Last night The Squire and I went to the annual reunion of the folks who worked for Equitable Trust. This bank was bought out (some say assassinated) in 1989, but there are still about a hundred or so of us who still get together once a year to talk about the good old days, when we were employees, not “human resources”.
Last night, for some reason, the after dinner stories turned to bank robberies and hold-ups. In addition to the German woman who refused the robber’s note because “That’s not my window”, there was the elderly teller who shook her finger in the robber’s face and demanded “Does your mother know what you’re doing? You’re a disgrace to your family!” and a bit more of the same, until the poor fellow finally turned around and tip-toed out. One branch had been held up four or five times by the same man, who was known as “the Gold Tooth Robber”. One of the tellers looked up and saw him waiting patiently in her line, and when he reached her window, she let loose with a mighty swing, and knocked him out! Or the assistant manager at Main Office who ran after a robber, made a flying tackle and got back the money.
Tales of thieves who drove their getaway cars the wrong way down one way streets, or ran out of gas within two blocks, and the guy who put the dye pack in his pants pocket.
Another branch had not yet opened when a man walked in and demanded “all your money”. The branch manager explained that they didn’t have any money, because they weren’t due to open for another week. The fellow walked out onto the street, fired his gun into the air in utter frustration and yelled, “I am such a looser!” The cops who immediately surrounded him agreed with his assessment. Speaking of branches that were not open, one man told of his very first PR assignment, which was to design a brochure announcing The Grand Opening of a branch in Columbia. The design was passed around to various committees and approved, printed up, and distributed to the community.
Nobody showed up.
It turned out that after all the checking and cross checking, no one noticed that the bank’s address had been omitted from the brochure. The fellow who had done up the original design figured his career with Equitable was over after a month, but the branch manager told him to relax. “There’s time. They’ll find us.”
The MC for the evening has terrible luck with computers, to the point that he said he has often considered petitioning the courts to change his middle name from Alexander to “I’ve never seen this happen before”. Back when computers still used reels of tape, Pete walked past a machine, and the front fell off, spilling several reels across the floor. Another time, he was outside the computer room (no longer being allowed inside) and one of the windows fell out, nearly breaking his leg. This, of course, led to the Christmas light story.
Equitable was the first bank in the U.S. to start using computers, thanks to the insistence of one man, a fellow named Al Gardiner. The Board of Directors didn’t much see the point to it all, but allowed Al to run a start-up program. Of course, when they came down to see how things were going, instead of men with green eyeshades and yellow lined paper, they saw and heard nothing. Not impressed. In a flash of inspiration – or desperation – Al sent one of the men in the office out to buy a string of flashing Christmas lights. Heaven knows where he found them, but the lights were strung behind and between the banks of computers, and whenever the Big Wigs came down, Al would turn on the flashing lights, and the members of the Board were suitably impressed.
We also had the first ATMs, which were called “Harvey Wallbankers”, in a play on an alcoholic beverage that was popular at the time. You could go into any branch, request an ATM card, and this automatically entered you in a contest which would allow you to withdraw as much money as you could within a five minute period. When the winning card was pulled, the managed looked at it, and muttered that the name seemed awfully familiar. He went into his office and came back with a piece of paper showing that the winner’s name was familiar because he was overdrawn almost $700. Not small change now, and in the mid-70s, it was a whole bunch of money. The winner and the manager met at one of the ATMs, and the winner managed to withdraw enough money to pay off his overdraft. The bank then closed his account.
The prize of the night went to a story which was told by two men – both involved the same manager, but different branches and slightly different circumstances. One involved a wig, and the other real hair. At any rate, the branch manager was in the tellers cage when he realized his fly was down. He turned his back to the customers and faced the storage unit along the back wall. Just as he began to zip his fly, one of the tellers bent over to put something in a drawer, and he caught either her wig, or her hair (this was in the days of hair-do’s big enough to have their own zip code) in his fly.
Banking was never so much fun!