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January 08, 2007

Of cards

There was a time in my life where credit cards were very important to me. Maybe that's because I didn't grow up with them. We paid in cash, everything. When I moved to the United States to attend post-graduate courses at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York, credit cards still weren't important. I think the first time I realized their value was when a friend from Europe visited and I had to put up a huge cash security deposit for a car rental because I did not have a credit card. So I got into the game. Department store cards came first. They had ridiculously low credit limits, and I quickly learned that paying on time was a must. One time I had a card refused at Montgomery Ward because an $8.81 balance was late.

Getting my first "real" credit cards was a revelation and soon I went on a literal collection spree, applying for everything. When I got my first real job after graduating from RPI I had an American Express card and then soon a Diner's Club card and a Carte Blanche. Yes, those two still meant something in those days. At some point I got an American Express Gold card which I was hugely proud of, especially when I visited friends in Europe where it was much more difficult to get a "gold card."

That era of credit card obsession is now ancient history. Today I view them as a pain more than anythging, as a minefield, a necessary evil. I routinely ditch the junkmail that offers yet another card, and I instinctively distrust any offer even from my own banks. I fully expect to get ripped off with obscene "late fees" or other dubious charges, and I fully expect the banks to fudge a bit so as to make me "late" so they can jack up my interest rate and report me to the credit bureaus. Yes, it's come to that. These days I almost exclusively use debit cards, drawing from money that is already mine and in my bank account. Cards are a pain, and we have far too many of them weighing down our valets.

However, there are exceptions. There are two cards that I would truly never leave home without, and those are my diver certification cards. Yes, I know it's silly, but I am more proud of my PADI Open Water Diver card and my NAUI Advanced Scuba Diver card than I ever was of any prestigious credit card. Maybe it is because I truly earned those cards, because I had to study for them, then dive underwater where humans are not supposed to be able to breathe. Maybe it's because they are tangible evidence that I succeeded at something that has become a passion of mine, diving. Maybe it's because of the signatures on those cards, the signatures of the people who opened this wondrous new world to me, enriching my life in so many ways.

I know, of course, that collecting certification cards has nothing to do with real diving experience. Despite my cards I am still of newbie scuba diver with little underwater experience, experience that I will only accumulate with the many more dives I plan on making in the years ahead. But I already know that I'll cherish each and every new C-card.

Posted by conradb212 at January 8, 2007 11:04 PM

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