I love the Beatles but they were wrong when they said “All You Need Love.”
No, I’m sorry, but when it comes to getting ahead in this money-grubbing society all you really need is nerve.
The following is true, even though I still don't believe it.
My aunt, who doesn’t have a computer, called me last week and asked me to go online and buy her a bus ticket for a trip to New England.
No problem, my pleasure, it’s the least I could do.
I just had to call up the Greyhound website, chose the particular bus my aunt wanted to take out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and click away.
What could be simpler?
So I hit all the buttons, fished out the credit card, and got ready to do business. But first I had to answer one question.
“Is the primary cardholder traveling on this trip?”
I wasn’t sure why they wanted to know. But, Catholic school refugee that I am, I went ahead and told the truth even though I had a feeling I’d regret it.
Why no, I said to my computer screen, this ticket is for my auntie.
And—whack! That little bit of honesty—or stupidity, it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes—jacked the bill up $18 by way of something called a “US Gift Tax.”
A gift tax? Just for helping out my auntie? What the hell difference does it make who buys the goddamn ticket as long somebody gets on the goddamn bus? And who the hell gives bus tickets as gifts for God's sake?
That’s not a gift tax, that’s a surcharge, a rip-off, a slap in the face and pain in the wallet. The little shell game just about doubled the price of the ticket.
This had to be mistake. They weren’t seriously going to slap nearly 20 bucks more on the price merely because I wasn’t going to be the actual passenger.
I immediately dialed the help number on the web site, got transported to some distant part of the globe where no Greyhound could go and I registered my complaint with someone who could barely speak English.
“Yes, that’s true,” the woman said in some kind of accent. “You have to pay extra.”
“Really?” I asked. “And why would I want to do business with you when you hosing me like this?”
I hung up and called the home office somewhere in the Midwest. I was immediately dumped into hold like a mobster's cadaver and forced to listen to crappy canned music while the minutes dragged by.
The tedium was interrupted regularly by a cheerful mechanical voice that thanked me for waiting and immediately shoved me back down into muzak world. After a while I became convinced that this was not a recording, but a live human being who just liked yanking my chain every three minutes.
When I finally did get through, the agent spoke better English than the first woman, but the answer was still the same: the gift tax was for real.
I’m sure the bus company has a perfectly legitimate reason to charge us like this. Just like banks slap a fee on you if you so much as look at your checkbook. And they’re all full of crap.
It seems that every single thing we do after getting out of bed in the morning comes with some kind of price tag attached to it.
But I couldn’t be certain about that and I had this image of Homeland Security hauling my aunt off the bus with a sack over her head and flying her down to Gitmo.
I was so bent out of shape over this blatant rip-off that I temporarily missed the obvious solution.
After calming down a bit, I realized that I could just call my auntie, get the numbers off her credit card, and buy the ticket under her name. Then I’d skip the gift tax and I wouldn’t have to burn forever in Hell for lying to a bus company.
I printed out the ticket, brought it up to my aunt’s place, and put it in her hands. Soon she’ll be on her way to her country place where the gift taxes are few.
So maybe the Beatles are right. There's nothing you can do that can't be done; nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
You just have to pay for it.