On the Damned Bank

Downtown you can still see banks the way they were meant to be: impressive, sturdy, dignified buildings that remind you with a low voice, speaking from every granite column, from every marble counter, from every cast-iron vault: your money is safe here. It is safe in the hands of respectful, civilized, experienced professionals.

These days our money is scattered all over town, with a satellite branch for every bank on every block, each one with all of the elegance and stature of your average 7-11. We have traded the polished, reassuring permanence of the downtown bank for a hundred flimsy Quik-E-Banks, all to save walking a few extra blocks. There’s actually a Chase branch opening in my linen closet next week. I’d use it, but their ATM fees are a bitch.

Maybe I could learn to appreciate the convenience of the storefront bank, if only the service within them weren’t spread so thin. The courteous, professional, knowledgeable staff of full-time tellers who learned your name, greeted you kindly, and treated your money conscientiously has gone the way of the buffalo nickel. These days, you’re lucky if the part-time clerk even bothers to give you a half-assed “good morning.” It’s reassuring that nowadays intelligent, smartly-dressed, business-minded women have options at financial institutions that reach beyond the teller’s window. But it pains me to see that we’ve done no better at replacing them than an ever-rotating cast of slackjawed college dropouts in polo shirts.

I work in downtown Chicago these days, in the shadow of one of the city’s largest banks. The bank and the building have one name, the plaza it’s is still called by another bank’s name, and the small clock tower in the plaza bears the insignia of yet another long-since assimilated bank. I can hail a cab home out front just across the street from another bank that’s on maybe its third or fourth name.

I keep waiting for the day where they all merge into a single, monolithic entity. It’ll just be called “Bank” and their slogan will be “Bank: We charge you to use your own money.” Or maybe “Bank: It’s us or the mattress, bitch.”

Should save us a block or two when going in to make a deposit, though.

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