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Post-Robbery Insight: How to Protect Your Laptop on The Road

How I got robbed in San Francisco last week


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, 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. 

Lesson learned

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?


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Willis Turner

You are a quick thinker. I'm not sure if I could have reacted so calmly under the same circumstances. As a frequent business traveler, I really appreciate your candid expression of how this happened and your thoughtful advice should this happen to the reader. Right now I'm very keenly aware of doing my own 'profiling' when watching fellow passengers board an airplane, but in future I'm also going to be more mindful of my surroundings when traveling on the street.

Best regards for your future safety and for all of us road warriors.


Razi Imam

Gerhard, my daughter had a similar experience in DC. She was headed back from her class at AU and got mugged. She is fine, however losing her computer was a bigger problem.

As to answer your question, I think you handled it beautifully. The key is reduce the time of engagement like you did.

Pelin Thorogood

Oh my god Gerhard, I had no idea! Glad all you lost is replacable "stuff" and not surprising that you managed to keep your cool the whole time...Stay safe, let's try to make sure the same thing doesn't happen when you visit San Diego next month!!

Barry Trailer

Gerhard, I'm so sorry to hear this happened--particularly in my home town. Glad to hear that you kept your cool and were not harmed. Tough way to do a computer upgrade. Thanks for sharing and your suggestions about what you learned.

Paul Castain

Boy, my heart stopped as I read your story Gerhard!

You did the right thing. No amount of money is worth risking your life.

As someone who travels quite often, you have given me something to think about and an example of how to keep your composure!

Thank you for sharing your story and I'm sure I speak for all your loyal readers when I say that we're glad you didn't get hurt!

All the best to you!

Paul Castain


If all you lost was money and a laptop - you did all the right things! So sorry this happended - but many thanks for sharing.

Tim Allik

You did the right thing. I was mugged a few years back by a few teenagers on an outdoor subway platform in Boston. They were just kids then. I wonder if they are in jail or even alive today.

The intensity of the out-of-control desperation that would drive someone to risk everything for a wallet that may or may not be empty must be stunning.

As a crime victim, it's wise to try to remember as many details about the situation as possible - as you did - so that you can file a report that might prevent the same thing from happening to someone else in the future.

Granted, the odds are long that the police will be able to devote the resources to even attempt to track down the perps.

My wallet was found a few days later underneath a bush in a nearby housing project, minus the money, but with everything else intact, including my license and an uncashed check that I subsequently cashed.

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