A Pennsylvania bank made a critical error 25 years ago this summer. I want to peg Mellon Bank as the culprit since I lived in Western PA at the time, but I can’t be 100 percent sure.
Whoever it was, they screwed up big time by giving me a credit card.
I can remember getting the unsolicited offer in my college mailbox. Remember, this was 1989, about the time these companies realized they could mine a whole new set of customers by sending them cards out of the blue.
At least I think it was out of the blue. I didn’t remember signing up for a credit card offer, but who knows at this point?
The card came around the end of my junior year in college. I had a trip to Ireland with my sister set up for the very end of the summer. I really needed to work so I could make money to pay for the trip.
But I really didn’t want to go home and shake lemonades at my regular job in Baltimore’s Harborplace. I had worked at the same place for five years, starting there in high school and returning every time I came home on break. I liked the place, but just needed something different.
With no plan to go home and find a different job, I ended up deciding to stay in my college town for as long as I could. A handful of friends were taking summer classes or doing something to prepare for our senior year so I would have company.
The people at the bank had no idea that they sent me a credit card right before my first summer without a plan for making money since I was 16, but they should have a way of figuring these things out. They should also know that I was going to live in my fraternity house right across the street from a grocery store with an ATM that could give cash advances on the card.
Thankfully, I had not yet turned 21 so I didn’t really have the ability to go into a bar and buy everyone drinks using the card. Some places in town turned a blind eye to underage students during the school year, but they were more wary of us during the summer.
If this had been some sort of experiment, I would have proved that the average 20-year-old college student without a job needed somewhere around 45 days to max out a credit card with a fairly small limit. My brother-in-law drew the short straw to come and get me right around the time Wimbledon concluded – I remember watching the men’s final as I waited for him to get me.
I had fallen into a routine of getting cash from the grocery store ATM for food and to pitch in for parties while I spent much of my time reading and watching TV since I didn’t have a car to go anywhere.
I loved every second of it. The reading I started that summer led to the topic I researched for my senior thesis. Plus, I ate a ton of chicken wings.
Maybe the bank didn’t make a mistake after all. I should probably look into thanking them at some point.