A tip on race

AMERICA IS FIXATED on race, a “problem” that will never, ever be solved due to people being what they are. The race fixation has ballooned since Barry, Michelle, Eric and Valerie came to town.

Coincidence? Course not. tipping2

A story this week caught my attention because it touches on something I know about personally: black people and tipping. I know about this because I used to be a taxi driver in New Orleans, a city populated primarily by black people. At least it was before Katrina. It’s less so now, I have read.

It seems that lots were blown all the way to Baton Rouge and even Houston where they put down roots and never headed back to Basin Street. But let’s not digress.

The news story is that the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Charlotte, N.C., added a 15% “surcharge” to customers at the lobby bar during a conference of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, an organization of almost entirely black educational institutions.

In plain English, the hotel added a 15 percent tip to the bar tabs during a convention of black people.

Oh, dear! Just one step short of burning crosses and pointy, white hoods.

But here, as Paul Harvey famously phrased it, is the rest of the story. And there are two elements.

No. 1 is that many restaurants and bars add an automatic tip for large groups, no matter their skin tone. This is done because waiters tend to get stiffed by large groups. It’s a fact.

No. 2 is that blacks are lousy tippers. Cabbies know this from experience, and it is why a black person hailing a taxi, no matter how elegantly attired, will almost always be passed by if a white person down the block is hailing one too. It is not because cabbies dislike blacks per se. It is because tips make up a huge part of their income, and they ain’t stupid. You head for the cash.

When I was a cabbie, I quickly learned to dodge black customers. I was in it for the money, not racial justice.

As for the Ritz-Carlton, I’m betting they routinely do this during conventions which are, by definition, large groups of people. White customers see no racial element, raise no stink, and there are no news stories. Black people almost always see a racial element, and they have grown quite fond of raising stinks.

And there you have it — the rest of the story.

Credit card craziness

WHEN THE PRESIDENT called Barry signed legislation a year or so ago, he canceled my U.S. bank account and the U.S. accounts of many other U.S. citizens living outside America.

This colossally ill-conceived legislation goes by its initials, FATCA. You can look it up if you care. Basically, it was intended to nail fat cats who were hiding their riches in offshore accounts. What it actually did was hose innocent Americans, mostly retirees, who had the good sense to live elsewhere.

I was one of those hose-ees.

flagThe United States is the only nation on earth that taxes money held by its citizens in other countries. It is a desperation move due to the sea of bloody red ink the nation irresponsibly swims in.

Entitlements add up. Redistribution only goes so far.

FATCA did not directly cancel all those U.S. bank accounts. What it did was impose burdensome paperwork on banks in the United States with account holders living beyond the borders. And many banks, likely most, found it more convenient to just close the lower-end accounts.

Last July … with very little warning.

My U.S. bank was Banamex USA, the American branch of one of Mexico’s biggies, Banamex. Don’t let the name fool you. Banamex USA must play by U.S. rules. It’s owned by Citicorp.

WE DON’T WANT YOU ANYMORE

I opened the letter that arrived in my post office box in late June and read: After examining your account, we regret to inform you that we can no longer service your account. It will be closed on July 1.  I was mildly annoyed. It was only later that I began to think of all the fish I had in that sea.

The enormity of this event began to sink in.

I receive two pensions. One is Social Security. By pure luck, just months earlier I had switched the automatic deposit from Banamex USA to HSBC-Mexico where I had just opened an account due to dissatisfaction with the Mexican Banamex. But the other, corporate, pension was deposited in Banamex USA.

That corporate pension is distributed by an arm of Wells Fargo. I phoned them and was told they only did direct deposit to U.S. banks, not foreign ones, and the sole alternative was a check in the mail. The problem with Option Two is that you cannot deposit or cash a U.S. check in Mexico anymore.

Thank U.S. legislation again.

It is virtually impossible these days to open a U.S. bank account without a U.S. address and driver’s license, neither of which do I possess. So when Banamex USA dumped me, well, …

After lots of stress and frantic activity, I got Wells Fargo to initiate pension direct deposits outside the United States. I imagine I am still the only person they do that for.

When I moved to Mexico in 2000, I had just opened a checking account at Banamex USA, and I had three credit cards which were paid online from that account. Then the credit cards began to fall by the wayside.

The first to go was a Visa I used to pay for Sky TV in 2003. Without going into dreary details, Sky began to abuse the card. I asked the issuing bank to stop them, but the bank told me they could not, that only Sky could cancel the agreement.

Absurd. So, I canceled that card. Adiós, Sky TV. But adiós credit card too.

Two cards left. One was a Wells Fargo Mastercard, and the other was an AT&T Visa. I had my Mexican mailing address on both. Renewal cards for the AT&T Visa were express-mailed here with no problem. The Wells Fargo people, however, were much more ornery.

Their “fraud department,” before activating a renewal card, insisted I go to my local Banamex branch and have all manner of complex paperwork done to prove that I was the person I said I was. This paperwork would have been a real challenge at a Mexican bank where procedures are quite different.

WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE

I told Wells Fargo to put the card in what would have been a painful place had it been on a human being. There would have been no sunshine there. So I was down to just one credit card.

I consider two credit cards a minimum, so I went to my Banamex branch here in town and requested a credit card. They gave it to me with a limit of just 15,000 pesos, about 1,000 dollars. They absolutely would not raise the limit to something reasonable. And there was a sizable annual fee.

About a year later, I canceled it in a snit, and was left with one card. I use credit cards exclusively online, absolutely nowhere else, but online is important because I shell out not much, but regularly, online.

And then came last June’s letter from Banamex USA, canceling my account and leaving me with no easy way to pay the AT&T Visa card. I still have the card, but it sits idle and useless.

I returned to Banamex and asked them to reissue the card I had canceled. Nah, they said. FATCA was not mentioned, but that is without a doubt the reason they would not reissue the card.

My U.S. citizenship was mentioned. Thanks to Washington D.C., again.

I canceled my longtime account at Banamex in Mexico. It had always been a pain anyway.

TOO OLD TO TRUST

So I went into my local HSBC-Mexico branch and asked for a credit card. At age 70, I was too old, I was informed. Yes, age discrimination is alive and well down south. It’s an unfair world. But I don’t get huffy. It’s life.

As I consider two credit cards a minimum, I also consider two banks a minimum, so I opened an account with BBVA Bancomer. For a credit card, they require an account to be open a few months and that a minimum balance of 6,000 pesos be maintained. I did that.

On Wednesday, they gave me a nice, shiny, blue Visa card with a 50,000-peso limit, which is okay. My child bride has a high-balance account with HSBC-Mexico that came with a no-questions-asked credit card, and spouses automatically get one too. I got one last year, but it’s connected to her account.

No matter. My two-card minimum is fulfilled.

So what did I do the eight months between the time my AT&T Visa was sidelined and getting my own Bancomer Visa this week? I used my HSBC-Mexico debit card for online purchases, which is not wise. Debit card purchases come right out of your checking account. A credit card provides a security barrier.

LAND OF THE CHESHIRE CAT

catWeirdly, a week ago, every online account that used my HSBC-Mexico debit card found that charges were rejected. This came out of the blue.

HSBC-Mexico says there is no reason for this to be happening, but it is happening. I view this as part of the Alice-in-Wonderland tone of Mexican life.

Thursday, I switched all online charges to my shiny new Bancomer Visa. I am a happy boy. Everything works out if you wait long enough. It is the way of the Goddess.

(If you read all the way down here about my credit card situation, you deserve a medal.)

* * * *

(Update: About six months later, I got a phone call from HSBC-Mexico, asking if I wanted a credit card. Apparently, I’m not too old to trust after all. I accepted the card.)