One of my favorite restaurants offers—pushes, even—a “frequent-flier” program that offers discounts to its regulars as well as e-mailed coupons and birthday greetings and promotional materials in your mail. I'd rather not, thank you, despite having received the sign-up forms about a dozen times over the last couple of years (usually whenever some new server has yet to learn that Professor Z is not a joiner). I do not want to stuff yet another card in my wallet, get more junk mail in my mail box, or more spam in my e-mail.
And I sure don't want them encircling my table on my birthday and singing to me.
The regular prices on the menu are reasonable and I am fortunate enough not to have to cut every possible corner (or I'd stay home on Saturday mornings, scramble my own eggs, and read my newspapers at my dining room table instead of at my usual corner booth).
I stuck the card in my wallet and it's resided there ever since, one of the least intrusive loyalty cards ever. The less I carry around, the happier I am, but the Safeway card takes little space and its discounts have added up without snooping into my life (unless Safeway has figured out another way to tap into my personal business).
But what if they did? What would the consequences be? One possibility provided me with a peculiar moment of amusement while reading The Clan Corporate, the third volume in “The Merchant Princes” series by Charles Stross, a writer whose work I always enjoy. An undercover agent from a parallel universe accidentally exposes his presence in our world through an act of carelessness:
Busted! Because a Safeway loyalty card showed a pattern of purchases at odds with a normal existence. No toilet paper or light bulbs. Obviously a visitor from a parallel dimension.
To be fair, the person being described has other peculiarities that had drawn the attention of the spy agency that ends up snooping through his purchasing record at Safeway. Too bad for him that he didn't have a blind card like I have.
And good for me that I do.
I have, you see, never purchased toilet paper from Safeway. Never. A few light bulbs, yes. But no toilet paper.
I'm not sure why the inter-dimensional agent didn't need bathroom tissue—easier to pop over to the loo in his home universe?—but I can explain my own situation. I just hope our national spy agencies find it persuasive and don't subject me to hideous medical experiments on the theory that I have world-walking powers embedded in my brain tissue.
It's simple. I go to more than one supermarket.
Shocking, I know. But it's allowed, you see, even if you have a “loyalty” card. My business is divided between two local supermarkets. Safeway is within easy walking distance in my neighborhood. The other is on my commute route between home and school. All bulky purchases are made at the store on my commute route. I have my car and a handy trunk to store things in. Plenty of room for large 9-packs of toilet tissue purchased at long intervals.
Safeway, on the other hand, is where I pick up small random items as the need arises. I stroll by on foot, think of something I need, and pick it up. No big items. Hence no multi-pack bundles of rolls of toilet paper to juggle on the walk back home or for Safeway to record in its corporate database.
So you see, I'm actually not a world-walking secret agent from a parallel dimension who is here to collect data on you people. Honest!
And I'll bet you one hundred of your Earth dollars that you can't prove otherwise.