Ruth and I drove into Tucson to celebrate a long lost connection with my brother Bryan, his wife Karri, and their son Joshua, at the popular downtown Mexican eatery, La Poca Cosa. We arrived a bit early, so I mentioned to Ruth that I had seen a Bank of America just a few short blocks from the restaurant, and I sauntered off to pull out some backup cash.
Approaching the teller machine (what’s a teller these days?), I saw two men standing on either side of their buddy, who was at the machine waving his arms in a very excited—though non-threatening—manner. This man’s face was completely tattooed, facial piercings prominent, poly workout pants sagging deep below his butt, which was nonetheless adorned in designer undies. My eyes had plenty of time to size up this posse. It didn’t take but a second to recognize a disturbance in the prospect of this group of depositors. The man to my right had a large holster to secure what looked like a 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at the ready, and he laughed and bantered with his partner who composed the third leg of the trio. Now this was a sight I had never seen, being, as we are, from non-open-carry, strict gun-control California.
At first glance it seemed to me that the armed man was the bank security officer, but this melted away quickly in the absence of any official uniform and recognizable insignia. My mind raced with situational processing as I observed Teller Man reach into a large paper bag, pull out a stack of $100 bills about an inch thick, jam an ATM card into the slot, and, after a long series of keypad punches, stuff them into the cash feed slot. I have seen bill counting machines in Vegas and remembered their telltale sounds—shluck, shluck, shluck, shluck—at one-eighth-second intervals. The machine took a seemingly interminable amount of time to count the stack, and I kept my personal space well outside the hand feeding the ATM’s hungry maw. I could feel the consciousness of the trio sizing up my look, perhaps scanning for a competing pistol bulge, and stepped outside myself to see through their eyes, making sure there was a slight, friendly-cool smile on my face. Just enough to not raise suspicion.
I listened to their parried jokes infused with street slang trading in counterpoint to the sorting tabulation, and struggled to comprehend. The machine finished its money mastication, Teller Man jerked his arms as if swatting flies, did a spin, and while seeming to talk nonsense, reached into his sack, pulled out an additional stack of cash, and began the whole process again. Five minutes had now passed, and I just knew that copping an attitude about my length of time in the queue could turn their gaiety into something more ominous.
The machine kept up its counting rhythm and finally, after a protracted amount of time—made even longer by my need to connect with my family—it fell silent. Teller Man pulled out his card, reinserted another (all the while rapping non-stop), punched in numbers, and then jammed in a fresh replacement stack of endless green bills. Flabbergasted, and cautiously cranky, as now ten minutes had passed, I looked around in hopes of discovering a hidden ATM, any available bank, in which to take refuge, but there was none.
Finally the money count ended, but the transactions did not conclude until Teller Man stabbed the screen in deliberation and determination to eject cash out, which disappeared in a blur of arm waving and staccato street verse into the hands of his compadres. The posse slapped hands, confirming their esprit de corps, and as they walked away I carefully thanked them for depositing enough cash so that I could complete my transaction. They all paused, staring at me with steely faces for a breath-holding moment.
After what seemed like days, they processed my attempt to break the fast of speech with levity, and smiles broke out. I breathed a sigh of relief as their fading laughs, jive talk, and the ominous pistol faded down the street.