lawyers (who provided the cards.)

My doctor's office wants me to carry a card with my account number on it, and I also have to carry medical, dental and pharmacy insurance cards, as long as I have teeth or a heartbeat.

The government insists I have a Social Security card and, for some reason, a clerk in Pinellas County wanted to see it before issuing me a marriage license. Maybe she wanted to make sure I had a job before I got married.

Wow, the Republicans have taken over.

I have to have a card to vote, a license to drive, cards from three motel chains to get a break on price there, two telephone credit cards (one corporate and one personal) and cards to use the library, auto club, car insurance. I carry a card with my eyeglass prescription on it and a slew of credit cards.

If I want to get money out of my checking account after hours I have to have a check card or give a merchant and whoever works for him or her my life history, a thumbprint and a DNA sample.

Since many of the people I know now have mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, home and work telephone numbers, fax numbers and cell phone and pager numbers, I have to keep a slew of business cards so that I can either get messages telling me they aren't there or letters returned with notations that there is no such address.

And, speaking of business, I have to wear a card pinned to my shirt to get into the various offices where I work, a press card when I want to be singled out for non-cooperation while covering news (okay, when I used to cover news) and an identity card from a charitable organization with which I work and which I am required to wear when I am on a mission for them.

When I go to one of those motel chains where I present my discount card and a credit card (sometimes one or two if they check the balances) they eventually respond by giving me a room key.

The room key, of course, is a card.

And when I get home tonight my recent bride will be waiting for me. It seems we have people to thank for donations made to a charity in lieu of wedding gifts.

I'm sure we will send them cards.

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