If a train leaves Chicago at 9 o’clock in the morning, heading east at 90 miles per hour and a passenger is walking west on the train at 4 miles per hour, where do you get quarters for laundry?
(choose one of the following):
1. The change machine at the arcade
2. Beg for quarters on the street
3. Eat every meal at vending machines and save the change
4. Go to a bank
The correct answer is 1. If you don’t mind fighting your way through crowds of smelly teenagers, arcades always keep their change machines functioning and well-stocked. Be careful not to go to an arcade that converts bills to tokens. Tokens are only accepted in Las Vegas laundromats (but you get 10% off with each wedding and 15% off with each divorce).
2. No one ever gives out quarters on the street. Most people have perfected the quarter shuffle–they grab the quarters with the index and middle fingers as they drop the other coins into your cup.
3. You will die of a heart attack long before you ever get enough change to do your laundry. If, however, you only care about having clean underwear when you die, you could probably get one load in after sucking down a few weeks of M&M’s and HoHo’s.
4. This one fooled me, too. It’s really a trick question. Naturally, you’d think all banks would have money on hand. That’s their job, right? Well, not my bank. This is the response I got when I went last week.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have money here.”
What? No money? Is this a reality TV show? Some bizarre take on a Monty Python sketch? Did I just have a brain aneurysm (hmm…is that almonds I’m smelling, or just the bus stench clinging to my jacket)?
It was New Year’s Eve, but there were still several tellers working. It takes a dedicated employee to work that day, especially when they have so much work to do, what with all the money to sort and handle.
Why would a bank–a federally-insured one, at that–not have any money on hand?
- Is all their money invested in the stock market and they don’t want to dip into their 401(k) to give me a roll of quarters?
- Did George Bailey give the money to Uncle Billy who lost it in a drunken stupor?
- Is this part of the financial industry’s refusal to lend money to the middle class? (Hello! I’m buying the quarters!)
Before I could ask the teller about the shortage of quarters, he directed me to several other banks that could help me. Yes, an interesting business model. You drive up demand for your business by never dealing with customers. Eventually people will think of you as “the place to bank.”
The other bank was much more helpful. In fact, they were the complete opposite. It was a new bank, tucked into a tiny space next to a FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko’s, formerly FedEx CopyCat, formerly Pony Express Mimeograph).
I handed my ten dollar bill to the teller and quietly asked for a roll of quarters. She smiled broadly, took my money and not only gave me a roll of quarters, but presented it to me on an oak serving tray. Next to the roll of quarters was a piece of chocolate wrapped in gold foil.
I almost cried. I felt like giving my quarters back to the bank so George Bailey could stay out of jail.