Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Check writers, unite!

I've had the same black, leather checkbook since I opened my first checking account as a 15-year old part time Courtesy Clerk (Box boy/buggy runner) at the Alpha Beta Supermarket in Monterey Park, CA.

It's seen me through both rare upturns and all too frequent downward spirals of my checking/savings account balances, always ready to spew forth another pre-perforated generic blue-green 2.75" x 6" paper representative of the moolah in my account.

Combined with my eelskin wallet, my black leather dayrunner, vibrating pager and bowtie logo'd pewter keychain, I was a stylin' fool for much of the 80's and 90's.

My wallet has since become a rubber band, my organizer is a series of post-it notes on the 800' x 4-story tall dry erase marker board in our mudroom hallway, my pager sits at the bottom of a closet junk box, replaced many times over by a series of amazingly shrinking cell phones, and my keychain is now a black-bi-buttoned plastic keyfob that has more memory on it's miniscule circuit board than Apollo 9's onboard computer.

My checkbook, full of checks and ready to be swept up and pocketed for a fun filled foray of excessive shopping and consumerizing, remains the only member of my pocket worthy personal property tribe to have survived.

Sadly, ever since the advent of online bill paying and check / debit cards, I've been severely neglecting my old friend in check writing crime.

I fear it will only get worse for him and checkbooks everywhere, for yesterday, while waiting in line at the WalMart Supercenter checkout stand #4, we witnessed what could be the beginning of the end of the check writing society we've all come to know as a familiar method of paying for things we want but don't really need.

My wife and I listened intently as the blue-smocked clerk with rounded off corners and spectacles hanging by a bright gold chain, explained to an elderly farmer why she was handing him back his check. Seems Walmart has recently instigated the high-tech policy of treating written checks as check debit cards, with the funds instantly transferring out of a consumer's account and into Walmart's.

Since the check is no longer required as proof of payment to the bookeepers and bankers who so vigilantly hung onto them for 2-3 weeks in the past, it is simply handed back to the customer with thanks and gratitude.

The old dude didn't get it right off.

After a few frustrating attempts by the Clerk to explain the money-saving and ultra-convenient process, I stepped in and explained to the overall clad fella that "Walmart is just cutting the bank out of the whole process and by running your check through that little doohickey behind the checkstand, the Clerk cleared it and is giving it back to you -- same as the bank does at the end of every month."

He seemed satisfied with that explanation, expressed a polite "thank you young fella" to me and took his check with him out of the bright white sodium vapored lighted environment of the store.

My wife commented that Okie's love their check writing, and that people here use checks for everything from paying bills to buying gas to getting pizza delivery. Even with the introduction of all the higher tech methods of paying for goods and services, Okie's have steadfastly held onto the security blanket of their checkbooks and the gospel that "my check is as good as my word."

While we were checking out and using our debit card to purchase the water softener salt and combo spray bottle/battery-operated fan for C to keep herself cool at an upcoming softball game, I glanced down at the now obsolete and irrelevant sign on the counter warning of the $35 returned check fee that would be charged to all deadbeat checks.

Perhaps they'll leave it on the counter for old time sake...and as a force fed reminder to folks that these here are indeed the "good old days" for Walmart shoppers.


tuesday said...

Mine's been in the filing cabinet so long, I don't think I remember how to fill one out :)

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those 'Okies' that prefers writing a check. The very act of filling out the amount of the purchase and then subtracting the amount from the balance, gives you one more chance to say to yourself, "do I really need this?".

A debit card on the other hand doesn't require you to think about the purchase at all. Swipe the card and sign your name. Quick and painless unless you just spent your house payment that has not cleared the bank yet.

Yea, I will keep handing the Walmart clerk my check knowing she will be handing it back. The act of writing enforces a discipline that I need to control my impulse purchases.