I saw them as I was walking back from the laundromat. A couple of lowlife druggies. They were medium height and scraggy wearing dirty old shirts and jeans. Indeterminate age. One was fat and the other skinny with a short beard.
I noted them without thinking anything about it expect that they were out of place. My apartment was at Vallejo and Hyde on Russian Hill. Arguably as safe as any place in the world. It was 4 pm on a warm and sunny afternoon. A cable-car has just gone by and there numerous people wondering around the area.
I was almost at my apartment when the skinny one walked quickly by me and stopped about ten feet in front of me. As I walked toward him I head a man’s voice coming from slightly behind and outside of my right shoulder. The voice was professional, smooth and reassuring.
“Don’t worry,” He said. “Don’t panic. Just relax and nothing’ll happen to you.”
I spun my head to look. It was the fat man. I was struck by the gap between his grubby appearance the educated quality of his voice. He stood a couple of feet away and stepped toward me in a vaguely threatening way. I started turning to confront him when he spoke again in the same calm, reassuring way.
“You’re not taking the whole situation in ... you’ve forgotten about Bob.”
I turned back and realized that the skinny man was walking toward me hunched over with a butcher knife hidden from side view by his jacket but pointing directly at my gut. He had the pocked-face of a junkie and a nervous, angry expression.
I started to step back but felt the spokesman’s large hand gently pressed against my shoulder.
“Take it easy,” He said. “I’m John. This is Bob. All you have to do is give us your money and we’ll be on our way.”
As he spoke Bob came up to me and stuck the knife an inch from my ribs. The two of them had me boxed in so expertly that the four people walking by laughing couldn’t see what was happening. To them, it must have looked like a normal conversation.
“Just take out your wallet and hand it to me?”
“What’s he gonna do?” I asked, looking nervously at Bob.
“He’s not going to do anything as long you co-operate,” John said pleasantly, his voice becoming superior, almost laughing at my fear. “Why don’t you give the man a little room, Bob?”
Bob moved a little away.
“Now - what about that wallet?”
I dropped my laundry on the street, pulled out my wallet and gave it to John. He looked inside and took out all six of the dollars bill that I had inside.
“You’ve only got six dollars?” John asked in sudden hostile tone. “That’s not going to be good enough!”
Bob stepped closer to me again and touched my shirt with his blade.
Despite my anxiety, I recognized that this was something of an act. They were clearly professionals and Bob was being a little crazy on purpose. On the other hand, what kind of a dimwit expects to get rich robbing a guy doing his laundry on a Sunday Afternoon? No matter how calm John pretended to be he wasn’t thinking clearly. These guys needed a fix. They were desperate.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said nervously. The phrase ‘I didn’t know you were coming’ popped into my mind but I suppressed it. “I was doing my laundry. Sorry I just don’t bring much money with me when I do my clothes. Sorry.”
I acted more nervous and frightened than I was. I even made my hands shake a little like Don Knots.
Bob and John looked at each other with a hint of a smile. They relaxed and moved back slightly.
I inched imperceptibly away from them.
“Where’s your apartment?” John calmly demanded, “ Why don’t we go there so you can find some more money for us?”
“Yeah ... Yeah. That’s a great idea,” I said, “My place is right over there.” I pointed across the street.
They looked where I pointed. I spun around like a wide receiver and took off running. After about 5 strides I glanced back and saw them running in the opposite direction.
For years after that I became paranoid any time I heard someone walking behind me. But the experience was worth a thousand times the $6.00 I lost.
If I’d seen John and Bob in the Tenderloin, they never would have gotten close enough to rob me. A great lesson for my future career in cab driving. There are no safe places. You always have to be awake and alert.
Nobody's mugged me since.
Nobody's mugged me since.