When bankers were helpful

Savannah Morning News


June 12, 2016

The day had to come. We all knew that. It’s not the end of the world. No one died. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of competent, polite, friendly people to answer questions, ask us to initial something if it needs initials, gently point out the errors of our addition or subtraction (yet again) or hand back money. There are. They’re cheerful too. That says something.  Turnover is slim. That says something too. The handful of folks standing on the other side of the counter – no stainless steel trays for them, or bulletproof glass barriers – is consistent. Even with a change in name – and ownership – the same people show up every day. At some point, if you’ve been going year after year (some people even bring their bike inside as you would your own home) they become family. Our family.

That’s what makes it so sad.

The next time I go into the downtown branch of South State Bank (which I still refer to as Savannah Bank, a name reinforced by the squishy green garden kneeler the bank gave away one year and the blue pens), Barbara Hudson won’t be at her post asking what you need and what can she do to fix it. Someone else will be sitting behind her desk. Someone else – maybe Priscilla – will be offering hard candy. That’s what the bank buys now. But not chocolate. It disappears too quickly. That’s what Barbara and her longtime compatriot Charlene Crawford would hand out. They’d reach into their lower drawer and offer a Snickers or a Three Musketeers or a dog biscuit for people who brought their pups into the bank. The two worked together for 10 years. Charlene passed away in 2013 two years after she left the bank.

“She was a sweet lady,” Barbara said, drawing out her words as she is wont to do. “We knew what the other one was doing all the time.”

They had fun with their job, those two. At Halloween they would dress up as witches. When they won best costume award the bank gave them a day off.

Then there were the large piggy banks they would go out and buy – on their own dime. They would give these to any of their pregnant patrons. A Susan B. Anthony dollar coin would sit in each bank. Andrea Rhangos, who walked into the bank last week with her husband Jonathon to bring Barbara some going away flowers, remembered getting a bank when she gave birth to their daughter, Stafford, now 18.

“When Andrea first moved to town from Michigan she couldn’t quite believe how we do things here,” Jonathon said. “She said, ‘What do you mean you just call the bank?’”

Barbara, 71, spent 21 years at the bank, but she logged 43 total in banking, including stints at the old Savannah Bank and Trust, First Union, the Bank of Beaufort and the United Bank of Virginia. On a base in Okinawa she worked in a military bank.

“Funny how time flies,” she said. “But you remember the people. There’s a story behind every one. I love each one of them.”

She came in as a customer services representative and went out as a financial services representative. Both translate to the same thing: helping people with their problems. When she left she took her handy Rolodex with her, which, she says, she will shred. She knows her way around the computer. That’s not the problem. But sometimes flipping through the well-worn cards of a Rolodex was just easier.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s quicker to find an account number that way,” she said. “With a Rolodex you don’t have to scroll through all the Smiths to find the one you want.”

To show its gratitude, the bank gave Barbara a going away party earlier in the month. The tears and the stories were flowing. Jonathan Rhangos’ mother. Audrey Platt, who dropped in with a card, said if she were out of the country and something was amiss with her account all she had to do was call Barbara. “She would take care of it.”

That’s how things used to be.






Bicycle riders deserve more

Savannah Morning News

June 26, 2016

It’s been a few weeks now since tragedy struck Orlando. There is no end to this horrific event. With every story there are more tears.

But something else is nagging at me; something else has got me in its grip and won’t let go. Make that someone else: a Florida woman named Judy Grossman. She lived in Clermont, some 20 miles west of Orlando. On a steamy Sunday afternoon in June, hours after 49 people had been gunned down, this woman was peddling down Bay Street, putting the final pedal to the medal in the last leg of six-day Bike Ride Across Georgia. She could have been at home sitting on a couch, eating ice cream, watching some golf tournament. Instead she was out in the heat, pushing herself, testing herself, seeing a part of the state most people miss when they drive the interstate.

It’s not easy to ride your bike hour after hour, watching your front wheel make that same revolution again and again, passing fields of corn, okra, soybeans and more corn. It’s not so interesting either. Maybe she rode the whole distance, all 370 miles, maybe just the final 40.  It doesn’t matter. She was out there, testing her mental toughness in a Georgia countryside that is not as flat at is looks, especially when you’re on a bike. No covered or motorized vehicle for her. This was a test of endurance. Could she do it? To pass the time maybe she counted the number of small Baptist churches or beauty salons. Maybe she sang Beatle songs, tried remembering all the state capitols or swapped stories with other riders.

When she hit Savannah she must have felt some relief the ride was almost over, no matter how tired she was or wasn’t. Maybe this extended bike ride was an item on her bucket list. She was 61, after all, the time people start thinking about what they want to do before the game is over, while they still have their wits about them.

She must have felt pretty good about herself that last mile before her wheel got caught in a gap in the concrete on Bay Street, before she flipped over in the path of a dump truck, before she died hours later at Memorial Medical Center.

In those last few moments of her life Judy Grossman could have been marveling at Savannah’s City Hall because when the light strikes the gold dome just so it’s pretty spectacular. Maybe one of the 900-foot freighters was grinding its way down the Savannah River heading for the port and she took her eye off the road to watch.

Bay Street is tough to drive let alone ride. When are we going to catch up with the rest of the world and give way to bikes? On Bay Street parked cars line the curb. Loud and rumbling tractor trailers, anxious to get through downtown so they can get to their next stop, jockey for position in the lane. At best there’s a couple inches of give and take. Throw in some tourists, a handful of restaurant or bar employees late for work, people wanting to visit Emmet Park and it’s a recipe for disaster. Which is what happened that steamy Sunday afternoon in June.

A friend of mine who finished that last leg of BRAG told me about a conversation she had with two other riders. They were excited to be finishing, to be riding through historic Savannah. My friend, a little more familiar with Bay Street, a little more cautious about the traffic, said she was going to ride in on the right side and then cross at the light on Lincoln to the finish line. She knew how dicey the street was. The other two opted to stay in the left hand lane and cross the way cars do. They made it. Judy Grossman didn’t. And that’s heartbreaking. She deserved better.