I must have been able to stand cold weather at some point in my life, because I have memories of shoveling snow as a child in Chicago and of digging out cars stuck in snowdrifts during the winters of 1978 and ’79. Perhaps it was all the years of living in Phoenix and the Caribbean that made me less tolerant to cold. All I know is that when the temperatures drop below 50 I am miserable. I had an amazing month-long leaf-peeping trip to parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Georgia, but toward the end I really started to suffer as autumn kicked in, and I was anxious to get back to Florida where I could warm my bones.

The drive home from Atlanta yesterday was not without drama. Near Valdosta, Georgia, I pulled off the Interstate for fuel. I pulled into a Race Trac gas station that was advertising the lowest price, slid my debit card through the reader and waited for the pump to turn on. When the nozzle didn’t activate I checked the display. To my horror it read, “Declined – see attendant – error Z.” Now, I know my debit card is good. There’s plenty of money in my account. But my first reaction was embarrassment, that somehow I would be seen as a thief or a deadbeat. So of course, I tried again. No way. Declined. I seriously thought about trying a third time, until I realized that would be the definition of insanity – repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results. Instead, I went inside to see the attendant.

I approached the clerk warily, holding onto my card tightly, lest she snatch it out of my hand and cut it in half. I could tell by the look on her face that she was expecting me; she also had that wary look. We sort of circled each other warily.

“I got a message at the pump to see the attendant?” I asked, warily.
You’re on pump number 3? she asked.
“Yes. It declined my card.”
“Did you push the ‘pay credit outside’ button before you slid your card through?”
“No, I slid my card first, like always.”
“You’ve gotta push the button first,” she explained.

Relief flooded over me. It’s just this dumb station. Why would they set up their card readers to work different from every other gas station on the face of the earth? Well, no matter, at least I know it’s not my card. I punched the ‘pay credit outside’ button and once again slid my card through the reader. Declined again. Disgusted, I replaced the nozzle, capped my gas tank, and drove across the street to a ‘normal’ station.

At the Shell station I swiped my card and the pump came on immediately. Thank God! It wasn’t my card at all it was just that dumb….uh oh….the pump stopped at $1.00 and a voice came over the loudspeaker, “Please see the attendant inside.” The clerks inside didn’t offer much help, other than to demand that I pay the dollar I owed. Fortunately this station was attached to a Wendy’s that had free wireless internet, so I pulled out my laptop and logged into my bank. No suspicious activity. No problem with the balance. So what could possibly be wrong? I called the bank’s toll-free number and discovered that their entire computer system was down, and it could be up to two hours before it was available again. Good thing I had another credit card with me.

I finally reached the exit for Sarasota around 8 p.m. last night. Home sweet home. I couldn’t wait to park the car, unpack, stand under a nice hot shower, and roll into bed. All was going according to plan until I stepped into the shower. No hot water. Technology and I were just not getting along yesterday.

I found out this morning that the pilot on my gas hot water heater had blown out during a storm while I was out of town. By noon today my landlord had fixed my hot water, and my debit card is working again. It could have been worse. I could have had no hot water, no functioning debit card, and have been stuck in cold weather. Oh, it is so good to be warm again! Bless the weather in Florida.