By John McDonald
I remember the days when you had to go to the bank to do your banking. What ever happened to those days?
Recently, I had some banking matters to settle, but instead of driving to the bank, I made the mistake of trying to call my contemporary bank — 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, so I had to dial their toll-free number, which immediately put me in close personal contact with a new-age computerized answering center in Fond du Lac, Wis. Banking experts say you haven’t banked until you’ve banked with ‘help’ from a warm, fuzzy computerized answering system in friendly Fond du Lac.
How did I know I was talking to an answering machine in Fond du Lac, Wis.? I hear you ask. Because after an hour of listening to a dizzying array of recorded instructions and banking “options” and selecting all kinds of options on my phone pad — “If you’re looking for something to do while we waste more of your time, please punch in your three favorite 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 days-gone-by. Back home our neighbor, Carlton Butler, used to tell me great stories about riding the train to Boston and back. His only complaint was that the conductors — all from the big city — all talked and moved much faster than necessary.
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’d 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 that 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 that 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 15 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 system said, “If you’d like to have these instructions repeated, just push a number, any number, we don’t care.” I quietly hung up the phone, because at that point, I didn’t care either.
John McDonald is a storyteller and author who entertains with his Maine stories at banquets, conferences, conventions and other special events throughout New England. He is also the author of five regional bestsellers, including “The Maine Dictionary” and “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar.”