Vacuum Tubes and Eye Rolls

Yesterday I was on my way home from work when I realized that I had a check to deposit. As I drove around the side of the bank, I noticed a line of cars at the ATM. Not wanting to wait too terribly long, I instead pulled into an empty lane over to the left of the ATM. It was a vacuum tube lane.

Some of my Gen-X and older friends will probably think it strange that I pause here, and begin to explain the vacuum tube experience. After all, to those born in the 60’s and earlier, the drive-through vacuum tube bank teller is just a normal part of banking. Some of my younger friends will probably listen to my description and think to themselves: “Oh that’s what those are for!”

The vacuum tube lane is really an attempt to adapt banking to the fast-food culture. It gives people a more convenient alternative to parking their car, walking inside, and waiting in line to talk to a bank teller. It combines the exchange of verbal instructions (via an intercom system) with the exchange of physical stuff like checks (via a tube system that “sucks” a little capsule between the lane station and the teller at the window inside). You put your checks into the little capsule, insert the capsule into the “loading dock”, and press the button. The capsule “whooshes” up into the tube and out of sight, only to appear again inside the bank at some unseen destination. It’s futuristic in a 1950’s Worlds Fair kind of way. Interestingly, what in its time certainly seemed revolutionary and lightning-fast now seems like a clunky attempt to bring traditional teller-based banking to the drive-through window.

As for myself, I sit on the edge of two generations, the later part of Generation X and the early part of the Millennial Generation, so I have the interesting perspective of knowing how the vacuum lane works, without actually having any personal experience using them. I remember watching my parents use them, but as long as I can remember, all of my banking has been done online or via ATM machines. Very seldom have I actually had human interaction while banking save when I opened or closed accounts, or needed to pick up a certified check.

So, as I drove up to the tube, the thought struck me – I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. A crackly voice welcomed me to the bank. I said, “Thanks, I’d like to make a deposit”. My thoughts wandered back to the last time I was in the vacuum lane, several years ago. I wanted to deposit a Ziploc bag full of coins, but was afraid of the eye-roll I would receive from the bank teller so I decided to use the drive-through instead. Unfortunately, the laws of the physics were against me that day. The teller informed me that a bag full of coins would not “whoosh” though the vacuum tube – they were too heavy. I could feel his eyes rolling from 3 lanes over.

So, on this day, I grabbed the capsule and did what I knew how to do. I shoved my endorsed check and my ATM card into the capsule, and placed it back into the loading dock. I figured, since I don’t know the vacuum tube protocol, I’ll just treat the whole thing like an old-fashioned ATM.

“Whoosh” went my money.

It took awhile, but the capsule finally did come back to me. Enclosed within was a little deposit receipt along with my ATM card. They must have figured out what I wanted to do! Good job, human ATM! The crackly speaker said something unintelligible as I drove away. I imagine whatever was said was accompanied by another eye-roll.


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