Biographical Non-Fiction posted March 1, 2024

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It was a long time ago, but I still remember it vividly

The Hold Up

by mortman

It was 1983, and my ‘green’ employee status was widely known and often ridiculed by my work colleagues in the local branch of a very large, publicly owned bank. The ridicule was understandable, I suppose, given my painfully extreme shyness, and the fact I was only six months out of high school. I had very little experience in anything, let alone how to deal with seasoned fellow employees and more importantly, real members of the public.

After my boss reluctantly acquiesced to me advancing from balancing the mail to fronting the dreaded enquiry counter, I knew it was going to be a debacle. And it was. My very first customer asked me something so benign, so innocent, so simple, that a third grader with no banking experience would have had no trouble in offering an intelligent answer. As for me, I opted for abject incompetence, my face instantly combusting into a crimson furnace of embarrassment.

I know that all sounds pretty bad, and it was, but I have to admit, my enquiry counter mentor, whose name I will not tarnish here (Helen), could not find a situation more amusing if she’d sat on a bed of feathers. The customer in question had a similar reaction. Both, it has to be said, bore their amusement in a spirit of good natured ribbing, which I’ll admit I still find to this day, a profoundly comforting memory.

I digress. The real reason for this story is to tell you about what happened one rainy Monday morning at around 11.45am. It should be said that banks in 1983 were very different beasts compared with the digital hotel lobbies of today. Cash was king. Everyone paid in cash, businesses received cash, and banks took in the cash. Electronic banking and card-tapping payments were a distant fantasy. The easy, disposable, anonymous nature of cash therefore attracted its own particular type of criminal element: the armed bank robber.

This is how it happened: I was seated behind the enquiry counter, concentrating intently on completing a preliminary balancing of the mail (yes, I still had this responsibility), when I heard a loud thud. As if the enquiry counter wasn’t terrifying enough, I looked up to see to see two large, ugly brown leather boots on the counter where there should have been a customer’s terrifying visage.

A black plastic garbage bag was thrown in my face with the order “Fill it! Now!” I pulled the bag off my face with my thoughts in total nonsensical disarray – fill a passbook? A check book? Fill a coin counting machine? I could feel my face reddening as yet another difficult and challenging customer request fell upon me.

“Move!” he screamed, and that’s when I noticed the twin barrels of a sawn-off shotgun pointing at a location roughly akin to the center point between my eyes. I have to say, and I’m quite proud of this fact, my bowels remained intact, and I rose to my feet.

Clutching the plastic bag in one hand, I made my way to the bank of tellers, who, I suppose, were lined up a bit like a smorgasbord, at least as far as a bank robber is concerned. By this time, my boss had arrived on scene and between him and me and the tellers, we started stuffing the plastic bag with cash. At one point, which I later had to embarrassingly explain to the detectives, I dropped a wad of cash on the floor, but rather than leave the bank’s money there, I chose to get on my knees and dig it out of some grimy corner and place it in the robber’s bag. I guess I just wanted to please.

To everyone’s great relief, the robber left the building with his cash but without physically hurting anyone. That’s not to say we were left unscathed.

I recall the detectives asking me for a statement, which I gave in great detail, including my aforementioned generosity with the bank's money. My thoughts poured out much faster than he could type, and even now I can’t really vouch for its accuracy. It was a very surreal time. I recall my boss saying how important it was to phone my parents or any other loved ones as it would be all over the news by now. I recall phoning my father although I can’t remember any great concern on his part. I recall the bank insisting we reopen that very afternoon and continue serving the public. That was probably the hardest and scariest part. Every single customer that came in that afternoon, be it a young shopkeeper, an old grandfather, a local tradesman, a schoolgirl – all of them were viewed with extreme suspicion, knowing with an illogical certainty that descent into unprovoked violence could happen at any time.

The following day, these suspicions slowly disbursed, and I was left with just the normal terror of regular customer service. I do admit to becoming more confident as time went on. The robbery eventually became a kind of status symbol (as strange as that sounds). A coming of age, perhaps? Something like that, I guess. It’s a bit like a hole in one in golf – it’s a lottery and not everyone gets to enjoy one, only the chosen ones (lucky or unlucky, you decide). At least I can say that no one since then has ever pulled out a shotgun and thrown a garbage bag in my face, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

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I'm probably breaking some laws, but the pic is the actual photo taken by the security cameras.
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