I was walking up to Columbia this afternoon when I saw an armored truck outside a Duane Reade, with a couple of beefy guys standing guard. I assume they were collecting money from the till or from the ubiquitous Chase ATMs. Then I realized that you never see armored money trucks much anymore.
When I was a kid, banks were big imposing buildings, like temples, with marble floors and tellers cages, vaulted ceilings, whispered conversations. Armed guards stood there, ready to shoot anyone and give their lives to save the money. [Look at what used to be Central Savings Bank ay 72nd and Broadway, now the Apple (!) Savings Bank, soon to become a multi-level nail parlor with ATMS on each floor, or the East River Savings Bank at Amsterdam and 96th Street, now the Bank of CVS. Those were grand buildings.] And being a teller was a good lifetime job, straight out of Orwell novels.
Somewhere along the way, it changed. The armed guards are gone. Now, not only can you buy liquor on Sundays, you can visit banks on Broadway and get a mortgage after church. There are cash machines in every convenience store. Customer Associates sit in the open at formica counters to take your deposits and give you cash. And no one seems willing to die in order to defend the vault. Remember the Symbionese Liberation Army and Patty Hearst? Or the guy who bailed out of 737 with money in mid-air over the jungle and was never seen again?
Why did it change? Are banks not worth robbing any more? Have we become soft? Perhaps it’s because that’s where the money no longer is. Maybe banks don’t need to keep so much cash in their vaults because everything is done with credit cards, and now the bank employees hang their winter clothes in the vaults after mothproofing them. Maybe no one mothproofs anymore. Or perhaps it’s easier to catch people who steal money now, because of computers. Somehow bank robbery isn’t glamorous anymore. I think it has something to do with the formica.