Monday 24 September 2012

The Great Story City Bank Robbery, or, How To Get Free Money in Iowa

As I write this, I’m enroute back to Newfoundland, after a fabulous week at the STORY! Festival in the fortuitously named Story City, Iowa. I’ll post more on that later, but in the meantime, there is one story I have to tell first. 

I started off the festival telling stories in local schools, and finished up early one afternoon, with some free time on my hands. My host and local guide was the fabulous Deb Mortvedt (above left), who drove me around to the schools and then walked me around Story City’s downtown. She took me to a few of the local antique shops, and made sure I found the secret stash of free Tootsie Roll Pops in one.

As we were walking up the street towards the theatre, we passed the Great Western Bank. The door was propped wide open, and looking in, we could see that there was a table set with something that looked suspiciously like snacks.

We paused, peering in. Our conversation went something like this:

Deb: Do you want to go into the bank?
Dale: Why, is there something happening?
Deb: I don’t know. Maybe they will give you some money.
Dale: Do the banks in Iowa just give money to strangers when they walk in? 
Deb: You never know, they might!

So we walked in to the bank, which was for the most part devoid of customers. I entered behind Deb. A table was set up close to the tellers, and on it sat two cakes.

“Do you want cake?” asked one of the bank ladies, and before I could answer, added, “Chocolate or Vanilla? It is customer appreciation day today, but you missed the pork butt sandwiches.”

I cursed my timing.

“Vanilla!” said I, making the best of the lack of pork products. A plastic plate and fork were fetched and handed over to me, and then I was steered towards the cake table.

“You have to help yourself,” said Bank Lady. “It’s like an Iowa wedding reception!”

The gathered ladies laughed, and Bank Lady added, to more laughter, “All you need now is a dollar dance.”

I looked beseechingly over towards Deb for help with translation, but Deb was busy stuffing herself full of free lemonade, and was of absolutely no help to the foreigner.

“I’m Canadian,” I confessed. “I have no idea what a dollar dance is.”

I was then given a short ethnographic description of an Iowa dollar dance, where the bride dances with men at the reception, the men giving her a dollar bill to dance, as a way of raising money for the new married couple.

“Ah,” I said, shaking my head sadly. “That would never work in Canada. We don’t have dollar bills, only dollar coins. The bride would get too weighed down with loose change to dance.”

Bank Lady perked up at this, and sang out to a Junior Bank Lady behind the counter.

“Canadian money! Do we still have that Canadian money?”

Junior Bank Lady immediately vanished in the recesses of the Great Western Bank’s vaults to check. She returned with a bag of coins, dumped out the contents, and handed it to me.

“Here you go,” she said. “We can’t do anything with this stuff.” 

So I finished my free cake and free lemonade, said my thank-you’s, and, still clutching my free Tootsie Roll Pop, made my way out into the bright Iowa sunshine, richer by the grand sum $2.73 (Canadian).

“See, I told you they might give you money,” said Deb. “And there are four more banks in town.”

“We should hit them all.”

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