Searching for the Ubiquitous Ah-Tay-Em

Stephen F. Dennstedt

We live in an electronic world. That is obvious—even to old dinosaurs like us. And that’s great until it isn’t. While traveling the Muppet Brothers have made a few concessions to the electronic world but have completely eschewed others. For instance we dumpster-ized our phones in early 2012.

When we retired to trek the world full-time we decided to cut the ball & chain of cellphone ownership. It was the best decision we ever made. Working in corporate America they were de rigueur and necessary. No longer, today we are: Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last – MLK.

However, two electronic umbilical cords still remain: our computers and our bank ATM cards. Though they both offer convenience and connectivity they also bring with them certain frustrations. Like I said in the first paragraph: That’s great until it isn’t. For instance getting a computer serviced or replaced abroad can be problematic depending on where you are in the world—I recently experienced this in Varna, Bulgaria with a positive outcome but had major difficulties in Latin America in 2015.

Yesterday and today it was our bank ATM cards—not the cards themselves per se but their ability to get access to our USA bank accounts. Long gone are the days of needing stashes of traveler’s checks for world travel and thank God for that—what a pain-in-the-ass that was. Now we just find an ATM, insert our card, enter our PIN and voila we have local cash—all currency conversion rates and fees are automatically calculated by the bank and applied to our accounts. Joel and I live a cash & carry life today so this is great—until it’s not. For two days in a row we couldn’t get to our money in the USA with our bank ATM cards.

I still had a few days of reserve cash in my wallet but Joel’s tank was empty and needed refilling (no—we’re not driving I’m talking about his wallet—it’s a metaphor). Neither of our cards would work so we suspected a system glitch or possibly our bank putting cautions on our accounts—that’s happened to us before while traveling and we’ve had to call the bank’s 800 Customer Service number to get it straightened out which can be hard without a cellphone (it’s always a Catch-22). This morning we spent the better part of an hour tracking down various ATMs and we finally had success with ATM number four—a big sigh of relief.

ATMs are now ubiquitous and found almost everywhere around the world but not always in plain sight—and not always working. Yesterday and today is a case in point—and when networks are down they can mess you up. When traveling few things are as scary as not being able to get to your cash and not knowing the reason. Traveling as a team the Muppet Brothers have some built-in redundancy: we each have our own bank accounts with separate bank ATM cards, we each carry cash and Joel has an additional backup credit card. If one brother is having a problem getting cash the other brother can usually cover.

Field Notes: The obscure title of this post Ah-Tay-Em refers to an old bank TV commercial. In it a boy is leading a tourist through the convoluted alleyways of an Arab market saying over and over Ah-Tay-Em. After some Indiana Jones’ moments they reach the end of a dusty alley—and there on a mud brick wall is an ATM (Ah-Tay-Em). That always stuck with me for some reason. When traveling abroad redundancy is important (especially when traveling solo): multiple bank or credit cards to access your cash and multiple currencies in your wallet (local, U.S. dollars and maybe Euros). Plan ahead. SFD


4 responses to “Searching for the Ubiquitous Ah-Tay-Em

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