Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Safe Deposit Box: A plot bunny in 3 acts

Long neglected paperwork
When non-writers find out I'm a writer, one of the first questions they ask me is where my story ideas come from. It always makes me laugh, because stories are everywhere. You can't avoid them. The hard part is finding the story that has enough energy to get the writer through an entire novel.

Today, I encountered a story idea - or at least the germ of one. To illustrate, I need to go back about a quarter century. . .

Act 1: we rent a safe deposit box

We bought our current home in 1992 and opened a bank account at our local bank. Back then, it was Bay Bank and we chose it because a college friend worked there. Then a few years later, we realized we needed a safe deposit box for things like our mortgage paperwork and other essential documents that it made sense to store outside the house. So we opened a small box in the same branch of Bay Bank where we had out accounts.

Act 2: Our bank is no longer our bank

The 90's were a time of bank mergers and acquisitions and in short order, Bay Bank was BankBoston, then Bank of Boston, then Fleet Bank, and finally Bank of America.

Somewhere, early in the merger game, when banks were starting to charge fees for walking past their branches (okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much. . . ) we moved our accounts to a local bank and got better customer service and free ATM access. But we never bothered to move the safe deposit box.

Over the years, I kind of forgot about it, until our housefire in 2010, when I realized, we lost the key to the box. It then went on my 'to do' list, but always at the bottom, because I didn't relish the hassle and expense of dealing with the missing keys.

Fast forward to today.

Act 3: Surprise!

I got a call from the Bank of America branch. A manager at the local branch was calling to tell me they drilled open our box and found documents. She was giving us one final chance to claim the contents.

Um. . . WTF?? (Which I didn't say aloud, but I was utterly confused.)

The story: The bank was undergoing significant renovations and as part of them was removing its safe deposit boxes. They had contacted patrons several times over the past year letting them know about the deadline and that on Sept 30th, the boxes would be drilled open and their contents inventoried.

I never received any of those letters. Luckily for me, our phone number was on the signature card for the box (which they had on file.)

So what happened?

During all the mergers and acquisitions, our record never got transferred to the new bank's computer system. They didn't know we existed. (And BTW, we stopped getting billed for the box years earlier; I didn't notice.)


We have the contents of the box and didn't have to pay the back rent (which was nice of them - they could have asked), the lost key became a non-issue, and I have an interesting story idea to play with someday.

Any number of things could have been in the box.

Perhaps the story is from the POV of the bank manager or the person who drilled the box open to find. . .

Perhaps the story is from the POV of the box owner or next of kin who discovers family secrets or a legacy. . .

Regardless of where the story might take me (or you!), today I discovered a plausable reason for a lost safe deposit box.

Let the 'what ifs' begin!



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