Vanished into cyber air


The last time I ate at McDonald’s was in 2007, in Reno, Nevada. I’m more a Matamoros Taco Hut guy. That’s why, last Tuesday, when I discovered I had spent $48 at McDonalds the previous day, I was alarmed. After getting over the shock, and awe, of spending enough money to buy single cheeseburgers for a young soccer team, I discovered I was still hungry. I hadn’t eaten. I had been robbed — in Lewisville, Ga. — a town I Googled because I’ve never met, dined or ridden with any of its 2,800 residents. 

I checked my bank transactions remembering with certainty I hadn’t made any purchases the previous day in Georgia. But the statement disagreed. I bought gas twice ($44), some tires ($287.56), and an expensive family cell phone plan.

How did this happen?

The answer is I’ll probably never know. The good news is most banks like mine will replace the stolen money after you dispute the charges. The bad news is you must fill out forms basically proving you didn’t buy gas for a trip to replace tires after lunch. The worst news is the theft was so darn easy.

I rarely use cash. In fact, the same day I was rearranging automatic payments, I listened to a story on National Public Radio about businesses that no longer accepted cash. Who can blame them? Probably 99 percent of my purchases or payments are done with a card. The problem is 100 percent of my current hassle (robbery) was on the same card. Except for all the coins at the end of the day, I pined for the simplicity of cash.

It’s a brave new world. There’s no going back. If I had a notion to return, it was dispelled by a banking friend who explained we’ll never go back to cash. Cards are easier to balance. There’s none of the labor of making change, balancing the till at the end of the day or any demands by human people to fork over the money in small bills. “Dog Day Afternoon” (a great movie) has become “The Great Computer Heist” (an enjoyable but frightening book). His prediction was within a decade, we’d make purchases and payments with fingerprints.

How ironic is that? Everything about my current problem was being solved on the phone, entering 4 on my keypad for a menu where I chose 6 to hear an automated voice who counted to 6 again before it told me I could talk to a human by hitting 4 again. It’s the most inhuman process. They want my fingerprint? If my friend is right, the more impersonal things become the more I’ll be required to sacrifice body parts.

It may seem easy but it doesn’t feel right. In fact, it feels uncomfortable and a little helpless. It makes me long for physical things like cash and vinyl records and books – things my physical senses can understand. I called one of my dearest friends – someone who could talk me off the digital ledge, and explained how I had been electronically victimized and wanted my life back. I explained the tires and cheeseburgers. Being the friend she is, her first concern was the money.

“If you need anything immediately, I could send you some cash,” she said.

“No,” I said. “But thanks.”

She insisted it wasn’t a problem and told me if it became more of a problem than I thought, she could have the money to me immediately.

“Just call,” she said. “Won’t take a second. I’ll just send it to your PayPal account.”