Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The place where time stands still

Few things in life put the brakes on our hyper-digital, fast-moving society than standing in line at the bank. The whole in-person bank experience harkens back to a kinder, gentler and infinitely SLOWER time in history.

Yesterday, my business partner Martin and I walked to our bank to make a simple deposit. I won't reveal the identity of the bank, but, suffice to say, it's a large national one. Our intention was to do our business at the ATM, normally a routine 60-second transaction. Alas, it was out of order so we stepped inside (and back in time) to deposit a cheque the old-fashioned way and deal with a human being.

It's been a while since I've been inside a bank. I had forgotten how deserted they can be in the mid-morning. This particular site is actually quite aesthetically-pleasing. It has high ceilings, lots of white space and and the serenity of a library. Ceiling fans whirred above us and the staff (most of whom were sitting and chatting with each other) seemed to speak in hushed tones. and move in slow motion. There was no one in line and four tellers available so we were immediately served by a lovely, yet reserved gentleman. That's the good news. The bad news is, for some reason, what takes 60 seconds at the ATM took 10 minutes at the teller and consists of odious filling out of forms, answering of questions and signing of documents. I had also forgotten how difficult it is to sign a form using that pen that is physically attached to the counter with a 10-inch non-pliable wire.

My companion decided that, since we were already at the teller, it would be a good time to request a U.S. bank draft, something that was on his "to do" list. Bad idea! That took another 10 minutes with more forms to complete in triplicate. The capper came when the teller went to print the draft only to find out that not one, but two printers were malfunctioning. After minutes of pulling out and jiggling all of the wires and cables from the back of the machinery to no avail, a manager was summoned, the problem was fixed and the document was printed. I know it was a manager because unlike the tellers, his name badge had both a first and last name while the other employees, like Madonna, went only by their first names.

Throughout all of this, I was struck by complete lack of any sense of urgency exhibited by the people who work there. Even at the zenith of the printer debacle, no one appeared to be particularly phased. The funny thing was, I wasn't even upset. Granted, I didn't have anywhere important to go after that, but somehow, the slowed atmosphere calmed me in a way no yoga class ever has.

Finally, feeling good about a job well done, our teller asked if there was anything else he could help with. There was neither a hint of irony, nor any trace of the need to apologize for keeping us waiting so long. Most service-oriented businesses, upon delaying their clients waiting, will mumble at least a cursory, even fake apology. But not here, just a smile and an placid gaze which left me feeling that some insitutions are untouchable.

The next time I'm feeling overwhelmed with the fast pace of life today, I'll go stand in line at a bank. That will jolt me out of my nostalgic reverie.

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