Sunday, October 29, 2023

A Trip Down Bank Robbery Memory Lane

[Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published October 30, 2023] 2023 

The downside of living in the same house for decades is that you never do the aggressive culling of your belongings that moving generally requires. But it also gives you the opportunity to serendipitously stumble across memorabilia like this photo from 1978 that evoked a lot of memories, most of which had nothing to do with the subject of the photo itself.

The photo is of a bank robber who held up State Mutual Savings at gun point on La Jolla Boulevard in April of 1978. I was the only customer in the bank at the time and have never been within two feet of a 45-calibre blue steel automatic before or since. And I am very, very glad for that. The FBI gave me a copy of the security camera photo as a souvenir noting that it was a good thing the robber didn't shoot me, as this is not a weapon you want fired at you at close range.

So that's the first memory, of course. Pure terror. As I was transacting with the single teller, the robber burst through the bank door and yelled at everyone to get their heads down as he hurled a bag at the teller to fill with cash. He was screaming at her to hurry up, and she was begging him not to "hurt anyone". Seeing this gun in such proximity to my body being held by someone who seemed so nervous and jittery made me absolutely concur with the teller's entreaties.

In probably a much shorter time than it seemed, the robber was gone. The doors were locked awaiting the FBI. One of the two banker managers sitting at their desks had tripped the alarm. I don't remember how much money the robber got away with. But I do remember that the teller quit that same day.

Of course, one other memory that this photo immediately evokes for me is the IBM Selectric typewriter in the background with which the teller would type in your deposit or withdrawal into your passbook in the pre-online (or even telephone) banking days. In that era, people used to go to the bank a lot to get cash, deposit checks, get travelers checks, etc.

And, in fact, that was what I was there for that day: to get travelers checks for a trip we were to leave on the next day. For those who don t know what those are, or were, they were checks issued by banks in specific denominations on which you signed your name when you bought them, then signed them again when you used them during your travels. The whole idea was not to have to carry a lot of cash. Credit cards weren't nearly in as wide usage then as they are now.

Which leads me to the next memory about that photo. Normally I always had Rory, my then-10-month-old baby, with me when I went to the bank. If I was sitting, I sometimes let him play on the floor next to me with a toy if I had a lot of transactions, or if I were standing, I d be holding him. If he d been with me, he would have crawled over to the bank robber's pant leg and tried to pull himself up, or if I d been holding him, would have tried to reach for the nice shiny gun. I was so incredibly glad he was home with a sitter.

Which brings me to my next memory from this photo. I had the sitter because I was going to meet my physician husband for a quick (and rare) lunch near his office at one of our favorite restaurants on Herschel. He had a tight schedule.

Obviously, no cell phones then. The bank wouldn't let me leave until the FBI had taken my statement. It became rapidly apparent that I was not going to get to the restaurant on time and my husband was already waiting for me. I could just imagine him getting more and more annoyed. He had to be back at his office by 1:00. When the FBI guy was finally done with me, I realized that by the time I used the bank's phone to have my husband's answering service page him, I could just get in my car and be at the restaurant in seven minutes. Because here's an even stronger memory: I d be able to easily park in downtown La Jolla, almost certainly on the same block as the restaurant. Maybe in front.

Should I say that again? Park easily in downtown La Jolla? Not have to allow an extra 15-20 minutes to look for a parking place that could well be four blocks away?

Anyway, I rushed into the restaurant some 40 minutes late, apologizing profusely.

"Where have you been?"  he inquired testily.

And I got to deliver a line both figuratively and literally for the only time in my life:

"I was held up."

Souvenir bank robber photo from security camera


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