Last Wednesday I drove from San Jose to San Francisco after dark. I was getting hungry and planned to get back to my hotel, order room service, finish a proposal and relax. I was about to make a left turn from 4th street onto Mission when it all happened. Although I replayed this incident in my mind dozens of times, I find it hard to describe all the details of the robbery since it all happened so fast.
When the light turned green, I got ready to make a left turn and stopped the car to allow pedestrians to pass. At that moment I noticed two black guys wearing grey hooded jackets crossing the street in front of my car. One was about 24 with a thin mustache, the other about 28. Within a second of stopping the car the younger guy fell on the hood of the car. At first I thought that his older friend had pushed him and that they were just horsing around. Looking into the rear view mirror, I noticed a car had stopped behind me. The few pedestrians that were crossing the street didn’t pay attention and quickly disappeared. I rolled down the window to get a better look and noticed to my surprise the younger guy was now sitting on the street with his back leaning against my door, blocking me from getting out of the car. I wondered how did he move so fast from the front to the side?
The older guy asked, “Can you move your legs?” There was something in his tone of voice that sounded as insincere as a telemarketer reading from a script. I said, “I am so sorry, are you ok?” The younger guy looked up to me and demanded in an agitated voice, “Give me $300! I want $300! You hear me, I want $300 now!” While he made his demands, the older guy positioned himself in front of the car, legs spread apart and his hands buried in his jacket pocket.
I said “no problem, I’ll take care of you, I’ll get you what you want.” He shot back, “how much money have you got?” I said, “Hey, you can have it all, whatever is in my wallet, no problem.”
Next he jumped up, opened the back door and within seconds sat behind me demanding, “Give me your money, all of it.” I opened my wallet; he grabbed the bills, counting them, “100, 20, 40, 60, 80…ok that’s good enough.” As I watched him counting, I realized that he was just a kid and more scared than I was and asked, “What’s your name?” He said “Alvy.” I said, “Sorry we had to meet that way, god bless.” He was gone in a flash and ran across the street with his buddy.
I drove a half a block to the hotel to return the rental car, feeling a sense of relief that I lost only $200 in that scary encounter. I even had a sense of admiration for the artful performance in this con job. That feeling didn’t last long. When I opened the back door to retrieve my laptop that I placed under the passenger seat in the back I realized that it was gone! Now I felt really stupid.
Acts of kindness
I tweeted about that incident the same evening and received a number of kind messages from concerned friends. The next morning I had a breakfast meeting with Jim Benton, VP Sales of Clearslide.com, whom I have never met previously. As we start the conversation he said, “Oh, I saw your tweet about the robbery, I brought you a spare laptop that you can use. You can send it back when you don’t need it any longer.” With this kind gesture, Jim restored my faith in mankind. Later that evening I shared the story with the night manager of the Hotel. He said, “Oh, I heard about your misfortune. We’d like to upgrade you to a suite for the remainder of your stay.” I moved to an amazing corner suite with a huge living room (with a separate entrance) and big bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub. I went to bed smiling and counted my blessings.
The only thing I’d do differently the next time is to a) keep my car locked and b) keep all valuables locked in the trunk. If you should ever get into a similar situation, consider this: Treat the robber as if you would treat a customer who is upset. Be polite and sympathetic regardless of the robber’s outrageous or unreasonable demands. Fighting the robber may get you shot, but the right attitude will give you a chance to get rid of the robber as quickly as possible.
What would you have done in that situation?