Until the other day, I had never experienced the sudden panic, feelings of worthlessness and subsequent descent into Customer Service Hell that comes with losing your bank card.
The good news about the card was this: It wasn't stolen. So therefore I wasn't worried about some grinning hoodlum standing in the check-out line of Best Buy with a new flat-screen TV and my card, ready to go to town.
The bad news: The card was "eaten" by the automated teller machine outside my bank, which turned out to be a horror story all its own.
Anyway, the story goes like this: It's a weekday morning when I pull up to the ATM to withdraw cash.
As I do this, I'm listening to the usual howling lunatics on talk radio, which means I'm not really concentrating on the banking transaction itself.
I get the money and drive off.
And here's where it gets ugly.
A half-mile up the road, I realize I drove off without hitting the last option on the touch screen, the one that asks if you want to make another transaction or get your card back.
So I make a tire-squealing U-turn and go roaring back to the bank, weaving in and out of traffic like Popeye Doyle in The French Connection.
When I get there, a woman in a brown Toyota is at the ATM.
I pull up behind her, throw my car in park and run to where she's punching the keys.
She looks at me like I'm wearing a stocking mask and waving a .45.
"Was there a card in there when you pulled up?" I shout, breathlessly.
"No," she says, quickly rolling up the window.
I don't blame her. If I saw what I looked like at that point, I'd probably pepper spray myself.
Anyway, I believe her when she says she didn't see my card. She's about 70, with a sweet, angelic face. In fact, she looks like Mother Teresa's younger sister.
So, I go inside the bank and report what has just transpired.
I'm figuring the machine "ate" the card when I didn't finish the transaction.
And I'm figuring maybe someone can just go out to the machine, open that baby up and retrieve my card.
"Ha, ha, ha -- that's a good one!" is basically the reaction I get from the tellers.
"We don't have access to the machine -- Wells Fargo handles all the cash," says one teller, adding that, yes, the machine "eats" the card if a customer is dumb enough to drive off without it.
"Besides," she continues, "even if we could get the card, it's voided now for security reasons."
Another teller scribbles a phone number on a piece of paper and hands it to me.
"Call customer service," she says. "They'll help you."
Oh, no, I think. Not customer service. ...
So, I go back out to my car, pull out my cell and call the number.
I'm expecting, of course, to navigate the usual Five Circles of Customer Service Hell: chirpy recorded greeting, interminable options menu, customer service agent with thick foreign accent, endless ID verification questions, vague promises to rectify the problem.
Except ... my bank has added a Sixth Circle of Hell.
"Would you be willing to take a two-minute customer satisfaction survey?" a different recorded voice intones after the menu options are read. "If the answer is yes, you may take it after talking with a customer service agent."
Is this really the time to be asking a customer to take a survey?
While he or she is frantically reporting a lost or stolen debit card?
Isn't that sort of like asking someone to take a customer satisfaction survey as they're being wheeled into surgery?
When I finally reach a real, live customer service agent, though, she turns out to be really sharp and helpful.
"We'll mail you out a new card right away," she says.
"You're the greatest," I say.
"You'll even get to keep the same account and PIN numbers," she says.
"You're the best," I say.
Then there's a pause in the conversation.
I know exactly what's coming.
"Would you like to take the customer satisfaction survey now?" she says.
That's the thing about customer service agents: They never leave well enough alone.