I was driving home the other day and noticing the disparity in gasoline prices. Usually, the price of gas varies little from one station to another. Lately, however, the price differential between gas stations has been remarkably large. Most of the stations I passed offered regular gasoline for $3.399/gallon. The price at some stations, however, was as low as $3.259/gallon, a 14 cent difference.
Although my gas tank was well short of empty, I decided to stop at a Sheetz station that advertised the $3.259 price. I drove up to a pump and inserted my Sheetz loyalty card—it provides a 3 cent/gallon discount—into the card reader. The screen told me to rescan the card. This happened a number of times, causing me to conclude that something was wrong with the reader. Frustrated, I drove to a different pump. The card reader at that pump wouldn’t read my Sheetz card either. Neither could it read my credit card.
I locked the car and took my cards inside. There, the clerk was similarly unable to scan my Sheetz card. She suggested that the card was damaged and offered to give me a new card, assuring me that my credits for coffee purchases would transfer to it. This was to be effected by scanning my driver’s license, which, in Pennsylvania, contains both optical codes and a coded magnetic stripe. The card didn’t scan. Frustrated, I walked out, declaring that I would buy gas elsewhere.
Fast forward a day. I still hadn’t filled my gas tank when I visited Aldi, a supermarket that accepts debit cards but not credit cards. When I tried to pay for my purchases, my debit card would not scan. Repeated tries were to no avail. Aldi did not have the capability to simply enter my debit card number. A manager helpfully offered to put my cart in the freezer—my purchases included frozen salmon—while I visited my bank.
By this time, I realized that most, perhaps all, of the cards in my wallet must have had their magnetic stripes erased. While driving to the bank, I was trying to think where I might have encountered a strong magnetic field. It was only when I was sitting at the desk of a bank officer who was ordering me a new debit card that the it came to me. I had had an MRI on my knee three days earlier.
The MRI was done at Indiana Regional Medical Center. After I checked in, a technician led me to a room with a locker where I could store my coat and metal objects such as my belt buckle. I was surprised and delighted that I didn’t have to change into a hospital gown. The brass zipper and rivets in my jeans, I was assured, were not a problem. For the MRI, I lay on a table with my legs in the machine but with my head and upper body slightly out of it. Unfortunately, my wallet, which no one suggested that I remove from my pocket, was clearly exposed to the magnetic field. In 25 minutes, all the magnetic strips in my wallet got zapped.
I am now working at getting new credit cards. I still have one more to order, and I have to find out if Sheetz can associate my loyalty card with my driver’s license without being able to read the stripe on my driver’s license. I do hope I don’t have to replace my driver’s license.
I’m going to have a little talk with the people at the hospital. And I’m beginning to see the utility of using optical codes, rather than coded magnetic stripes.