My goal was to buy Christmas presents. It wasn’t to be made to feel ancient, unsophisticated and, generally, obsolete. Yet that is just how I felt Saturday on my otherwise merry way when a local merchant turned up its nose at my trusty green checkbook and said, “We don’t take checks.”
“You what?” was my clever rejoinder. I looked around for the hand-scrawled, magic marker, taped-crooked-to-the-counter, sign reading, “Cash Only!!! No Checks or Credit Cards! This Means You!” But no, this was actually a corporate policy, thought out by professional retailers (in another state, I’d note).
Quickly I traversed the distance from outrage to bemusement, knowing I had found the makings of a Christmas column, which always soothes my soul. I pulled out my credit card, made my purchases and departed for non-chain shops where, if they didn’t actually know me, would at least be grateful that I’d deign to imburse them with my 20th century method of payment.
I told my tale Monday morning to a like-aged colleague expecting snorts of indignation and unfettered support. “Why you old dinosaur, you,” I heard instead. “No one writes checks anymore. Ever heard of a credit card, a debit card?”
Well, sure I’ve heard of them.
So I started my all-day survey of our largely younger staff and found that I am, in fact, a petrified old fart. A handful of people here write checks. Most use debit cards or credit cards. They seemed actually resentful of the fact they have monthly bills-the rent, most often mentioned-that they have to pay by both check and, yes, mail.
The colleague mentioned above, who should have been sympathetic but has instead been sniggering at me all day, stopped by with a printout from the web. You know the web, that gizmo that Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska properly noted is actually “a series of tubes.” Well, a web survey at www.Gawker.com suggests that only 16 percent of those responding actually prefer writing checks. The largest percentage (66 percent) said, “Yes, but ONLY when I have no other choice.”
I placed a phone call, on my land line, to my local bank president to ask him how I placed on his Neanderthal ranking for my check-writing proclivity. However, after leaving him a message, I recalled him making great fun of me a couple of years ago for being one among the very few of his clients who did not have an ATM card. Who needs an ATM card when there are perfectly good drive-up windows which accept perfectly good checks?!
Is there a Christmas lesson here? Something universal I could leave you with?
Nah. Just more of that constant change, that sense of disorientation that leaves good people like Jimmy Stewart jumping off bridges in Christmas movies.
Not all is lost, however, as Christmas approaches fast in Oak Park. Earlier Saturday I joined a parade of local folks in delivering holiday packages to families in need across the village. Well over 800 families were enrolled in the program, chosen through the village’s many social service programs. That is a huge number, and on the rise from previous years. Of course that also means that each of those 800 families was “adopted” by a local family or business. In an extraordinary feat of logistics, the lovely and large sanctuary and two community rooms at United Lutheran Church, north on Ridgeland, were filled with bags of gifts. In little more than two hours, the packages were delivered by volunteers.
Now, that my friends, was Christmas.