I STEP TO THE thorny edges of the Information Age to chronicle attempts by one Allan D. Jensen, Baltimore eye doctor and surgeon, to correct an error in his checking account with First USA Bank. It's a delicious and maddening story, to be savored by anyone who has tried to correspond with big, computer-dominated financial institutions the old-fashioned way -- with simple, clearly written letters.
Starting last fall, Jensen wrote at least twice to inform First USA that it had made an account-entry mistake. The mistake favored Jensen by more than $1,200. A check he had written for $1,411.57 had been entered by First USA as $144.57. Jensen wanted the account corrected, and he wanted relief from an inexplicable $98 finance charge he had been forced to pay because of the bank's blunder.
"Dear Allan D. Jensen," began the first response from First USA, on Feb. 29. "We are replying to your inquiry about the annual membership fee for the credit card account noted above. As explained in your Cardmember Agreement, the annual fee is not refundable. However, we would be glad to open your account again. You could then take advantage of your credit line and other account benefits for the remaining period of your card membership."
Jensen wrote another letter, March 7: "Your letter of Feb. 29 in no way responded to my letter of Feb. 21. I do not want my membership fee returned nor do I want my account closed. I was simply asking you to review the error of your employee who incorrectly entered my check for $1,411.57 as $144.57. I know these are days of computers and impersonal responses, but your letter completely missed the point."
"Dear Allan D. Jensen," began the second letter from First USA, on March 15. "Thank you for your kind words concerning the Mileage Plus credit card account that you have with us. We have forwarded your comments to the persons responsible for the good experience that you mentioned. They are committed to providing the very best service, and will be pleased to learn that you are satisfied with their efforts."
Looks like somebody at First USA can't read very well. Or maybe they need a good eye doctor.
Credit where credit is due
From Mrs. Shirley A. Hall, Sussex Road, Ocean City, Md.:
"Dear Mr. Rodricks:
"For Shame!! on your recent column on the anxiety of the Little League pitchers' parents. To suggest, even tongue-in-cheek, that mom and dad imbibe at a baseball bar and then drive the players home was thoughtless, at the least. Please be careful of that kind of humor in your usually enjoyable writing."
Dear Mrs. Hall:
Thank you for writing. As much as I'd like, I can't take credit for suggesting that the parents of kids who pitch drink heavily while their kids are on the mound. That was proposed by my Sun colleague, Kevin Cowherd, who, I can confidently assure you, put a lot of thought into the idea.
Family history at Rowley's
Michael Norton, who lives in California but reads TJI via SunSpot.net, recalls the wonderful evening at old Rowley's Bar in West Baltimore -- now reopened as Patrick's of Pratt Street (TJI, April 14) -- when his ancestors seemed to step out of the walls.
"A friend and I sat down, and Tom Rowley got us a couple of beers. I walked back to use the men's room and stopped to look at some old photographs in the hallway. I couldn't believe it -- a photograph of my father and his brother, dressed as altar boys, outside St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church (circa 1928). I knew my father had grown up in the neighborhood, but I didn't have too many details.
"Tom Rowley knew exactly who the boys were, by name, and where they lived. When I told him it was my father and uncle, he yelled to all the locals that my name is Norton and I'm the son of Gordon Norton and the nephew of Dr. Jack Norton, and the grandson of Dr. John Norton.
"Within seconds, we're surrounded by guys in their 50s and 60s who tell me how my grandfather had treated their families during the Depression and never charged them. I learned more about my father, his family, the neighborhood and the Irish in those few hours than I had learned in the previous 30 years, and I learned more about myself, relationships, friendships and the importance of neighborhoods than I've learned in the 20 years since.
"Later I told my father I had seen Tom, the bar, the locals. He was quite sick at the time and he seemed pleased, in a distant kind of way, an Irish kind of way. He did smile, a little. He died a short time later.
"I never went back to Rowley's. I wanted to visit Tom and ask a hundred more questions, and share a hundred more thoughts. However, I think that was one of those moments. I think I wandered into Rowley's and met Tom and the locals that night for a reason, and I wasn't meant to go back."
Led to lingerie
Sisqo, the Baltimore R&B; singer enjoying a long ride with his first solo album, must take pride in having writ music that moves men. With one song, he's inspired young dudes to do that thong thang for their girlfriends and wives. Sisqo's catchy and salacious single, "Thong Song," has kept his album on the charts and sent his male fans where many had dared not go -- to the naughty tables at Victoria's Secret and other lingerie stores. And some guys sing Sisqo's song while they're shopping.
A fine idea
Baltimore's tourism department might want to take a hint from Portland, Maine, a city that appreciates its visitors so much it tears up their parking tickets. Illegally parked vehicles with out-of-state tags receive a citation with a first line that says, "You may not have to pay this." Read on and it says, "Since this violation may have been an oversight on your part, the city will automatically void one violation per calendar quarter." Instead of a $15 fine, visitors get a gracious "we value your visit" note and a map detailing numerous downtown parking locations. Forget the fine, keep the map, come back and park legally on the next trip north. It's a beautiful thing.
"I agree," says TJI's cultural correspondent Joey Amalfitano. "And anybody who drives into downtown to do something after 6 o'clock not only shouldn't have to feed a meter, they ought to get a free house."