Friday, June 26, 2015

Remind me again how we used to live without ATM cards?

My ATM card is also my debit card, which I pretty much only use it as a debit card for grocery shopping. Until a couple of weeks back, I could have said I only use it for grocery shopping. Then I decided to use it a few times while on my trip to Scotland. I debited dinner a couple of times. I debited my 12 hour bus tour of the Highlands. And, true to my debit-card-for-groceries, I used it for a couple of bags of groceries at Tesco.

While BofA couldn’t tell me, I suspect that it was at one of bonny places that lie over the ocean that my card number was stolen.

Anyway, I got “the call” from BofA security the other day, letting me know that there was suspicious activity, that they were canceling the card, and that I could expect a new one in five to seven business days. Five to seven business days? Say what? I’m one of the old fogies that still uses cash for things like the dry cleaners, for an iced coffee at Dunk’s, for toothpaste at CVS.

You mean I’ll actually have to go into a bank and interact with a teller? Do I even remember how?

Remind me again how we used to live without ATM cards.

One of the great things about being a waitress back in the day was that you always had cash in your pocket. But for most of my pre-ATM life, I blessedly was not a waitress. So, like everyone else, I had to plan out how I was going to make sure I had the cash I needed.

One way was to go into a bank and interact with a teller. You presented your bank book (or wrote a check), made a withdrawal (or cashed your check) and walked away happy. Of course, way back then, banks weren’t open on weekends, so you had to figure out how much cash you were going to require and make sure that you had it.

Weekend cash acquisition occasionally meant foraging, i.e., looking through all the places you tossed your change and scrounging up enough to get by. Major success if you scored an entire roll of quarters. Ten bucks! Hey, big spender…

If you had a check-cashing card with your grocery store, you could pay for your groceries using a check, and add on a cash back amount. I’m not sure whether there was a limit to this amount, but my magic number was $50. Even if you weren’t grocery shopping, as long as you had your check-cashing card, you could get some cash at the customer service desk.

Grocery stores had the major advantage of being open on Saturdays, when banks weren’t.

But mostly we relied on banks.

During the Blizzard of ‘78, the banks were closed for a few days, and when they reopened, there was something of a run on them. I remember that my branch bank had a $50 withdrawal limit when they first got back into business. (Lucky for me, that was still my magic cash number.)

And then, miraculously, there were ATM’s. Anytime, and almost anywhere, there was a machine that spit cash out.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember the first time I used an ATM.

The instructions said to make your withdrawal in multiples of five. I found that a bit peculiar, but obediently entered in 55.55. It took me a few minutes to realize that multiples of five meant multiples of five dollars. I got my magic number $50 and left.

Over time, of course, the magic number doubled, then doubled again.

When I take cash out, it’s generally $200. But since my local ATM evilly dispenses hundred-dollar bills, I have been known to trick it into twenties by requesting $180, with a second transaction of $20.

A few days after every withdrawal, I always find myself asking where all the cash went. But, of course, if I have cash, I spend cash. If I don’t, I charge – as long as it’s for a reasonable amount. I don’t get anyone who uses a debit or credit card to by an iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

For the next week or so, I’ll be a cash conserver.

Sure, I have three BofA branches within an eight minute walk from here, but going to one means having to interact with a teller. How do I do that again?

Maybe I’ll just go and roll some quarters.

The young, cash-less millennials will, of course, not understand how painful it is to be without cash in your pocket.But us ancient, cash and carry Boomers? Despite what you hear about us racking up all sorts of debt, we’re the last great cash dispensers.

As I’m reminded now that I’m living without benefit of an ATM card.

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