The Greyhound bus left Nashville at 10 PM and would arrive in Evansville at little after 2 AM. By car the trip would take just under two hours, but the bus took a more scenic route and had stops in northern Tennessee and Kentucky. I’d made the trip before and had the routine down: I’d disembark, go to the ATM in the front of the bank, get five bucks, go to a pay phone, and call a taxi. The trip from downtown back to my dormitory was always exactly five dollars. Evansville’s a small town, and, I’m sorry to say, I was a naïve college student who didn’t think about tipping.
I’d done this at least half a dozen times. It had become so routine I took it for granted that nothing could go wrong.
2:07am: The ATM is located in a closet-sized atrium behind glass doors. And for some reason some thoughtless bank employee has decided on this particular occasion they need to be locked.
It’s early February. It’s freezing. I’m wearing my trench coat and fedora which do surprisingly little to keep out the cold. I think I look like Humphrey Bogart. I probably look more like Mickey Rooney. It occurs to me how much warmer it must be in Casablanca, even at night at this time of year.
There must be other ATMs around. A friend of mine had once walked from the campus to the riverfront, and not only did it take him a few hours it also took him through some of the most dangerous parts of town. Being a naïve college student had protected him, but I don’t want to press my luck. And I’m too exhausted to hoof it. I never could sleep on the bus so I’d done my Latin homework. I’m not going to let being stranded downtown prevent me from handing that in.
2:33am: I find a different bank with an ATM of its own. I’m willing to pay the $1 surcharge for withdrawing off-brand, but the doors are locked.
2:57am: I find a stand-alone ATM. Out of service.
3:11am: I’m strolling along the riverfront near the Four Freedoms monument wondering what to do. A cop car pulls up alongside me. The cops ask to see my ID. I politely hand over my student ID and explain my problem. I’m nervous. The riverfront seems deserted but is a notorious spot for men seeking discreet encounters. The cops seem to believe me.
“Well,” one of them says. “Keep looking. You might find an ATM around here somewhere.”
They drive off. Thanks for not arresting me guys.
3:27am: I return to the Greyhound station with a vague plan of begging a taxi driver, or someone, for a ride. The only person in the station who doesn’t work there is a bearded man sleeping in one of the chairs.
3:53am: I’m now well acquainted with all the banks—all three of them—within close walking distance of the Greyhound station. I wonder why they’ve all adopted a policy of making their ATMs inaccessible after hours.
4:10am: Back at the Greyhound station. I have one quarter. Like a person under arrest I can only make one call. I dial. The phone rings. And rings. And rings. My friend Sandra answers. The whole story spills out of me. She says, “Chris is stuck downtown.” In the background I hear her roommate Kate. “He’d better be. If this is one of his jokes I’m gonna kill him.”
4:27am: Sandra’s Pontiac pulls into the Greyhound station parking lot. She grins and tosses me a blanket as I climb in. She’s got the heater cranked up as high as it’ll go. “Thanks,” I said, my teeth chattering.
8:12am: After a few hours of sleep I stumble into Latin class late. And that’s when I realize I left my homework back in my room.
UPDATE: The friend who walked downtown has informed me he thinks it only took him a little over an hour, but he was carrying a bookbag with a six-pack of beer and at least four bottles of alcoholic beverages. Maybe if I’d been carrying that I could have traded some of it for a ride.