Bank on a backup at the ATM

April 15, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

I BOW TO NO ONE in my reverence for the ATM, which can be likened to the light bulb or the Salk vaccine as a milestone development for mankind.

But you sure run into a lot of annoying people at these places.

Like in the drive-up lane. I always seem to get behind the person who can't pull her car close enough to actually use the ATM.

This is the person who ends up six feet away from the machine. She throws the car in reverse, lurches back a few feet, then lurches forward and tries it again.

This time she ends up five feet away.

So now she has to open the door, stand up and reach over with the card.

Look, if you can't pull your car close enough to use an ATM properly, you probably shouldn't even have a driver's license, never mind a bank card.

In fact, this is something the Department of Motor Vehicles should get involved in.

Hey, forget about seeing if people can parallel park on their road tests. Nobody parallel parks anymore.

Now everyone has to park in these huge, soulless cement parking garages, where you fork over 15 bucks to a bored attendant who then goes back to watching Jerry Springer on his grainy black-and-white TV while two thugs are jacking up your car and making off with the tires and CD player.

So if I'm the DMV, I ditch the parallel parking.

Instead, I have the instructors tell everyone who goes for the road test: "OK, imagine that wall over there is an ATM. Let's see you park close enough to hit the buttons."

And if you can't pass the ATM test, you fail. It's that simple.

I know that sounds a bit harsh. But if you're too dopey to negotiate an ATM lane, I sure as heck don't want you out on the Beltway next to me doing 65 mph.

The other person I always end up behind at the ATM is the guy doing all his banking for the next 20 years.

This is the guy who spends 10 minutes hitting buttons, taking out cash, checking receipts, licking envelopes, depositing money, going from one transaction to another.

Meanwhile, all I want to do is take out 10 bucks for a gallon of milk at High's.

This is why there should be a strict time limit at ATMs. It wouldn't cost the banks much to enforce, either.

If you're a bank executive, what you do is hire some out-of-work leg-breaker.

You pay him minimum wage and you have him sit on a stool next to your ATM. (He'll probably get bored real fast, so you give him a copy of the Racing Form or a Game-Boy or something.)

And if a customer takes more than, say, two minutes at the ATM, your man Bruno raps on the hood of the car and barks: "Time's up, pal. Move it."

That way the rest of us could take out our measly 10 bucks and get on with the rest of our lives without having to wait all day for the Sultan of South Baltimore to move his $50 million from the Cayman Islands to Geneva.

People at walk-up ATMs are just as annoying. I love the guy who finishes his transaction and then decides to stand right there while he gets himself organized.

First, he takes off his glasses and carefully puts them in his glasses case. He takes out his wallet. He puts the cash in the wallet. He puts his bank card in the wallet, too. Then he puts the wallet back in his pocket.

Then he tucks in his shirt, straightens his tie and pulls out his sunglasses.

People like this, you just want to grab them and scream: "Hey, pal, any chance of you stepping aside to finish this fascinating routine so the rest of us could actually get some cash before we're too old and die!"

But that's nothing compared to what happened the other day, when I experienced my own personal vision of hell.

I was running late for an appointment and found myself at an ATM behind a young mother and her toddler.

Apparently of the opinion that you can't start 'em too young in the exciting world of finance, the mom was holding the little tyke in front of the screen and saying:

"OK, Jeremy, what do we do next? That's right, punch in Mommy's number. Ooops, no, that should be a 7, not an 8.

"Let's start all over, hon. No, the first number is 4, not 3. That's OK, sweetie, try it again ..."

No, check that.

Even in hell, they probably don't put up with that.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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