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The Big Bank Heist

It’s easy to drown in a sea of nostalgia and remember the good old days, which in actual fact may not have been so good. However, the paintings of Norman Rockwell and the smiling faces of the all-American family gathered around the Christmas tree are not the reality that many of us remember from any holiday in the past.

Fast-forward the tape to where we are today. And this reality of the good old days became a fond memory during what I expected to be a quick trip to the bank to pick up some cash. And now for the rest of the story.

Have you been shopping this season? From main street to the mall, it’s obvious we have a worker shortage. The term labor force participation refers to the number of adults who were working or actively looking for work. This number fell for a third straight month and at 62% remains dramatically depressed compared to prepandemic days. What is it about “the Big Quit”? What is especially mystifying is that the prime working population ages 25 to 54 is alarmingly trending downward.

Why should we care?

What should’ve been an easy trip to the bank to take out some cash at an ATM became a real wake-up call. Typically, we breeze through a drive-through, insert our card, punch in our PIN, and out comes the cash.

But not so fast.

Our bank had a notice online and obviously in person that the drive-through tellers and ATMs were closed for an indefinite period of time. Why? There were no tellers available and there was no talent coming up the ranks to service the machines. Throughout the entire community these devices of convenience were no longer accessible.


So I parked in a frigid parking lot much like a skating rink and slalomed into the physical plant of the bank and was stunned that the line of patrons stretched through the entryway, across the sidewalk and actually into the parking lot.

My brain shifted back to those photographs of the Depression days and the runs on banks, where the economy was in freefall and citizens were trying to extract their funds from the bank before the country completely disintegrated.

The huddled masses, which I had joined, were not happy campers, but in typical Minnesota fashion, we were patient except for one grumpy old man. He was irate, he was livid, and verbally abusive to one of the bank “courtesy officials” who was a matronly type of employee. She explained that she was an intern in training at the bank. He railed at her about the economy and the need for more workers, and most of us had the sense this could go south very quickly. However, several individuals came to the defense of the bank worker, the gentleman apologized, and there was peace in the valley.

What do we need to know as we accept and try to navigate this new reality?

  • The good old days may have been old, but they were not very good, and we need to recognize that nothing is simple, everything is complicated, and there are never enough associates behind the counter to meet our needs. Whether at the bank or the grocery store or the airline or pharmacy.

  • If ever we had to anticipate and budget our time, it is today. What was typically a quick trip to get a couple of bucks out of the ATM now took almost 90 minutes. In life and in chess, the victors are those who anticipate their next move and how to plan according.

  • Without a light at the end of the absent worker tunnel, as we go about our daily errands, we need to ask a question: “How will this quick trip turn into a hassle, and what can I do preemptively to make the best of our current world, which is not in such good shape?”

Let’s consider our irate customer at the bank. As the argument escalated, several of us standing in line took out our cell phones. I suspect they were either recording the situation in case it turned even uglier, or, worse, if the patron pulled out a weapon. Many were poised to call 9-1-1.

For me, I could have easily left a long line and come back at off hours. Or found a working ATM elsewhere in town. Or cashed a check at the grocery store. The bottom line is that we need to have a full 360-degree awareness at all times. Make no assumptions about a person’s mental status or the presence of firearms.

Whether you’re waiting in line at the bank, at an airline check-in counter, or a department store, be aware of your surroundings, a logical escape route, and be prepared to be patient. The long lines—a by-product of a labor shortage and a pandemic—are inevitable.

And wear a mask. People can still see your smile underneath it.

Photo by David Ragusa on Unsplash

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