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Remember banks?
I mean those stuffy banks from the good old days that acted the way banks were supposed to act and kept 'bankers' hours and only loaned you money after you proved beyond a doubt that you didn't need it but had piles of your own money.
Still, I remember those old fashioned banks also had a way of treating you like you were somebody special - even if you only had a few bucks in your little account.
Banks back then were like classic Greek temples - all marble and polished brass and impressive. Today, those banks at the supermarket look just like the place you by a lottery ticket or pay your gas bill.
In the good old banks, if you were thoughtful enough to open a new account with them they really made a big deal of it and often gave you a nice toaster or electric can opener or, better yet, a RONCO in-the-shell egg beater just for the heck of it. Of course, even with those stuffy old banks - if you missed a mortgage or a car payment you were treated like an unwanted house guest, just like today. Some things don't change. But, those sure were the good old days of banking.
I was reminded of all this the other day when I made the mistake of trying to call my contemporary bank of the New Millennium - my international, impersonal, computerized, digitalized, recorded, security-cameraed, monitored for quality assurance, new-age bank.
Even though this global bank of mine still has a charming little branch here on Main Street, there was no local number in the phone book, of course, so I had to dial their toll-free number, which immediately put me in close personal touch with a computerized answering machine in Fond du Loc, Wis.
Folks who know say you haven't banked until you've banked with 'help' from a warm, fuzzy computerized answering machine in good old Fond du Loc.
How did I know I was talking to an answering machine in Fond du Loc, Wis. - I hear you asking. Because after an hour of listening to a dizzying array of recorded instructions and banking 'options' and pushing all kinds of numbers on my phone pad ("If you're looking for something to do while we waste more of your time on this tedious call, please punch in your favorite lottery numbers, now.")
As I sat there holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder while waiting for a live human being to come along and rescue me from the bank's voice-mail gulag, I was also trying to read my newspaper.
What eventually caught my eye was an article about how passenger train service in Maine had once again done better than expected.
Soon I went from reminiscing about the friendly banks of the good old days to the equally affable trains of the good old days.
Back home our neighbor Carlton Butler used to tell me great stories about riding the friendly rails to Boston and back. His only complaint was that the conductors - who were all from the big city - all talked and moved way too fast.
On one of his last train trips to Boston, Carlton went into the train station there in Bangor and said to the ticket clerk, "I'd like a round-trip train ticket, please."
All in a huff, the frazzled ticket clerk snapped at Carlton, "You like a round-trip train ticket TO WHERE?
Without skipping a beat or raising his voice Carlton said, "Well, now, figure it out. If it's a round trip train ticket, I hope it'll bring me right back here!"
On another occasion Carlton was sitting in his seat when the conductor came by, stopped beside Carlton's seat and said, "Can't leave your bag in the aisle, it's got to be stowed above!" The conductor then stepped lively toward the back of the train.
As was his custom, Carlton said nothing. He just sat quietly in his seat looking out the window.
Fifteen minutes later the same fast-moving conductor was back. Again, he stopped beside Carlton's seat, and again snapped, "I said you can't leave your bag in the aisle, you've got to stow it above."
Again, Carlton said nothing. He just sat there in his seat, looking out
the window, as the conductor moved quickly toward the front of the train.
Like clock-work the conductor was back in another fifteen minutes. But this time, when he stopped at Carlton's seat, he didn't say a word.
All in a huff, the conductor reached down with both hands, grabbed the offending bag, walked to the door of the train, opened it, and heaved the bag out into the puckerbrush.
Passenger's on that side of the train, including Carlton, watched as the bag broke open and its contents were soon spread for fifty yards along the tracks.
The conductor then walked casually back to Carlton's seat and said, "There! What do you think of that?"
Carlton looked at the conductor, then turned and glanced out the window and said, quietly, "I probably wouldn't think much of it - if it were my bag."
Just then the computerized answering machine said, "If you'd like these instructions repeated, just push button, we don't care."
I quietly hung up and went back to reading about the train.
Contact John McDonald at: storytellers@maine.com.
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