Cash Isn’t Everything

In the famous “temple scene” in George Lucas’ story Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Harrison Ford, as our hero Indiana Jones, makes his way to steal the golden idol. He first must navigate a series of booby-trapped plates in the floor, dodge poison darts and negotiate the tripwires leading up the steps.

Standing in front of his quarry, he examines the priceless relic. He estimates its weight, and removes sand from a pouch that he ultimately uses to replace the golden idol on its rigged pedestal. Then he grabs the treasure, outruns a giant marble, climbs out of a bottomless pit and slides under a falling slab door to make his escape.

This is how I feel when I go to the bank machine.

I miss the old days. When we needed extra cash to run on, we simply stopped by the bank on our way home. We’d pull a check from our checkbooks, write it payable to ourselves, then endorse the back before slipping it to Ethyl Hostetter under the opening of the teller’s cage or through the drawer in the drive-up window.

While Ethyl was processing our transaction, she would always ask us how our folks were doing, and generally brought us up-to-date on what was happening around town, information we might have missed had we failed to stop by the beauty shop.

In a matter of a few seconds, Ethyl would hand us our cash. The transaction wasn’t fully complete, however, until Ethyl presented us with a green, orange or yellow sucker, or in my case, two giant doggie biscuits.

Ethyl retired in 1989, and kids and dogs in my town have been hungry ever since.

Granted, the old system had its limitations. Ethyl grew weary of the times that I would call her up at 2 o’clock in the morning, asking her for money to get something to eat after a ballgame. And I remember quite clearly how the normally mirthful Ethyl grumbled loudly when I asked her to run $200 to Terre Haute when my car broke down.

Still, I don’t think ATMs are perfect either.

Years ago, I opened a new checking account at Old Mother Fletcher’s Bank, and with it came privilege of one of the early bank machines. After several weeks, I noticed that I could never reconcile my daily account balance with what the bank claimed was in there. What made it really odd was that each day, the balance appeared to be in favor of the bank by $1.50.

After weeks of complaining, and a lengthy investigation, the bank determined that a software glitch was failing to clean out a file buffer in the computer at the end of each day. Instead it was cleaning me out.

Another time, an ATM impounded my bank card.

I slipped the plastic rectangle into the slot as usual, and suddenly the video monitor began flashing alarmingly. “This is a fraudulently issued card,” the screen read. “This card will not be returned to you. Please contact bank security for further instructions.”

I might have been OK with that. After all, they are trying to protect our money. My issue is that, while this was happening, that annoying beeping that accompanies most bank machine was droning on the entire time. The incessant “beep-beep-beep” filled the night air, to the point that I didn’t know if I was being arrested or about to be backed over by a bulldozer.

The other day, I needed cash, and I pulled up to the ATM under the canopy at my local bank branch. I slipped in my card, and entered my password. Nothing happened. I cancelled the transaction; I tried it once again.


I went through the routine another six times, each time failing to get the machine to accept my password. Luckily, the bank was open, and I parked my car to go inside.

Barb, graciously joined me outside by the bank machine to give it a try. She became nearly as frustrated as I had been, trying the card over and over. Finally, she reached for her cell phone.

“Calling your IT Department?” I asked.

Barb raised a single index finger, then spoke into the phone.

“Is that you, Ethyl?”

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.