Monday, August 01, 2005

greasin' on American Express card

I've been re-reading an excellent book, North Toward Home, by Willie Morris. The book, a memoir first published in 1967, is divided into three sections: about his growing up in the '40's in Mississippi; about his coming to Texas in the 1950's to attend college at UT Austin and, after a stint as a Rhodes Scholar, returning to Texas in the early '60's to cover state politics as a writer for the Texas Observer; and finally, about his experiences in New York, where he was the youngest editor ever hired at Harper's Magazine.

This afternoon I came across this passage, from the section where he'd returned to Texas in the early 60's to cover state politics for the Texas Observer: Riding all over Texas...I gave in, as everyone else I knew, to the euphoria of the Texas road, to that curious, liberating exhiliration that comes with taking a car along a flat and empty highway to some place hundreds of miles into the distance. I would keep the speedometer right at 70, wheel-straddle the dead dogs, cats, buzzards, snakes, armadillos, and tarantulas, and aim for the scalding heat mirage rising up from the concrete a mile to the front...

I smiled reading it. Maybe you have to have done it to appreciate it, but there's something about getting in a car and driving across Texas...it's so VAST...and there's a stark sort of beauty to the desert.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm planning an imminent road trip to Arizona with my son, Michael, who'll begin his freshman year at the University of Arizona at Tucson in August. So, directionally impaired as I am ("What do you mean it's 1000 miles? It's only 5 inches on the map! Hey! Point the map back in the direction I'm driving!"), I've been spending a fair amount of time the past couple of days at the Rand-McNally site planning our trip in infinitesimal detail.

Because it's on the way (sort of) and because Mike's never been there, I've decided to take a couple of extra days for us to dip down into one of my favorite places in Texas, Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is in a remote part of the state: it's a good 5 hours out of cellphone range. So today I called (no internet, either, at least, not reliable enough for hotels to have online reservations) The Gage, and got LUCKY (it's usually booked) and got a room for 2 nights (the camping gear won't fit in the car with all the stuff Mike is taking for college). The first day, we'll leave Dallas at the crack of dawn and drive like demons the 553 miles to Marathon and The Gage. We'll still be a good hour outside the park, but that's OK...Marfa, and it's Mystery Lights, is just 30 miles down the road from The Gage, and my ex is going to lend us his Russian night vision goggles, to enhance our viewing experience.

This will be my 4th trip to Big Bend. The first time I went was a couple of years ago. I'd signed up for a 3-day camel trek in Big Bend with The Texas Camel Corps. When he found out that I was going alone, a friend, very familiar with the area, had cautioned me that I'd not only be 5 hours out of cellphone range, but on the Texas/Mexico border. He advised me not to drive alone in the area at night, and went so far as to make me promise not to drive my own car, saying, (rather ominously, I thought), "Aside from the fact that you're more likely to have car trouble in your own car, with all the miles you have on it, and you know that if you do have car trouble, without a cellphone, you're screwed, you've said yourself you'll have to leave your car in a public park for the 3 days you're on the trek, and it'd be just too easy, Jude, to break into your car" (I drive a ragtop).

So I rented a bigger and more substantial car, with a hardtop, and happily, if somewhat nervously, took off for my adventure (I'd never ridden a camel before, either, but that's another story). As I sped west out of Odessa, Texas, looking for the turnoff to Hwy. 385 South, to Marathon, I suddenly remembered that I hadn't packed anything to sleep in (other than my sleeping bag). I'd been warned about the dearth of places to buy anything in that part of the country, so when I saw a big sign advertising a Walmart just before the turnoff, I followed the sign and drove to Walmart to buy some pajamas and other last minutes items that I imagined I might want on the trek. I was happy I'd stopped, because in addition to some cheap but perfectly adequate pajamas, I picked up extra batteries for the night vision goggles and I found a terrific Al Green/Teddy Pendergrass CD (Tired of Being Alone).

At the register, I gave the clerk my American Express card to pay for my purchases. To my surprise, the card was declined. I knew there was no reason for it to be declined, but I wanted to pay for my things and get to Big Bend before dark, so I just gave the clerk another card, which was accepted without any problems.

I went on my way and had a terrific time on the camel trek, learning a lot of things I didn't know about camels (mine didn't spit) and javalenas (we saw quite a few) and tarantulas (which were migrating at that time, and were everywhere on the ground and climbing up the fences at the stables).

A few days after returning to Dallas I received a letter from American Express, saying that as part of AE's comprehensive fraud protection service, all AE cards are routinely monitored for suspicious activity. The letter went on to say, "Suspicious activity has recently been detected on your American Express card. Specifically, a request was recently submitted for authorization of the purchase of a number of items at a Walmart store just outside Odessa, Texas." The letter went on to say that, based on my history of my use of my AE card, AE found it unlikely that I'd be shopping at a Walmart outside Odessa, Texas, and accordingly, AE had refused to authorize the transaction...

Bwwaaahhhaaahhaaahaahahahahahaha....AE doesn't know me as well as they'd like to think they do...and it warms the cockles of my independent heart, to know that.

12 comments:

Sam said...

Your impending trip sounds fun. I just love an adventure! Too funny about American Express. Sometimes it seems as though AE is trying to protect us from ourselves.
Sam

Robin said...

Too funny.

We've been getting calls from Mastercard practically every time we use it.

emmapeeldallas said...

Thanks! I can't help but think, though, If AE REALLY wanted to protect me from myself, it would refuse authorization when I whip it out at Tiffany's...

;p

Judith said...

Happy trails on your drive to Arizona! Give me an open road, a full tank of gas, and good music on the radio and the possibilities are endless!
What a great AmEx story! They once called my house to verify the purchases I was making *gasp-the nerve!* and fortunately I forwarded the house phone to my cell phone thereby intercepting the call. Of course, I verified my own purchases, which were substantial. Being ever so proud of this, I said to the AmEx caller with a thick southern drawl, “Thank you very much for calling, I think I did rather well in a short amount of time, wouldn’t you agree?”
Shop on, my dear!
Best,
Judith

memes121 said...

Thanks for reading my journal! I have been reading hers ever since she found out she had lung cancer. My heart goes out to her. I look forward to reading your journal now!

Lily said...

lol oh man I'm SO jealous! Big Bend... I haven't been there in years and years... Oh I wish I was going! ;o)

I know what you mean about traveling across Texas. Done that more times than I ever care to count lol...

We used to play Odessa when we were in the carnival still. Wow that was... something lol... You're going through all of my old memories. ::sigh:: Envy, envy lol

I love Arizona. It's so beautiful there... Spent a few years there growing up. Around Pheonix. Peoria and Avondale mostly. Have fun!

~Lily

Theresa said...

Oh I hope you have a wonderful and safe trip. I'd love to see that part of the country. Hope you'll post some pictures.

Theresa said...

.S. What's a "cockle"? I've always wondered that. :-)

Billie said...

what a great adventure!! i am directionally challenged also. my only saving grace is that i can read a map and with the help of said map, can get my way out of a paper bag, at least. lol
thanks for stopping by and reading my journal, it has opened the door to reading about your adventures. looking forward to the ones yet to come.

Jennifer said...

I certainly hope you send AE a similar letter, telling them you appreciate the concern for your card, but that you stopped asking for permission to stray to "suspicious" and "unexpected" places (like Wal-Mart) when you were, uhhh, about 18. ROFL

Camels = YAY! Spiders = ICK!

~~ jennifer

sierrajazz said...

What a fabulous entry. I so enjoyed this.. I am a big beach lover so end up always going to the beach... but after reading this I see there is so many interesting places to plan a vacation to. Thanks for including all the links. You certainly have done a lot of interesting things..

The American Express story was hilarious. So you are just letting them continue to think you would NEVER shop at Walmart?????

Debbi said...

I live in Tucson. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions! *debbi*