In 2007, I graduated from university, moved to North Carolina, and started a new job. One of the benefits of being hired at a tech company in 2007 was that many of them were giving signing bonuses, a lump sum designed to attract poor students and provide an immediate bump in the personal fortunes of new employees. A year later when the economy faceplanted the practice mostly stopped, but I was unquestionably a beneficiary.
I’m not usually one to let money burn a hole in my pocket; I fully admit that I have been fortunate in my career choice, but I try to retain an attitude of frugality. With my signing bonus in hand and a new apartment to furnish, I decided to splurge on what, to me, was a key component of any well-appointed home: a new TV.
I went to a store called H. H. Gregg (which declared bankruptcy several years ago, but in 2007 was doing pretty well) to look at their wall of TVs. I had a pretty good idea what I was interested in, but the salespeople left me alone to browse as much as I wanted, giving me plenty of opportunity to compare the various models.
At this point in the story, I should probably mention my general personal appearance.
Long of hair and beard, owning little but t-shirts and cargo pants, wearing no footwear but sandals, giving off a general air of dishevelment and definite uncaring about how I presented myself, I did not exactly look like the sort of person who would walk into a fine establishment like H. H. Gregg prepared to buy a television. To be honest, I looked like the sort of person who would walk into an H. H. Gregg to enjoy the air conditioning and possibly use their bathroom before getting kindly but firmly evicted.
(In the Bay Area, people who looked like me would frequently be treated with deference, as there was a decent chance they were new money. That attitude has since made its way somewhat to North Carolina, but in 2007 the more traditional exterior judgments were still in effect.)
Eventually I had to flag a salesman down. His response was hilarious: “Oh, I didn’t realize you were here to buy!” (Translation: “You don’t look like you can afford one of these televisions”).
This attitude was not improved when I indicated I wanted the most expensive TV on his wall, a Sony Bravia model.
He acted unsurprised when my debit card declined the transaction. I, on the other hand, was surprised. I knew I had the money. I asked if I could use the store phone, and I called my bank.
It turns out that the checking account I had, which I opened when I was a student, was a basic account designed for students and had a single transaction limit of something like $2000. This had of course never come up before, as previously the biggest-ticket item I spent money on (or could afford) was usually a pizza from Domino’s. The person on the phone upgraded me on the spot to their Gold program. He told me my new card would be in the mail soon, but in the meantime just try the transaction again. He apologized to me profusely and with great deference, as bank employees often do for customers whose account balance has reached (however temporarily) five figures.
Back to me and the salesperson. I asked him to run the transaction again, and he did so. His jaw nearly hit the ground when it went through. He told me that was the first time he’d seen someone get declined, call the bank, and then subsequently get approved. While previously he had looked at me somewhat judgmentally, his expression now almost approached awe. The fact that he no doubt made a hefty commission on this sale may have played a part on this. I even opted for the extended warranty, which most people will tell you is basically the store’s way of printing money (which is why the sales associates are prompted to push them so hard).
He helped me load my purchase in the back of the old minivan I was driving at the time. It barely fit; a 52″ TV inside all its packaging is a hefty beast. He shook my hand and apologized again for the treatment I received upon entering the store. I waved it off and told him to pay it no mind; I was well pleased to have the time to myself to compare the different TVs.
There’s more to the saga of this TV, but this account has already gotten quite long, so I will wrap it up with a reminder to never judge a book by its cover. And while spending that much money on a TV was a move I’m not sure I would make today, 13 years later I still haven’t had to buy another TV. I’m not sure what the moral is there, but perhaps I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader until next time.