Let me start with a story...
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. It was. And Cecily and I are scheduled to check into our campsite in western Massachusetts, except that it is raining pitchforks and drill-bits, and the non-stop barrage of lightning is threatening to make a Roman candle out of the electrical relay station located ten yards outside the state park's gates.
So we decide to try and find a hotel that would accept us and our big slobbery dog for the night, so we could get a fresh start and set up camp in the morning. After several increasingly urgent phonecalls, we manage to secure a reservation at a local inn, which is only moderately overpriced, as opposed to the other places, which either won't take dogs or have price scales geared to Donald Trump's salary. Cecily gives them our credit card number by phone and we drive on thru the pitchforks and drill-bits, relieved that a warm and cozy bed awaits.
When we get to the hotel, we are greeted by a slightly standoffish but not rude desk clerk, who takes my credit card and begins to process our paperwork. Cecily takes the opportunity to make pleasant small talk with the woman, asking whether it would be alright if we brought our dog thru the lobby. At the mention of the word "dog," the woman's face turns to granite...as if we'd said, "wheel barrow of llama turds." As in: "May we drag our wheel barrow of llama turds thru your lobby?"
The ensuing exchange goes something like this:
Clerk: "I didn't know you had a dog."
Cecily: "I told you over the phone."
Clerk: "Well I didn't hear that. Your signal was breaking up. We don't allow animals here."
Me: "Can't we just forget we had this little conversation?" (This never works, by the way)
Clerk: "No. We can't have any animals here."
Me: "We're kind of homeless tonight, because of the storm."
Clerk: Stoney stare (often seen on Easter Island).
Me: "Well give me back my credit card then."
Which she does, along with the slip, which is UNSIGNED. Then we go back to the car, soggy and dejected, to begin the hotel-hunting process anew. Soon we secure another reservation, at another overpriced hotel. But the clerk is friendly and assures us that dogs are indeed welcome.
So this should be the happy ending, right? We go to the new hotel, check in, walk the pooch, then retire to our room for lobster ravioli and cheesecake in the nude (us, not the cake). And indeed, those things do happen. But the next day, when the storm has cleared and we go to check out, we are informed (very kindly) that our credit card has been declined, this being due to the two holds placed on it (one by the hotel we stayed in, and another by the hotel we didn't). I offer another card and settle the bill, then as soon as we're on the road I call the credit card company to inform them that I have used another card and so they are free to remove both holds.
After a series of automated phone menus (designed by people who as children pulled the wings from butterflies), I am told that each hotel must call the credit card company to authorize removal of the hold. After a brief protest, I relent, feeling that resistance is futile. So I call the hotel we just left and speak with the kind clerk who helped us check out. After hearing our situation, she agrees to call the credit card company, and voila, the first hold is removed.
Now on to the other hotel. The one that put us out in the rain. It's on the way to the camp site, so we decide to drop by in person to make our case. I am greeted by the day shift desk clerk, who seems to have had surly cakes for breakfast. I explain our situation and am told "My boss doesn't allow me to do that," which I read as: "I don't wanna." But, I explain, we didn't stay at the hotel. We didn't use any of the hotel's services. So why is the hotel holding our money? She really doesn't have an answer to that one, so she reluctantly agrees to call the credit card company an authorize removal of the hold. Although she must do so on the sly, she indicates to me, because her boss is hovering about. I thank her, and she begins the process. Unfortunately, she is no bigger a fan of automated phone menus than I am, and every time a customer approaches or the other phone line rings, she hangs up, and must begin the process from scratch.
One such conversation is with a potential guest who wants to know whether there's a restaurant in the building. "Yes," says the clerk, "there is." "What kind?" inquires the caller. "Indian," is the response. "Can you smell it from the rooms?" asks the caller. "Well," says the clerk, "I can't guarantee that you won't get a whiff of curry now and then." (I actually am starting to like the clerk for that comment, and I smile.) The caller then demands a guarantee that if they stay at the far end of the hotel, they won't have to smell Indian food. The clerk refuses to make such an assurance, and the caller hangs up. (These are apparently the kind of royal douchebags who stay at hotels in the Berkshires.)
In any case, it's been a half hour since my original plea, so with Cecily in the car, and neither of us having had breakfast, I give up. I ask the clerk how long the hold will stay on my money if neither of us does anything...remember that I never signed the receipt...and I am told "4 days."
The rest of the trip goes pretty well... good eats cooked over an open flame, long lazy mornings in bed, a hike in the woods, a swim in the lake, nights reading to each other by the fire. I almost feel human again. And I almost forget about the credit card.
The 4 days pass, and I decide to call the credit card's automated line to confirm that the hold has indeed been removed. It has not. But I am assured that if I wait one more day, it will. I am also told that if I had the merchant number for the hotel, all this would go much easier.
So we go home. And another 2 days pass. I call the credit card's automated line and, you guessed it, the hold remains. So I jump thru the monkey hoops required to speak to an actual human being (tip: press the button for "change of address" even if you haven't moved; they'll have to put you on the phone with someone). So I explain my situation...again...this time with the merchant number in hand (turns out it's printed on the copy of the unsigned receipt that's still in my pocket). The credit card clerk is still reluctant to take the hold off, tho it's been a week, my receipt is unsigned, and I NEVER STAYED AT THE HOTEL. So I move to Plan B and ask to speak with the Fraud Department. "I'd like to treat the hotel as a criminal," I tell the clerk, "and I wish to report them for credit card fraud." This lights a fire under his balls. "What was that merchant number again?" he asks. I tell him, and voila, the hold is removed.
If you're still reading this and haven't yet put a shotgun in your mouth, you'll probably agree that there is something desperately wrong with the credit card system as it exists today. Why, for example, are holds necessary? If I pay for a purchase using my ATM card, the money's gone. If I don't buy anything, the money stays. That makes sense. But with the hold system, if you just THINK about buying something, the money's in Limbo. And if you decide you don't want to buy that thing afterall, the money STAYS in Limbo.
And as Chris Rock said in Head of State, "That ain't right."