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Friday, September 4, 2020

Amusing Myself With 19th Century Pneumatic Technology at a 21st Century Bank Branch

"You're everywhere!" people say to me, in response to my pandemic amusements and adventures.

"Yeah," I respond, "But I'm pretty much just in my car..."

I'm now choosing my on-the-road meals based on the nearest drive-thrus. And if I'm not shopping online, I'm picking up items curbside—rolling down a back window or flipping my hatchback up so the store clerk can toss my purchase in and I can drive off without ever getting out from behind the wheel.

I'd thought that making bank transactions would present a challenge—because although I'd found a drive-thru ATM, some banking just requires a real, live teller. Besides, I haven't been thrilled about those touchscreens and buttons that have surely been contaminated by god-knows-what.



And then I found a drive-up teller at a bank branch in Beverly Hills. And to my delight, it had one of those pneumatic tube transport systems for the cars one lane away from the teller's window.



I so clearly remember these from my childhood—when I'd be sitting in the backseat of my dad's car, marveling at those cylindrical containers that carried cash, checks, receipts, deposit slips, and whatnot to and from the driver's side.



It felt like something straight out of The Jetsons. And even though it was created in the 19th century, and is utterly mechanical, it still kind of does seem like fantasy futurism.



Today on my bank run, I could've lined my car up for the teller window—but the car queue for the tubes was just about as long, so I decided to try to relive a little nostalgic bit of my childhood.

There was a difference this time, though. I got to operate the pneumatic system myself—unlatch the cash-carrying cartridge, stuff it with my documents, snap it shut, place it back on the loading dock, and hit the red button.

That's what triggers the plexiglass door to descend and the whoosh of pressured air to transport the carrier up through the conveyor and to a destination unseen from the driver's seat.

Thirty years after I last encountered pneumatic banking (probably), I couldn't quite figure out whether I was supposed to stay at my tube station or proceed to the one in front of me to get my receipt. I hadn't been paying close enough attention to what the cars ahead had done—and for a moment, I felt crippled by the lack of human contact.

With no one behind me, I drove forward to the next docking station and pressed the red button, accidentally sending an empty cartridge to the teller.

Assuming I'd made a mistake, I backed up to the station I'd originally used for my transaction. And then I hear a voice come over a speaker system and say, "I already sent it to the other one."

Was I supposed to go to the other one? Or did the teller send it there from afar because she'd seen me pull up to it?

I don't actually know. And I was too rattled to ask.

Is the carrier sanitized between each use? Probably not. Is it any cleaner than an ATM? Probably.

But if I could catch something from a pneumatic tube, well, I guess that was one risk I was willing to take from inside my car.

At least for today.

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