Chase Bank, United Airlines: “Go Elsewhere.”

Seemingly arbitrary rules, regulations, and fees often make for a “less than desirable” customer experience, but the major needs in our lives (money, travel, etc.) are brokered by a handful of powerful conglomerates, and they could care less how your experience is. I don’t like writing posts like this, but my recent travel experiences left me truly bereft, so I felt the need to share.

Early last month, I learned that a dear friend of mine had died (very prematurely), so I needed to fly from Portland, Oregon to Santa Barbara, California, with just over a week’s notice. I was fully aware the prices were going to be high, but eventually I was able to find tickets that worked for all parties involved (including my ride from the airport). The only problem was, I didn’t have the money at the time to afford the ticket. My situation is not unique, as nearly 69% of Americans have less than $1000 to their name.

I was, however, fortunate enough to borrow $450 from my parents. My dad deposited the check into my Chase bank account on Saturday morning. Saturday is not considered a work day for the bank (I wasn’t born yesterday), so I was aware the check would not clear until Monday, despite the fact he has been depositing checks into that exact same Chase branch for nearly 15 years now. I saw no way around the delay, so I had no choice but to wait until Monday morning to purchase my airplane tickets, forced to deal with higher rates and now a scattered assortment of different flights from different carriers, pieced together by Google Flights. Now I’m starting on Delta, switching to United, and on the way back, hopping over to Alaska Airlines, but I guess that’s what you deserve for trying to travel, right?

On Monday morning the flights were gone, and the only available tickets that were left were way more expensive now, so I had to borrow another $100 from my family. By Monday evening, the Saturday check still had not cleared fully. I had more than enough money to purchase the ticket, but my “Available Balance” was less than the price of my ticket. Accordingly, Chase declined the purchase request from Google.

So I called the Customer Service line at Chase Bank and explained my situation. I explained the situation. The customer service representative agreed that I had the money, but due to federal regulations the check would need time to clear. I asked why it wasn’t cleared on Monday morning, since it’s been sitting there since Saturday. We went back and forth about the funds. I asked him to think outside the box to make this purchase happen, because each second that I can’t purchase these tickets, they’ll get more expensive. Again, that’s playing the game.

“I’ve worked in Customer Service before, and I can assure you this is one of those situations where you ask your manager for help in making this happen for me…” I nearly begged the guy on the phone, to which he responded,
“Don’t you think if there was a way to do this, we would have done it by now?” He responded. Wow.

While there is a “hold” on checks, there isn’t a hold on cash… as long as you’re a “certified depositer,” otherwise they won’t accept it because it could potentially be money laundering. How do you become a Chase certified depositer? By having a Chase bank account. My dad is not a member of Chase, undoubtedly because of situations like this one.

I called the local branch of Chase bank and spoke to the Manager, inquiring on how to get my father as a certified depositer. Again, I reinforced the fact that my father has been depositing checks into that bank account for over a decade, but nevertheless, it was fruitless. He could not deposit cash into my account. That’s when I dove into my situation with the bank manager, hoping I’d pull on his heartstrings enough to make something happen… and he did.

“Are you using overdraft protection?” He asked me. I looked into it, and he was right, I was. This gave Chase bank to authority to decline purchases for amounts greater than I have in my account. By turning off the overdraft protection, I could charge for whatever price I wanted (up to a certain limit I think), but I run the risk of accruing an “overdraft charge.” I turned off the overdraft protection, and just like that, the payment went through.

“Great!” The manager said, “Hopefully you don’t get an overdraft fee.”
“If I get an overdraft fee, I promise you I will be calling back tomorrow and somebody’s gonna hear about it.”

I’m a stewer. If I’m wronged in some way, I’m gonna stew on it for a little while. Looking down at the misinformed negative balance showing on my Chase bank account, I called back the Customer Service line and asked to speak with the same customer service representative I spoke to earlier. You remember, the “don’t you think we would have done it by now?” guy. Yeah, that dickhead.

Turns out the guy on the other end of the phone could not transfer me back, but told me he was a Manager and was interested in hearing my concern. Very well, then. I started at the beginning, told him about the hold, the first customer service call, the local bank manager’s advice, and now I was trying to get to the bottom of why I was treated the way I was when I called asking for help. I told him that if I was have my money with a local credit union, for example, they would have more than happy to make those concessions for me the first time I asked.

“Then maybe you should go elsewhere,” the manager responded.

Wait… what?

“Put yourself in our shoes. Your dad writes that $450 check and then his bank goes back on it, now you’re out $450.” This was a legitimate argument that was made to me, claiming that Chase Bank (market cap $234.2 billion) needed to protect itself against depositing a $450 check. Not to mention all the money is insured!

“I’m out $450 and Chase Bank goes under, right?” I chipped back.
“Of course not,” he responded.
“Exactly.”

Instead of making that money available at the time of the deposit, and letting Chase Bank and my father’s credit union figure it out between themselves, I am forced to wait three days before that money clears. This is, of course, a Federal Regulation geared to protect banks and not serve consumer needs. This policy absolutely must change. Chase Bank may be actively lobbying those in the government about changes to federal policy, but I’d bet my bottom dollar this isn’t the issue. Whatever they are doing, do you think it is in the best interest of my subsection of 69% of Americans?

I made it to Southern California. The service was beautiful, and as is the silver lining in these types of situations, it was nice to connect with old friends again. I had planned to be in the area the following weekend for my mom’s 70th birthday, so I was somewhat forced into working remotely that week (again, because I was unable to afford two sets of airplane tickets). A forced long vacation, starting off sour and ending off sweet… or so I was hoping.

In scheduling my return flights home, the cheapest tickets I could get involved a 14.5 hour layover in Los Angeles International Airport. Now, for those of you following along at home, driving from Ojai to Portland would take somewhere around 17 hours (including pitstops for peeing and gas). I left Ojai at 12PM on Sunday, arrived at the Santa Barbara airport at 1, my flight to LAX took off at 2:33 and landed at 3:17 PM. My flight to Portland would leave the following morning, Monday, at 6 AM, landing in Portland at 8:45 AM. Had I driven from Ojai to Portland, I would have arrived 4 hours earlier than my flights, but exhausted as hell. But that’s traveling, right?

As soon as I landed at LAX, I marched straight to the Alaska gate for the next flight to Portland, OR, and asked to be put on Standby for this flight and all Portland-bound flights on Alaska. The woman at the desk sent me across the round terminal to another desk, where the clerk informed me that Alaska has a $25 change fee, but only on the same calendar day. Since my flight wasn’t until 6 AM tomorrow, I didn’t qualify for standby. I would have had to pay the full $125 change fee + the change in ticket.

I had all but given up on getting home to Portland on Sunday night, so I retreated to the bar and made conversation with the other travelers. I was, of course, on the longest layover, but everyone around me believe the Alaska deal was for 12 hours, not necessarily the same calendar day. So I decided to call Alaska and inquire.

Turns out, Alaska’s same-day $25 change fee is based on the calendar day, not 12 hours. The problem was obvious: I’m here for 14.5 hours, and I’m on the first flight out the following morning. There were literally no flights before mine, and three flights out before the end of the day. This is a deliberate squeeze. The other problem was, even if I wanted to change my flight, I had purchased the tickets through United, so I had to change it through them.

So I called United and explained my situation, how I purchased the tickets on Google, I’m on a 14.5 hour layover, and that I was willing to pay for the change in airfare to get on an earlier flight. They told me there was nothing they could do since the ticket I’m looking to change is from Alaska, so he got the Alaska customer service on the line and transferred me (then hung up). Alaska, to United, back to Alaska. Guess what the Alaska representative said? “There’s nothing we can do since you bought your ticket through United.” The moral of this story is… don’t buy your tickets using Google Flights.

At that point, I marched across the terminal to the United wing, and found a clerk. I explained my situation and how I was hoping to get on any flight to Portland that night. She informed me I could get on the last flight of the day, 11:45 PM, for $289 (including the $200 change fee), which is more than half of what my original round trip tickets cost. I explained was willing to pay for the difference in airfare but I could not possibly pay the change fee (again, 69% of America!) to get on a plane 6 hours earlier that was going to have empty seats anyway. I’m not trying to take advantage of the system here, I’m standing in LAX at a counter! This should have been a simple change, but United refused to budge or even try to make it work for me. “Sorry, maybe you should fly with someone else next time.”

Y tu, Brute?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m gifted with a caring, generous family. At that point, my brother sensed my SOS (or my angry tweets) and he offered to come get me from LAX at 10 PM at night to let me crash on his couch (in Sherman Oaks), only to turn around the following morning and get me to the airport by 5 AM. My brother’s a rockstar, and I owe him a ton… especially for this late-night rescue. I made it home then turned around and headed straight to work on Monday morning.

Chase Bank and United Airlines don’t need my business, they’ll be just fine without me. They’d be fine without your business, too. They cannot afford to lose the high-value clients, the businesses and the billionaires, that fill their coffers every month. Don’t get me wrong, these companies love their lower income customers too, because they’ll get some extra money out of you with a plethora of fees that all add up, and quite frankly, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I have options, and I’m in the process of transitioning away from these companies. I can find a local credit union that will accept the direct deposits from my work and won’t charge me monthly fees. In the future I can fly a smaller, customer-centric airline with less amenities and no checked bag fees. I can shop at local grocery stores and local businesses, because in the end, I want to feel as though the company understands my needs and will do what they can to help me.

CHE

 

Turning 30 Years Old

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

Last week I turned 30 years old. This was a major milestone in my life, one I’d (honestly) been fearing for a while now. Growing up, I always thought turning 30 meant I’m “old,” as if there’s some magical precipice of life when you’ve gone through 10,950 days, and now it’s “all downhill from here.” Maybe. Maybe not.

tumblr_nshg3mLVzL1rt7qgbo1_500It’s hard not to compare yourself against societal benchmarks. Juxtaposing my life against my parents is one drastic comparison. At 30 years old, both of my parents were married (to other people). My mother already had two children, and my father was already deeply ingrained in his legal practice. Oh yeah, and he’d already owned his first house for nearly four years.

But for a more modern dose of humility, all I have to do is scroll my Facebook newsfeed. My elementary school friends, my high school friends, and my college friends, have all found their way in life. Many are married and have families of their own. My friends are buying their first homes, or celebrating work anniversaries of nearly a decade. Pictures of decadent vacations and new cars catch hundreds of “likes” on social media (including my own).

Perhaps I don’t have one of those lives worthy of broadcasting. I don’t have a wife, or a family, or a brand new car. I don’t have a single occupation. I haven’t been out of the country in nearly seven years. I don’t have a deep savings account (under $100) and I don’t have investments in stocks and bonds. I don’t have the biggest, best things that money can buy.

What I do have is something else, something intangible. While many were slaving away at their desks earning overtime pay, I was exploring my potential in the world around me. I was experimenting, trying, testing, and living my life the way I’ve wanted to. I’ve always treated work as someone “leasing” my time, and when that relationship has run it’s course, I pull the ejector seat. It’s time to find something new.

It’s this perspective on the journey that brought me here now, but it was not always that way. I’ve had many directions and goals at different times of my life, and having those is what has made me the man I am today.

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ONE YEAR AGO. In the fall of 2014, I had just moved back down to Southern California with the intent of continuing my screenwriting while coaching lacrosse at Calabasas High School. I was living in my parent’s guest house, commuting 625 miles per week down to Los Angeles, mostly because the price of living in LA was too expensive for my meager coaching pay. The price of gas was, believe it or not, cheaper.

Just one year ago, I believed I was on the verge of breaking into the film industry. I had “won” entry into a screenwriting competition and there was some positive attention on my scripts. I reached out to a number of my contacts in Los Angeles for help (who volunteered to be an aid), but sadly, when push really came to shove, nobody responded. I wasn’t asking people to slide my latest script under executive doors, I was asking for a couch to sleep on.

The “everybody’s gotta hustle” mentality of Los Angeles ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve never shied away from hard work, but I am the first to shy away from a community that doesn’t support it’s own. It felt as though there was no camaraderie amongst the “struggling,” just an overall saturation of “figure it out yourself.” Flat out, I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

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TWO YEARS AGO. In the fall of 2013, I was working as the Sales & Marketing Coordinator at Circus Center in San Francisco, California. In addition to my administrative role, I was also training in acrobatics with Master Lu Yi. I was living with my girlfriend, coaching lacrosse in the afternoons, and writing screenplays at night. I had a solid group of friends from high school and college living in the Bay Area, so there was no shortage of good times. Life was moving along with pretty smooth sailing.

At that time, my longterm vision of myself was deeply routed in where I was at the time. I loved working at the Circus, and training was (arguably) my favorite thing to do. I envisioned myself splitting my time between circus, writing, coaching lacrosse and my rich personal life. I had visions of being a stay-at-home dad… a happy stay at home dad. (This is still my dream).

But things change. And people change. I changed. A good life of being “content” wasn’t something I aspired for anymore, and in the months after my 28th birthday, my life changed forever.

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FIVE YEARS AGO. I wore a suit and tie to work every single day. I was living in downtown San Francisco in an apartment with two other Chrisses (is that what you call a group of Chris?), walking to the Financial District for my work as a civil litigation paralegal. I had deferred from law school for a year, and for a job for Drexel Bradshaw. For my birthday, my crew of faithful cohorts and I took a trip to Las Vegas.

I had been writing screenplays for a little over a year, but it was around my birthday that I won an award in the West Field Screenwriting Awards. I would race home from work and spend my nights writing screenplays. I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to return to law school or build a little savings. In the end, I spent a majority of the money I made going to Giants baseball games. I was also on Mythbusters that fall (kinda embarrassing).

This was the brief stint when I believed I could go into law and be successful. I imagined moving back to Santa Barbara, taking over my father’s criminal defense practice, and living in Ojai, writing on the weekends.

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TEN YEARS AGO. Sophomore year at St. Lawrence University was a pivotal year for me. I was 20 years old, already a “brother” in my fraternity, and I had just started my record label, KMD Music. I recently switched my major from Economics to Music, and I was living in the fraternity’s “triple,” the largest room in the house.

Back then, I still wanted to go into the music industry. I had just spent the summer interning at Vagrant Records and I was waiting on 1200 copies of Rock The Cure. I was in Canton, New York, which is not the mecca of the music entertainment industry, but I was still convinced I could take my liberal arts education and make a ripple in the industry.

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FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. The Lower School, back then, could be aptly described as a bomb shelter, perfect for adolescent boys away from their parents for the first time. As a freshmen boy at The Thacher School, I lived under special circumstances. Check in. Classes. Horseback riding. Camping. Feed your horse before you feed yourself.

At fourteen, I don’t think I had long term perspective on what my life was going to be. I knew I loved music, but everything I was going to experience over the next few years would definitely impact how I approached the rest of my life. I didn’t really know what to expect back then. The only thing I knew was that my father had gone to this same boarding school, and we both had Marvin Shagam as a Latin teacher.

I wanted to go into Politics.

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TWENTY YEARS AGO. In 1995, I was a mature ten year old attending Marymount School in Santa Barbara. I was starting to play tennis a lot, but I just tried to stay busy. The year before I lost my brother and I had really hard time dealing with it. I felt there was a cloud hanging over my life that year. Our family received so much love and support from our friends and neighbors, that we were able to make it out of that first year intact. I don’t remember many specifics about that year, just the hurt. I knew when I grew up, I didn’t want to feel that way again.

I think I wanted to be an astrophysicist.

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THIRTY YEARS AGO. On October 24, 1985 at 5:12 PM, my parents and brothers were at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara watching the World Series, waiting for my arrival. I was my mother’s third child, so she figured it was going to go smoothly, which thankfully it did. We were home by the time the game was over (or so they tell me). I can’t imagine my mother thought we’d be here today, 30 years later.


tumblr_nwsetfBntt1rt7qgbo1_500NOW? Now I’m here in Portland, Oregon. I’m splitting my time between Real Estate administration (with my old friend Beth Bonita from Marymount!) and my own entrepreneurial activities, including the Mystery Tin Podcast Network and the Dinner’s Ready! card game. I’m living with my girlfriend, Brittany, and our kitten Tundra.
The future is relatively uncertain, which of my paths I will continue down, but that doesn’t concern me yet. It may not be what I had in mind just a few short years ago, but for right now, it’s perfect.

Right where I want to be.

CHE

P.S. In not such an important milestone, this was my 100th blog post on TheMysteryTin.com. Thank you to all the readers over the last few years. I hope I’ve brought you some kind of enjoyment or inspiration. Thanks again for reading.

That time I almost died on Fraser Island.

I WAS DRUNK.

Now, now… before you call my Mom or leave angry comments, let me finish… I WAS DRUNK but I wasn’t driving! This car accident had absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever, but I’m also willing to say that I came out of the crash UNHARMED because of one simple fact; I was drunk.

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My buddy Ben and I were traveling along the coast of Australia. We had gone Scuba Diving in the Whitsunday Islands and were slowly making our way back down the coast to Sydney. We heard about this cool place called Frazer Island, an island with no roads, just sand. Fraser Island had some cool shipwrecks, waterfalls, and everybody’s second-favorite Australian quotable, the dingo. Are you kidding me? I’m SO IN.

Ben and I ended up signing up for the “jeep safari” of Fraser Island. This was a “drive-yourself” tour with 11 people. While the rest of our group was inside the building watching some training video on the island and the proper methods of avoiding a dingo attack, Ben and I were outside packing our massive jeep. We were able to pack most of the camping items on the roof and most of the “more important” stuff (sleeping bags, boxes of wine referred to as “goon,” cases of beer, handles of booze, etc.) under the seats in the back. We were so proud of our pack job we took this picture.

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Everybody was allowed to drive the jeep if they wanted to. The only thing is, the jeep was a stick shift. In fact, most cars in Australia are stick shifts. I don’t exactly have the best track record with manuals (although I have driven one across the country with Ward) so I decided I would “take one for the team” and forgo my turn as driver and declared myself “the Designated Drinker.”

There are no roads on Fraser Island, just trails of sand (and “Yes” we quoted Doc Brown constantly). We drove slowly through bumpy terrain, into clearings and over rocks to a number of beautiful locations. Nothing too dangerous, just fun in the sun and sand. So I kept drinking, slapping the bag of “goon” and preparing snacks… like a boss.

When you’re tired of driving slowly around the interior of Fraser Island, you can drive at the edge of beach, by the surf. Sculpted tight by the pressure of vehicles and the blowing winds, the ground is solid enough to open up the jeeps to 65 or 70 km/h (40-45 mph) . A few legs of our trip required driving on the beach and the gentlemen drivers didn’t hesitate to try out the truck’s V8 engine.

Then it was her turn.

She said she was uncomfortable driving when they offered it to her the first time. They said they’d ask her again after we visited the battleship. By that time, everybody else had gone, except for her and me. I’d been drinking all day so the answer was clear… IF she wanted to drive, now was the time. One of the guys volunteered to drive, but after a little egging on from the other girls, she acquiesced and climbed into the driver’s seat (on the right side!) and fired it up.

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Three girls sat in the front seat with the remaining eight of us in the back on bench seats, seated across from each other. I sat closest to the front, behind the passenger. Ben sat on the same side, closest to the door. With everybody in, we closed the back doors and they clicked shut. [This picture was taken earlier in the day.]

I don’t know why I had a state of heightened awareness. Maybe it was because she was nervous to drive. Maybe it was premonition. I think it may have been because I was drunk. Whatever it was, my eyes were fixated out the front window. I wanted to see everything that happened while this girl was driving.

Everything was going fine until,

“Hey, give it a little speed!”

FUCK. THAT. GUY.

I don’t remember who said it but somebody egged her to step on the gas… So she did. (The more I think about it, the more I think it was Ben.)

Sand is much weaker than cement and cannot withstand quick changes in direction from a thousand-pound jeep. Everything must be done slowly to not disrupt the surface tension and rigidity of the hard packed sand.

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On Fraser Island, the winds blow the sand into small dunes, some stretching nearly all the way to the water. I saw a large one coming and (it is now clear) she did not see it until it was too late. She turned the wheel and I felt a little jolt in the back of the jeep. Instead of slowing down, she turned the wheel back the other way, hoping to “even it out.” Instead, I felt the truck dip.

I grabbed my knees when I saw the ocean. It was straight out of the airplane safety manual. I immediately put my head down and interlocked my arms under my knees, tucking into a tight ball. How the hell was I supposed to know what to “properly” do in a rollover crash? I was outside packing the damn truck during the instruction video! Besides, if nothing happened, I could always blame it on the goon…

The passenger-side wheels caught the sand first, digging in strong. The jeep immediately started into the barrel roll, tossing me backwards. The girls in the front were screaming while the back turned into a chaos of bodies, camping gear and booze, but I remained tight in my safety position. After two and a half rolls, we came to a stop, upside down in the breaking surf. And just like that, I was stone cold sober.

The girls in the front seat quickly climbed out their windows before the water started flooding in. I was buried at the bottom of the pile in the backseat yet still hanging upside by my seatbelt. After a verbal check that everybody was alright, Ben tried to open the door but couldn’t. It was locked and had to be opened from the outside.

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Ben pounded on the door as the water level rose inside the jeep. The water came up to my eyebrows before receding away. This was the living embodiment of my worst nightmare… all because I didn’t want to drive a stick shift!

After what felt like hours (but less than a minute), the back door was pried open by some locals who witnessed the whole thing. One by one, they unclipped their seat belts and climbed out. I was the last one to get help and the water was rising. When I was finally able to unclip my own seat belt, I fell to the ground (ceiling?) and everything under the bench (i.e. boxes of booze) came crashing down on me. I panicked for a minute, before Ben helped dig me out.

The female driver had to be helicoptered off the island. So did the girl who sat across from me. She broke her wrist reaching for the ceiling during the tumble. (We saw them a few days later and they were both fine.) The rest of us were pretty shaken up about the whole thing, numbly collecting our damp camping supplies and sandy belongings.

Ben and I waded out into the surf to retrieve parts of the truck that had been carried away. The windshield. A rearview mirror. Someone’s sleeping bag. The waters off Fraser Island have an abundance of sharks and jellyfish, so much so that swimming with a “sting suit” is required. We didn’t have our sting suits on. We simply waded out in our clothes, laughing at the irony of living through a car accident only to die from a jellyfish sting. We didn’t care.

But nobody died. We all made it, including the driver! The lesson was loud and clear; If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

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We got a little help in flipping the jeep back over, and just as we did… this rainbow happened.

Say what you will, I think it was a sign.

CHE

P.S. I still have the side mirror from the Jeep and pull it out every once in a while to reminisce about how fragile life is… mostly when I’m drunk.