Running on Empty (Cash)

The 1977 hit “Running on Empty” by American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne used to be fun for me. With a catchy beat and easy lyrics to sing along, it could create a happy mood. Not today.

Here I was, standing in line at the credit union, waiting my turn to speak with a teller.  I needed cash and my account was very low. Too low for the ATM to dispense cash to me.

“Next customer, please.” a teller called out.

We shuffled forward. Only two people in front of me now. The song played over the speakers for the people, the lyrics muffled but still recognizable.

Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind
Running on, running into the sun
But I’m running behind


That was me, running behind. The promotion I had received 7 months ago had actually backfired financially. No, we didn’t go on a spending spree with the incremental salary increase. In fact, we had been doing the opposite. We continued to cut our expenses wherever possible. The change in salary had come with a change in hours worked. I had been working 70 hours each week, now only 40. The impact hit harder because the hours over 40 had been 1.5x overtime pay, nearly doubling my income over the year. Now, it was gone.

We cancelled the newspaper. We turned off cable TV. We changed phone service to pay-per-call and tried to avoid calling anyone.

“Next customers, please.” two tellers said together.

I took my place at the counter and took a deep breath.

“I need to withdraw some cash from my account.” I said

“Sir, you could use the ATM outside.” she helpfully replied.

“Yes, I tried. There’s limited funds in my account and the machine will not dispense the small amount available.” I answered.

“Fine sir. I can help you. What is the amount of the withdrawal today?” she cheerily said, clearly dealing with an idiot customer who was afraid of using a machine with their cash.

“Three dollars.” I stated.

“Excuse me?” she blurted.

“Three dollars.” I restated.

“Um…okay. I can do that for you. May I ask why such an unusual amount? I mean, it’s none of my business, but you have to admit, it is an odd request.” she rambled in a flustered way.

“Sure. I’m broke. I have 8 dollars in my account. Your rules require I maintain a minimum balance of 5 dollars. That leaves 3 dollars available to me to get gas for my van which is currently running on empty.” I answered evenly.

“Of course sir, just one moment.” she responded.

“And the ATM only dispenses in 5-dollar increments.” I continued.

“Yes, sir. I see the problem. Account number please.” she said as she began to recover her composure.

We completed the transaction and I exited the credit union to the fading sounds of “Running into the sun but I’m running behind.” 

A song comes on the radio and instantly, you’re transported to a different time and place. Which song(s) bring back memories for you and why? Be sure to mention the song, and describe the memory it evokes.

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