Back in the Day: Credit Cards

I went to the pharmacy the other day to pick up my prescriptions. I paid with my credit card in the usual fashion: I slipped it into the chip reader and entered my code. My fingers hovered over half of the card sticking out of the machine as I waited for “approved” to appear on the screen.  I was done in seconds. If it would’ve declined, I’d have used a different card, no bother. But it wasn’t always this easy. 

In the 1980s if your credit card declined, the clerk cut up the card right in your face! I remember this one time my family was in the checkout line and the man in front of us was paying with a credit card. He wore a pastel blue blazer with rolled-up sleeves and popped collar ala Crocket and Tubbs. He rocked on the balls of his feet as the clerk scanned the pile of items on the rotating belt. An inquisitive child, I watched as the cashier went through the items, wondering what he’d make with frozen waffles, steaks, potato chips, and beer.

He held the shiny plastic card by the edges as he handed it to her, so everyone in line could see the American Express logo. That little green card was the ultimate status symbol back then–even I knew that as an eight-year-old kid.

The cashier grabbed a clunky machine from the other side of the register, put the card on the metal surface, then covered it with a slip of paper. She slid the arm back and forth, then called the number on the back of the card for verification.  She was on the phone for a few minutes punching in numbers and giving information. The man stood there nodding at people, adjusting his collar.

The next bit happened so fast that I swear I would have missed it if my chin wasn’t resting on the edge of the counter.  The cashier hung up the phone, grabbed a huge pair of black-handled scissors that had to have been the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands, and cut up that man’s card.

“Your card declined.” The cashier said once the deed was done.  She tossed the pieces in the trash. I swore I saw a hint of a smile on her face.  The man stared dumbfounded at the cashier and the scissors. He left the store red-faced and flat-collared.

Could you image a clerk destroying someone’s card for lack of funds today? I would be so humiliated! I’d have to leave the store and never come back. 

How would you react?

Eryka