Don’t Feed The Meter Before You Buy Vanilla Reloads: A Cautionary Tale

Remember how it felt on the last day of school, when you just ran down the hallway and burst out of the building, screaming with glee? That is how I felt today, only in reverse. I dropped my kids off at daycamp this morning, and as the bus pulled away, it was all I could do not to run past the row of parents at the bus stop with my hand stuck out for high-fives.

It’s been kind of a long summer.

My kids are amazing, but they are the non-stop, full-tilt boogie brand of kids. They talk and question and debate and run and sing and shriek with laughter all day long. Awesome, right? All of these attributes will serve them well in their lives, but sometimes I just need a moment. Or an hour. Or an entire, glorious day.

Anyway, I had a ton of errands to run today, all of which I was looking forward to doing kid-free. One of my first stops was to pick up a few Vanilla Reloads from CVS. I used my Chase Freedom card to buy a few minutes on the meter, then I popped into CVS and skipped to the register, reloads in hand. All was well until I swiped my Chase Freedom card to pay. Yes, I got the dreaded “call bank for authorization” message.

My cashier was slightly out to lunch, and she simply handed me the slip of paper from the register with the phone number to call and a bunch of other information that I assume was for her eyes only. I decided to play along because I was excited to get a “behind the scenes” peek at what really goes down on those calls.

I was on hold forrrevvverrrrr. (Well, probably about 15 minutes, but remember I was on my first day of summer vacation and I had things to do!). Finally an agent came on the line. She asked me a series of questions. What was the credit card number? What was the purchase amount? What was my name? Of course I wasn’t going to make up a fake name, so I told her that I was the cardholder. She was a little surprised, but continued to speak to me anyway. She asked what seemed like a thousand more questions. What was the store phone number? What was my birthday? Address? Phone number? Mother’s maiden name? Then she asked to speak to the cashier and asked several more questions. Sheesh.

The cashier finally handed the phone back to me with a dazed look in her eyes. “Did you spend fifty-five cents today?” she asked me.

I took the phone. “What?” I asked the agent, sure that there was something lost in translation.

“Did you spend fifty-five cents today, ma’am?”

I paused. What was she talking about? Then it hit me: the parking meter. This was all about the stupid parking meter. When I had spent a tiny amount (the fifty-five cents in question), immediately followed by a large amount ($1007.90, to be exact), it had raised every red flag in the book.

“Yes!” I told her. “Yes! A parking meter! Fifty-five cents!”

The cashier smiled spacily. Other shoppers stared. I swear the agent “tsk-ed” at me…but then she authorized the purchase. I felt like I had passed a challenging test. I felt free. I felt elated. I grabbed my Vanilla reloads and ran screaming out of the CVS.

Just kidding, but maybe next time.


  1. I am totally laughing at the “wild” children part of the story. I just returned the grandkids to their parents after an action packed visit. They are extremely well mannered but lively, especially the four year old and I was feeling exhausted and somewhat guilty about feeling exhausted.

    I picked up my biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and started reading. She was making a weeks long tour of Europe with her two youngest sons, aged 13 and 15 at the time. She was so tired of their fussing with each other that when they reached Paris she told them to stay in the hotel room while she took a mind-quieting walk. When she returned there was a crowd on the street looking up. It seems one of the boys was hanging the other one out the window and holding onto his ankles.

    All ended well, but I figure if Eleanor Roosevelt can be overwhelmned, then so can I.

    • Ann, as a freshman at Temple University, year 1963, somehow I attended a colloquium, lead by Eleanor Roosevelt. She answered student’s questions, I recall.

      Remember, no internet then, Did not know exactly who Eleanor Roosevelt was.
      But, I was awestruck. One of those experiences that permanently remains with you.

      I, too, have enjoyed reading her biographies. Lyn

  2. Points Pixie says:

    Anne – LOVE this tidbit about Eleanor Roosevelt! I’ve always admired her so much – and I do even more, now. Her Paris story also makes me feel like I’m in good company. I will think of it when I’m feeling like a bad mom…if Eleanor’s kids got into these kinds of scuffles, ANYONE’S kids can 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Also inspired to read a biography on her, now!

  3. Hi there!
    Question, why did you go to CVS and make the vanilla purchase and not go to an office supply store and use the Ink Plus and get 5x the rewards?Just curious.


    • Points Pixie says:

      David – SUCH a great question. The answer is that none of the office supply stores here in my area will allow Vanilla purchases using a credit card – it’s all “cash only.” Huge bummer.

  4. great story! I have a bunch of nieces and nephews and they all seem to have the energy of I don’t know what, but it’s a lot.

    What are vanilla reloads?

  5. Dora the Explorah says:

    hi — actually, I have a question like David’s … now that I’m a follower of yours … I’m never sure … is it better to use my Amex and get miles? Or is it a Sapphire multiple purchase? OK, neither, then what? Agh! Maybe you would address in a future column someday?!

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