Once I found a counterfeit $100 bill.
When we first got married, I worked as a bank teller. At 19, far from home, with a husband that had a demanding job, I ended up spending many hours alone. I occupied myself by keeping the hose, but our sparsely furnished, 2-bedroom, newlywed apartment couldn’t keep me busy for 12-14 hours a day.
I did a lot of exploring. Charleston has history, art, and lots interesting architecture, but eventually that became old as well. I missed the challenge of college coursework and frequently visited the library, reading classic literature that I had not conquered in high school. Finishing school became a difficult matter since the job was extended by 3 or 6 month increments the whole time we lived there. I needed a part-time job to fill some of my time and keep my mind engaged.
With an unfinished degree, and only lifeguarding, childcare, and a few weeks of retail experience, my options were limited. After scouring the newspaper for ideas (only 10 years ago, and I’m pretty sure the newspaper was still the primary location for job listings!), I discovered I was qualified to work as a bank teller. It was certainly a better option than working at a mall store or fast food restaurant, so I filled out some applications and secured a couple of interviews.
The managers at the large national banks were looking for more experience with cash handling and business and probably had many applicants to choose from. I exhausted the newspaper listings and 2 months after moving to SC, I finally had a lead.
It came from a another young wife that I met at the laundromat. (We only had 2 loads a week then! So thankful I don’t have to haul a dozen loads a week to a laundromat.) We swapped quick background stories and when she discovered I was looking for a job, she told me there was an open part-time teller position at the smaller regional bank where she worked. She even offered to recommend me to the manager.
I filled out an application and returned it to the manager in person, dressed in my best “professional college-student” attire. I remember being very nervous when I walked it, but the casual atmosphere at this smaller bank and the friendly, talkative staff put me at ease. The manager interviewed me on the spot and hired me shortly after.
I was thankful to have something to occupy my time, but I think I was unprepared for the two weeks of training that followed. The young woman training with me caught on quickly and had previous experience. I felt as though there was some kind of competition to work as quickly as she did—credits, debits, credit cards and debit cards, credits before debits, and FDIC regulations—it was all new and a bit confusing. Add the newlywed and living in a new city stress and I began to wonder if I should have looked for a different type of job. But the trainer understood the strain and encouraged me to move forward at my own pace.
The trainer worked with me the first day, but after that I was on my own. Of course, the other girls I worked with made themselves available when I needed help too. The actual work was more manageable than all of the training, or maybe it seemed easier as I learned the computer system and terminology.
I became the official drive-thru girl. I think they put me back there because they didn’t like it. But as an introvert, small-talk makes me nervous, so it was the perfect place for me. No need to fill the awkward silence when the customers were out in their cars scanning radio stations.
Within a few weeks I began to recognize the regular customers and their banking habits. Since the drive-thru opened 30 minutes early, I often had a little line of cars waiting for me to get my computer up and running and get my cash drawer counted. The owner of the mall Hallmark store, an older man, consistently showed up about 5 minutes before I was ready. He waited patiently but always looked disgruntled about something. I made it a point to try to make him smile.
I also learned that Monday mornings and Friday afternoons brought lots of customers—the main reason they needed a part-time teller. Monday mornings meant piles of weekend deposits from business owners, and Friday afternoons meant a relentless stream of workers needing paychecks cashed.
I actually enjoyed the busy days because time passed quickly as we scrambled to keep the line short. It was certainly more tolerable than the mid-week days when we sat around waiting for random phone calls and raced to answer just to break up the monotony.
Once I found a counterfeit $100 bill. It was tucked into a bundle of 100’s brought in by a store owner. He had no idea, but had accepted it from a customer of his. It looked very convincing and even passed the little marker test, but the paper felt different. It was smooth. I took it to the teller supervisor and she took it to the manager. It took them several minutes to decide, but in the end confirmed my suspicion. After that, the manager called me “eagle eye” for a few weeks, which I never understood because I felt the difference in the bill but wouldn’t have seen it. Oh well.
At some point I enrolled in some classes to finish my degree which helped pass the time with textbook reading and note taking during the mid-week lull. Several months into the job, my friend from the laundromat found out she was expecting a baby. She felt sick for months and called her mom daily for support. Most mornings she showed up with the full pancake, egg, and hash brown breakfast from McDonald’s. Looking back, I wonder if her nausea would have been relieved by eating some more nourishing food. I can’t imagine fast food made her morning sickness easier to bear.
Now that I think about it, they all ate out daily—sometimes twice a day. They often teased me about bringing my “lunch box” everyday, but I couldn’t justify spending 2 hours of pay on lunch when a sandwich and fruit cost less than a couple of dollars.
Have you ever been in a break room that smells like ten years worth of reheated leftovers from a microwave that has probably never been cleaned? Maybe that’s why they ate out. I eventually started eating in my car to avoid the old food smell and glaring fluorescent lights.
I became pregnant not long after that. I realized that my friend, though sometimes dramatic, had probably been feeling worse than I realized. You know that pregnancy “brain fog”? Yeah. Not good when you are responsible for counting money correctly. I struggled to keep my things organized, and because I didn’t fully recognize the effect pregnancy had on my mind. If I had known to work more slowly and carefully, I might have avoided some problems. Thankfully, tellers are allowed a couple of mistakes before losing their jobs.
I knew that I wanted to stay at home with my baby anyway, though I had intended to work until my last trimester. My pregnancy fog won though, and I resigned before I could mindlessly give away any more “extra” money. And so my short career as a bank teller came abruptly to an end.