Mitchell’s Musings: Unmasking a new social phenomenon

Waiting in the bank looks a bit different in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

As I waited in a line of six or seven people outside of one friendly, neighbourhood bank on Monday, the conversation was all about masks.

Remember the good old days when the only one outside the bank wearing a mask was planning on robbing the place? Although they rarely lined up to do so.

That’s when life was easy, you knew the bad guys were the ones wearing the masks. Now, ironically it’s almost the opposite. If you’re not wearing a mask you are considered selfish, out of touch, irresponsible, a badass, non-compliant, an idiot, a threat, a conspiracy theorist, and possibly worst of all, a Trump supporter.

Bank robbers were held in higher standing, back in the day.

The lady six feet behind me in the lineup certainly would agree with those sentiments. She explained that she was immune-compromised and couldn’t get over “these people” who are protesting wearing masks when it’s for the benefit of everyone, especially people like her thank you very much, but also for them and their loved ones as well.

I, of course, wholeheartedly agreed, and then as I played with my moustache as I am wont to do, I suddenly realized I should apologize for not wearing one, and maybe that’s what she was getting at, in a mostly nice way.

The guy six feet in front of me standing on the blue feet painted on the sidewalk, who wasn’t wearing a mask either, helped bale me out by talking about Walmart and Superstore making masks mandatory but offering them free for now.

I offered, that with the money these businesses are making off the pandemic, maybe they should remain free and we were off.

Someone else offered the banks, who tend to do well no matter what’s going on economically, could hire more tellers or open more branches.

I thought to myself, yeah, if we’re still in a pandemic come winter people might not feel so charitable about lining up in the elements.

After covering where you can buy masks, non-allergenic and otherwise, the cheapest, the conversation kind of died down, as we patiently waited to get inside where we would have to line up again, only it would be shorter and air-conditioned.

As people wandered out of the bank to the delight of the lineruppers, it struck me that these individuals weren’t used to being in the spotlight for doing something so pedestrian (ahem) as walking out of a bank. They seemed ultra-aware that they were being watched (what else are we going to do?) and turned self-conscious to the point that some even stumbled to maintain their stride as they scurried to their vehicles. Plus, everyone walks kind of funny, as anyone who has seen that episode of Monty Python knows, so we’re all self-conscious about the way we walk in the first place, let alone under duress.

But when you’ve been standing outside of a financial institution for 15 minutes or so, you definitely notice someone coming out and you may even stare at them a little, maybe even, without words, suggesting to them, “what took you so long and what were you doing in there, have you ever heard of bank machines or internet banking?….” as you begin to worry that others may be thinking the same of you.

After all, you don’t see anyone under 30 in these lineups. Heck, you don’t even see them in the banks, unless they happen to be working there. Why would they go to the bank when you can do it all from the comfort of your own phone?

But that’s a good thing, right, they would just make the lineups longer anyway. Although they would add an interesting perspective to this new community forum called sidewalk talk.

Finally, you get to go inside and join a new lineup, but not before slapping on some sanitizer kindly provided for free.

The smell of the sanitizer almost makes me sneeze but I manage to control it which is a very good thing because an inopportune, loud sneeze would’ve garnered the attention of everyone in the bank and you would’ve been considered a pariah and possibly even face assault charges. I ponder that peeing one’s pants would be considered more socially acceptable than sneezing in public during a pandemic. However, I manage to avoid that as well.

You finally get to the teller and she is so sweet and kind and helpful that you almost feel guilty for the bank joke you laughed at earlier in the lineup. The deed is done and you walk outside to see a lineup even longer than when you went in and you carefully, sheepishly and, of course, weirdly walk to your truck in front of a captive audience.

As you drive away and ponder the experience of half an hour you’ll never get back just to go to the bank, you have to admit to yourself it was almost kind of entertaining and a community-building experience during a time of distancing and fewer social opportunities.

Next time, I’ll dress for the occasion and wear a mask.

Glenn Mitchell is a columnist and former editor of the Morning Star.

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