How refusing a $0.50 parking validation cost a bank a $1M depositor

In 1989, a bank-teller at the Old National Bank in Spokane, WA refused to validate the $0.50 parking stub of a shabbily dressed man who'd come in to cash a check. That shabbily dressed man was John Barrier, a 30-year customer of the bank with more than $1 million on deposit; which he promptly withdrew and took to Seafirst Bank, down the street. (via Reddit)


        1. How about “Because money shouldn’t matter.”

          Otherwise we’re all flies complaining about the stink on shit.

      1.  That’s the way people like to spin this kind of story.  But, the story is basically saying the mistreatment of this gentleman was only wrong because, in reality, he was wealthy. 

        1.  How about “People’s treatment of you tends to hinge on how much power they perceive you to have over them. This is a mistake, because you never know when your perception is wrong.”


          1.  If you like it.  I wasn’t asking to improve the story.  I just don’t like it.  It’s passed off as, “Be nice to everyone because you don’t know who they really or, or who they might be someday.”  When, in reality, I prefer to be kind to people regardless of their potential impact on me. 

            I just hear from so many different people versions of the view that rich people are to be admired and valued more than other people.  This saddens me terribly. 

          2. Depends. If you look at this from the otherside of the matter, would you do business with a company (bank in this case) that treats people according to their appearances and not equally because they are customers, poor or rich? Sure maybe this story is remembered more because of the aggrieved customers “wealth”, but would this story be as memorable if the shabbily dressed man only had a dollar in the bank?
            In John Barrier’s words “If you have $1 in a bank or $1 million, I think they owe you the courtesy of stamping your parking ticket.”
            Maybe you shouldn’t look down on the wealthy so much, maybe it’s not always their fault (granted many times it is)

            I’ve worked many jobs over the years, skilled and unskilled, office and manual labor. I am currently a house husband helping raise my son and I never belittle any job/worker/person to him.

          3.  I see your point but I understand it that the story is being told for those exact people who can’t wrap their heads around being nice for niceness sake. So you could think of the storyteller using whatever the listener does respect as, a nail to hang the parable on so at least the larger lesson can sink in to their dense little money infatuated skull.

        2. No, wealth was merely the means by which he could have an effect. A homeless person receiving the same treatment could take a dump on their front door every morning and it would be the same reason for bank tellers (in this case) to be nice to the people who use their services.

        3. “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished;
           persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. 

          The story happened in reality.  I don’t think you get to assign your own moral to it, or presume what morals others are drawing from it.  

          1. I think you’re allowed to draw your own moral from it, but I was reacting to someone saying “But, the story is basically saying the mistreatment of this gentleman was only wrong because, in reality, he was wealthy.”   No, that’s not what I drew from the story (I think it just emphasizes that you should always be nice to people, rich or not), but I he/she’s stating “This is the moral of the story and that’s why I dislike this story”.  The story is the story, the interpretation of it is your own damage.  In my opinion.

      1. And still better than, “Be nice to everyone because you might be on a hidden camera show.”

    1. I find not really caring all that much about money frees me up to be a jerk to everyone.

    2. …I thought that the moral was, “give people whatever they want, because people are pissy, and the rich ones can make you suffer for petty reasons”

      1. The moral is, “If you’ve got a shitload of money, you’re better off keeping it in a bank that’s capable of assigning financial priorities based on facts instead of assumptions.” The First National Bank of Jobsworth is a bad investment.

      2. I don’t see that John Barrier has made anyone suffer in this particular incident.  He came in to do business with his bank, and I’ll hazard a guess that if he was dressed shabbily that he’d been dealing with a dirty or sweaty task and had already had a long day.  I expect that the attitude he received at the bank was the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back.

        Given that it’s his choice where he banks, he’s within his rights to change banks for any reason or for no reason, and if he felt that he had a negative experience with the bank that refused the simple act of validating his parking when he went into to give them stewardship of more of his money, then good for him.

        Now, I can understand if the bank chose to take action against a member of members of its staff because of their inability to keep a high-profile customer over a paltry fifty cents.  That falls on the manager as much as the teller though.

        1. Meh, I could see things either way. The OP doesn’t say whether the bank normally validated parking under such circumstances. If they normally offered free parking to people cashing checks, but decided to screw a customer out of fifty cents because he looked “dirty,” then sure. Eff ’em.

          …but, if this was their regular, everyday policy applied to everyone, then we just have a guy who went into a million dollar snit over fifty cents that he decided he was owed and a teller who or may not have given him “a look.”

          1. This may be a “rich have too much power” moment, but if I had  $millions on deposit and was a longtime account holder, I would expect them to validate my parking whenever I damn well pleased, and send me a card for Christmas. Its no more than any company would do for a major client.

          2. Someone with million$ in a bank can afford to pay for their own parking, of course. If he was some snotty young day-trader who had a snit about parking, people’s opinions might differ.

          3. If a business validates parking, why wouldn’t it validate parking for any customer who asks? This isn’t discrimination against the rich; it’s discrimination against the (perceived) poor.

          4. Now I’m confused. …are we upset because he was treated differently for seeming poor, or are we upset because he wasn’t treated differently for being rich?

          5. “…but, if this was their regular, everyday policy…”

            Sure sure, and if the martians hadn’t blown up the space cruiser he could have just left that hovering above the bank and not had to validate any parking and things would have been fine.

            But how about we just keep thing limited to what’s actually in the article?

          6. Ok. The article does not provide enough information to reliably make a judgement call.

            Well, now all of this reader response just looks silly.  :)

    3. How about this as the moral: if you are a business, your default approach should be to simply treat all your customers as customers.

    4. Its funny that you and others came out with that spin, as opposed to, “Don’t be a jerk to someone just cause the aren’t richly dressed.”

    5. Lisa: Maybe there is no moral, Mom.
      Homer: Exactly! It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.

    6. Yes. But don’t limit yourself to thinking ‘rich” means money.

      If you’re not nice to people they will be likely to share their wisdom, joy and yes money, with you. And the kicker is that you’ll most likely never know.

  1. I have heard the observation from a few former and current bank clerks I know, that being particularly well dressed doesn’t tend to correlate with having more in the bank – if anything, it goes with having somewhat less.

    One theory is simply that the being that well dressed is associated primarily with spending a lot of money on clothes and expensive tastes in general, and only much more distantly with being able to afford those expensive tastes.

    1. You young people are in such a hurry, why, back in my day the internet was delivered by men on horseback…

          1. You had a lake?  We had nothing more than a mud puddle that had dried out months before.

  2. I’ll don my psychic helmet and guess that the employee was following standard procedure, and got hung out to dry as a result. (Because that’s standard procedure too: abandon the grunts who are trying to enforce your dictates.)

    —Old Sorehead

  3. Back during the Occupy Wall Street days, there was a movement to take your money out of the big commercial banks that were mistreating customers and getting bailed out for it and move it into credit unions.  Any idea how long that lasted, and how well it worked?

        1.  I owe my first employer, Logicsoft, for my early introduction to credit union eligibility. I stuck with the Pan Am Federal Credit Union for another ten years, when my new employer Oracle let me join a more local Bay Area one.

      1.  Not sure when I got my first bank account – 1988 isn’t a bad guess – but it was with a credit union…

        Somewhat to my chagrin, I’m with two big commercial banks now – TD has a branch two blocks from our house, the staff at that branch are very helpful and courteous (to everyone, as far as I’ve noticed), and the nearest credit union branch is over two kilometers away.

  4. There’s a similar story about a shabbily dressed man, a seeming hick, who tried to get his son into an Ivy League school.

    He was dismissed out of hand. 

    He turned out to be the fabulously wealthy Leland Stanford, who as a result up and founded his own university.

    Yes, I know, urban myth.

    1. I’ve been told this story as well with more details: The Ivy League school was Columbia and they didn’t dismiss him out of hand, they suggested that he donate a small amount to the library for books. (Which he did.) 
      I’m not so sure that it is an urban myth, I’ve been told this story by Columbia faculty who don’t seem prone to that sort of thing.

    2. Who the hell just “shows up” to “get his son into an Ivy League university?”

      This is exactly the kind of ridiculous thinking that would make a university justified in dismissing someone out of hand, but is more likely the pointer to an urban legend.

        1. Yeah, I think formal application processes and admissions departments may not have existed at the time (Stanford was founded in 1885). It seems altogether likely that gentlemen would get together with the Dean for cigars and port to discuss matters. Best to wear your finest tophat when doing so, however.

  5. And the 1% said “depart from me, I never knew you; for when I wore Hanes and Lee and other ill-fitting proletarian garb, you sheltered me not; I requested parking validation and you validated me not; I ordered a cappuccino and you spurned me with your gaze, thinking I knew not the difference between a cappuccino and a drip coffee.”

  6. The bank had a different story. From the March 21, 1989 issue of the Toledo Blade:

    “What really happened, she declared, was that John Barrier’s parking ticket was validated within 10 minutes of his original request. And that the bank manager apologized on the spot for any misunderstand. Ruble says she’s not sure why Barrier took his $2 million out of her company’s bank.”

    1. Well, of course it does.  The bank’s not gonna just come out and say, “Yep, we’re elitist pricks who don’t validate.  Come give us your money!”  If nothing else, I find it irritating that they took 10 minutes to validate.  As if they used those 10 minutes to fetch a manager, ascertain Barrier’s balance, and then suddenly decide to dust off the ol’ Customer Service engine.

    2. If it took 10 minutes to validate a parking ticket, then they deserve to lose the account.

  7. I’ve cancelled credit cards because they wouldn’t budge on a $10 penalty despite me being a customer for a decade and having made them thousands.  And it’s not like waiving the fee would actually cost them anything.

      1. Compared to the amount of money they make off a customer of ten years’ standing?  Oh, yes it is.

        1. The thing is that it was a penalty.  There was no expense for them to recoup.

          It’s just bad business practice to refuse to make an adjustment for someone whose payment was lost in the mail after a decade of on-time payments.  That’s why I’ve stuck with Amex for 30 years.  If I tell them that it’s not my fault, they assume that I’m honest and we just fix the problem.

          1. Here in Australia there’s lawsuits going on against the banks because it is *illegal* here to charge a fee that’s higher than the cost incurred to the bank for a late payment/overdraw/whatever (i.e. they can recoup costs, but they cannot levy punitive fines.) Of course, the banks have willy-nilly charged large fees that are completely arbitrary for years, and there’s a real chance they’ll be forced to repay those in full.

            Well, here’s hoping anyway.

  8. Why isn’t the moral, if you look shabby, don’t be surprised that people don’t treat you like a king? Instead of not just expecting everyone to just make it easy for you all the time, regardless of how you’re dressed, how about just not being a pissy jerk?

  9. Here’s a Mexico City story from the early nineties about a hip, snotty club called Danzoo and some British blokes who came up the street on a weekday, partying in denims and leather jackets.  The bouncer did not open the velvet rope and refused to budge.  The head bouncer or somebody along those lines was called, same story, something about a dress code and the exclusivity of the place, they couldn’t let just any riffraff into their bourgeoisie paradise.

    The British guys were an incognito Depeche Mode, in town to do a full-blown concert, but had also scheduled a little gig at Danzoo a night or two later.
    So here’s The Depeche being interviewed on local FM radio, discussing the incident and how if you’re “not important” or “don’t say who you are” you are treated like shite, mate.  So right there and then, they cancelled their little gig at Danzoo.  The big concert proceeded as planned.

    I gotta confess, I hate the club anti-culture with the bling-bling and the Cristal, it’s satisfactory to see that rigid, “my shit don’t stink” faction of the bourgeoisie shut their own doors in their own noses.  It’s a feel good story.

    1. When Melvyn’s (Palm Springs’s pricey, exclusive Fawlty Towers restaurant) opened in 1975, the owner obliviously refused to let Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw into the opening because he thought that they were just a couple of hippies.

  10. Seafirst’s customer service was the reason we moved our money to the WSECU.  A teller deposited my paycheck into a savings account I didn’t know I had, using a ‘deposit to checking only’ slip.  I bounced checks all over town and Seafirst wouldn’t take responsibility for their mistake nor explain what had happened to any of those merchants. 

    Later Seafirst was bought up by BOA. 

  11. About 10 years ago, I took my daughter and visited a BMW dealer in STL. I went with earnest intentions of buying the 740. I was dressed in sagging jeans and a tee-shirt and as I walked in, a salesman was standing by the door smoking a cigarette. I started to ask about the car and he cut me off saying, “I’m on my break.” I went inside and waited. He came in and immediately engaged someone who had come in after me. I waited. Finally, I went up the the receptionist and asked, “Excuse me, is there anyone…” She cut me off saying, “I’m on the phone…now, like I was saying Mom…” I got the message. I grabbed my daughter’s hand and we drove down a few miles to the Mercedes dealer. I looked at the S500. A salesman came over and in spite of the way I was dressed actually showed me the car. I told him I would take it. It was $91,000. He was a bit stunned. He asked how I wanted to pay for it and I asked if he would take a check. He said most everyone leased them, was I sure I wanted to actually buy it? I told him it would take a day to transfer the money into my account and he shouldn’t cash the check until the next day. He said that was fine since it would take a day to detail and get it ready. The next day, I picked it up and drove back to the BMW dealer. The same guy was outside smoking. I rolled down the window and asked, “say, can you tell me what the commission is on the 740?” He didn’t recognize me, but my daughter had these very distinctive Little Orphan Annie red curls and when he saw her he knew he’d screwed up. I had the opportunity a few months later to be in a foursome at a charity golf outing with the owner for the dealership. When he asked what I drove, I told him and then told him my story. He said he only wished that was the first time he’d heard it. I actually love doing this having grown up poor. A few years back, a surgeon saved my wife’s life. I was very grateful and I told him if I could ever help him to please call. He brushed me off. A few weeks later, he called me and told me he was experiencing cutbacks in his research program and he was trying to raise the money himself to continue it. He had only seem me in the waiting room, again in jeans and tee-shirt. I asked him how much he needed to raise and he said $100,000. He said he was determined to find 100 people to pledge a grand each. I told him I’d be right down. I cut him a check for the entire amount. I worked my butt off wearing a tie for many years to accumulate my wealth. Why do people assume I should wear a Canali suit everyday now. If you didn’t have to work, what would you wear? Jeans and a tee-shirt. You just never know.

    1. You should see a little known movie called “Pretty Woman,” I think you’d like it.

      1. My wife did that at the Chanel shop in Soho. We went in and no one waited on her. The clerk actually asked my daughter to stop looking at the cosmetics. She asked for another clerk and bought $25,000 worth of purses. On the way out, she told the other clerk, “big mistake…big.” 

    2. Ain’t that the truth. Happened to me couple of times. Well, not with cars but other expensive gear worth thousands of dollars. And maybe you can’t even blame them for helping well-dressed customers first, they probably have some experience selling stuff to people. Ignoring potential customers and being condescending when you don’t have anything to do is stupid though, agreed. I mean, what do you have to lose?

      Also, I once showed up at a company (firmly white-collar) where I had a job interview scheduled. The guy who answered the door wore old jeans and a t-shirt and had a bad haircut. So he led me to their meeting room, brought me a glass of water and talked to me for five minutes as if to pass time. Then he said, “sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I own this company.”

      So I guess it really pays to be nice to people, no matter what they look like. You never know.

      1. My first job in the TV biz back in the early 70’s was at a small station in the rural south. I came to the reception area and the receptionist told me to wait. There was a small room off to the side and an old man was on the floor with a vacuum cleaner in pieces. He was muttering to himself putting it back together. He asked me to grab a belt that needed to go back on. “Do you work here?” he asked. I told him it was my first day. He told me hopefully I wouldn’t be as wasteful as the rest of them. He said he had found the vacuum cleaner in the trash and all it needed was a new belt. The news director finally came for me and asked if I’d met anyone yet. “Only the janitor,” I told him, “I was helping him fix a vacuum cleaner.” He started laughing and told me that wasn’t the janitor, but the owner and not just of one station but several, not to mention numerous other businesses.That day, my first assignment was to cover a new store opening. they told me to look for a guy in the parking lot who was waiting for me. He was sitting in his pickup reading the paper. I’d never heard of Walmart or Sam Walton, either. 

    3.  Happened to me too. When I was around 25 and probably looked 18, dressed sloppily and carrying a knapsack, I walked into a fairly nice Boston hotel and got dirty looks from the doormen. How quickly that changed after I went up to the front desk and checked in.

      1.  Here is a similar story. Some years ago a man who was shabbily dressed and covered with mud from a long journey on horseback tried to check into a fine Washington, DC hotel. The clerk refused him. A fellow sitting around the lobby said to the clerk, “Do you know you just turned away the Vice-President [Thomas Jefferson]”.

    4.  I think this story you’ve told here perhaps deserves to be the headliner. Thanks for the yarn.

  12. I heard a similar story. This woman was walking by a lake when a swan tried to have sex with her. Turned out the swan was Zeus, Leader of the Gods of Olympus. Important lesson there, I think.

  13. …and when he again refused, the hag transformed into a beautiful enchantress, who cast a terrible curse upon him: that he should live as a hideous beast, unloved, and unwanted….

    1. Why?  It’s not like there’s only one bank in town.  You can park your money in any number of different institutions, some of which might pay you a bit more for the privilege, some of which might offer you a friendlier experience.  Why would you keep your money in a bank staffed by people that piss you off?

      Customers don’t really owe banks anything (except under the terms of their loans, ha ha).

  14. Trying to get information out of a lot of companies is almost impossible once you’ve bought their widget, too. My hackerspace got a donation of a large number of CCTV cameras (*hundreds*) but without datasheets. The company that made them were all too happy to talk to me until they discovered I wasn’t going to buy more cameras – I just wanted the datasheet for the ones I had – at which point they just completely ignored me.

    Whilst I wasn’t going to buy any cameras from them as a hobbyist, I *was* going to develop some products using their cameras under my professional hat as an engineer. But there’s no way I’m going to deal with that company now.

  15. If you treat people with prejudice, it is likely to come back to bite you when one of them matters more than you thought they did. Hardly news.

    There’s a well-known incident where hotel clerks at an SF con were being rudely dismissive of “the weirdos”, forgetting that all these people had day jobs in addition to their hobby… and flat-out refused to believe that one of them was the director of purchasing at a major corporation. They learned better when said corporation knocked that hotel chain off the list approved for travel-expense reimbursement. I don’t know what happened to the desk clerks in question, but I would assume that this was, as the phrase goes, “a career-limiting incident.”

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