A few months ago I got online to pay on a new account I have at U.S. Bank. I pay a certain amount every month, like everyone does on installment loans. U.S. Bank has a full-featured consumer website; I mean it’s got all the bells and whistles. That’s what you’d expect from a bank with $19.6 billion in revenue (2013); the fifth largest bank in America, with assets of $353 billion. U.S. Bank is bigger than American Express, SunTrust, and ScottTrade, combined.
So I was surprised when I only saw the option to pay online, a single payment at a time. I figured, well this is the first payment, so I’ll put in my bank information, and maybe after it clears, next month they’ll let me set up a monthly recurring payment. So I waited a month, logged back on, and nope, still only a single payment. I paid the account, and then called customer service.
I asked how I could sign up for automatic monthly payments, and the kind lady said there was a link for that on the website. I was online while I called so I dutifully clicked the link. She said I only needed to simply print out the form that showed up, fill it out, sign it, and mail it back in, easy as pie. I said what!? Did you just tell me to print a paper form, fill it out in pen, and then mail it to you? She said, yes, with a voided check. I sputtered, b-but I just made two payments from the same account, all online, and you took those! If I was on a video chat with her, I’m sure I’d have seen her looking at me like I had three heads. She just said, well, that’s how we’ve always done it. For automatic payments, you have to fill out the form. I asked her, did she know that no other bank larger than the one-branch Bedford Falls Building and Loan does things this way. No, she did not know that.
I printed the form. Unfortunately, my inkjet printer was fresh out of papyrus sheets, so I had to use regular paper. Parchment is just so expensive these days. I couldn’t round up a turkey quill and nib, with india ink from an inkwell, so I ended up filling out the form in ball-point pen. I managed to dig up a paper check buried in my dining room hutch, and duly marked it “VOID”. The pony express doesn’t run by my house, and the last stage coach had left for the day, so I hunted down a U.S. Mail stamp (thank God they make “forever” stamps because it was two years old) and affixed it to a #10 envelope. Both the stamp and the envelope had self-stick glue already applied, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I was very worried about getting a paper cut—on my tongue.
Off into my mailbox went the paper form, and the little flag went up for the mail lady to know we had a letter going out. A few weeks later, I got a letter from U.S. Bank telling me they activated my automatic payment plan. The payment should have posted on November 1, which was the due date. Lo and behold, I log in to the fancy, bell-and-whistles U.S. Bank website, and no payment has posted. It was November 2nd. I’m sure I’ll call when their customer service is open and they’ll tell me the payment is late. I’m sure I’ll tell them that they agreed to take it automatically. And I’m sure they’ll tell me back that they have no record of my form, which I lovingly completed and mailed with care.
Next, I was driving down to Orlando the other day, and remembered how the great State of Florida, which has no income tax, collects its revenue. There are tolls every freaking mile between Ocala and points east of Orlando. The last time we made the drive, from Orlando to Port Canaveral, I told my wife to be ready to help me pay the tolls, because I didn’t have a SunPass. A SunPass is one of those high-tech devices that you stick to your windshield and it has a transponder which is activated by a radio transmitter at toll booths. They sell SunPass devices at every gas station, quickie store, rest stop, drug store and Walmart in Florida. You could say they’re ubiquitous.
My wife got my wallet out, but wasn’t really into the task of providing bills and change. She asked, how hard can it be, it’s not like there’s a toll every mile. But there is a toll every mile. Especially between Orlando and Cocoa. It’s ridiculous. At every toll, we had to take the divert lane on the right, stop, hand the cashier money, get change, and drive off. At one toll, we had run out of $1 bills and I handed the guy a $5 to pay a $1 toll. I almost drove off but my wife grabbed my arm. The man just smiled and handed me $4, telling me a lot of folks drive off like that. Great for him, he gets to keep the $4. He didn’t get mine that day; small victory.
So this last drive, I decided to break down and buy a SunPass. I stopped at the Okahumpka Service Plaza (a place so popular that Google autocompletes it) and bought the device. There are two varieties: the permanent stick-on, and the removable suction-cup. I bought the suction-cup style for $20. We will be driving back to Orlando in my wife’s SUV in January, and I wanted to be able to move it between cars. I asked the guy at the store if I would be able to set up the device online and use it that day. He said no problem, it can be done from my iPhone, or by voice phone, or at a gas station.
I went to my car, broke open the box, and got out my iPhone, bringing up SunPass.com. I had my account all but created, down to the point where you have to enter your license plate number, and then I got an error message: that vehicle has already been registered with another SunPass account. Oh no! I had forgotten that six months ago I borrowed my father-in-law’s SunPass to drive to Orlando, and he added my car to his account. Of all the rotten luck. But no problem, I simply called my father-in-law.
He got online and tried to delete my car from his account. No go. It said “vehicle cannot be modified.” Hmm. Okay, there’s a toll-free number I can call and I bet they can fix it. So I conference him in, and it’s an automated system. He enters his account number (several tries, somehow a 3-way call with a computer is less than optimal), and gets to the menu, and one of the options is “add a transponder”. The light bulb illuminates about both of our heads. He says “hang up” and I do (by the way, if anyone knows how to drop a single call from a 3-way conversation on a Verizon iPhone please let me know, because I’m clueless, and always have to hang up both calls and call one back—but I digress).
I call him back and he adds the new transponder to his account. I tell him I’ll pay him back for the tolls, and we’ll sort it out when I return from Orlando. No worries. I hang up and hit the road. I go through the first toll and no red lights or sirens. So far, so good. Then the phone rings, it’s my father-in-law. He asks if I’ve gone through any tolls yet. Why, yes, I have. Then he tells me SunPass did in fact delete my car from his account, but the new transponder is showing up. What the crap? At that point, nothing could really be done to fix the faux pas, so he added my vehicle back on, and I continued my drive.
I get to Orlando, and he texts me that SunPass saw the toll, so all is good. Then he texts this: “You won’t believe what we are going to have to do to transfer transponder to you!” What? “Print out forms, fill them out, get them notarized, then mail them in.” Notarized!? Really? Like we’re criminals or something, simply to transfer a vehicle and transponder from one SunPass account to another. It’s not even technically another account, since I was never able to create one. I can pass title deed to my house with less effort than moving a stupid toll collection device.
His last text was the kicker, “I guess it’s not such a high tech toll system. Next year the SunPass will work here in Georgia.” Yep, I’m from Georgia. Thank God for that, because we don’t have tolls like Florida, not down south of Atlanta. But once they get the SunPass set up in Georgia, I can’t see our legislators being able to resist the vats of cash they can suck from motorists by simply making every highway in Georgia a toll road. At least I’ll have my SunPass device now. That is, if I can find a notary, some papyrus, turkey quill, india ink and inkwell, and another #10 envelope and a friggin’ stamp.