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I was waiting in line for the second time that afternoon at my local U.S. Bank surveying the scene unfolding around me on that banking anti-holiday known as "payday". Visibly flustered tellers were doing their best to help each person in an endless queue the only way they could; one by one. By all appearances, these people had never banked before. Confusion and tension were high as they carried their scraps of paper to the counter in hopes of exchanging them for money of some form.
It seemed like more people walked away from those counters with angry or sad expressions on their faces than not. I imagined them having waited in line for an awkward conversation about how they couldn't be helped, punctuated by offers of more banking services. Normally I wouldn't be here to witness a payday, because we all know to avoid this place on this day. I might also feel a modicum of sympathy for the bank teller working on payday, but today I wasn't in a sympathetic mood.
This story requires a flashback, to 20 minutes prior, when I worked my way to the front of the line for the first time that day. I had an urgent need for banking, and this was my bank. Like all the others, I shuffled forth, scrap of paper in hand, hoping for my minor miracle to be granted by the teller deemed available.
I approached the window and explained that money was going to be pulled from my account the following day by a 3rd party. My account balance is not sufficient to cover the transaction, and I needed this check to go in before the withdrawal came out in order to avoid another spiral into overdraft hell.
The teller listened patiently and then explained that only cash deposits could be posted same day and a check would take 2-3 business days to clear. My mind raced. I can't walk away dejected like all the others, accepting this gloomy fate. But then hope glimmered and I modified my request:
"I'd like to cash this check, and make a cash deposit, please."
Her face expression moved one degree toward unfriendly upon hearing this and I feared I may have unknowingly asked her to participate in a banking crime. Choosing her words carefully, she informed me that she could not accommodate this request in the span of a single bank visit.
Further questions were met with a similar answer and I was at a loss for my next move. In a somewhat rhetorical fashion, I asked if I should cash the check and then get back in line for further assistance. To this, she replied that I would need to leave the bank with the money.
The way forward seemed clear. I cashed the check and walked out the door, pivoting on my heel in cartoon-like fashion before re-entering the bank. I took my place in line once again feeling simultaneously smug at my apparent outwitting of the system and miffed at the tortuous ritual I was being made to perform to get my money into the bank. While inching my way to the front once more, I looked at my watch and decided it was probably good that I didn't have anything else going on today.
I tried to surmise which teller it would be this time and Fortune smiled (frowned?). The woman from my earlier encounter beckoned me over. She did not seem very happy to see me again, but I had never taken more pleasure in asking for a deposit slip. "It's cash," I said, as she handed me the paper. It was something we were both very aware of, although she did not find this amusing. I didn't bother explaining that I too would prefer to be elsewhere right now.
My victory had already been earned at this window today. The bank had reluctantly accepted my money.
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