I was walking home from work one cool, damp evening last week, wondering what I would eat for dinner. As I headed up Vermont Avenue north of Thomas Circle, two young men came strolling towards me, their hands in their pockets, and passed by me.
Suddenly they turned sharply. One of them had a gun pointed towards me, which flashed silver in the street lights. "Give me everything," he demanded.
So I stood there beside a tree and two full garbage bags awaiting collection the next morning, fumbling through my pockets and thinking that I must remain calm, do everything they say. For some reason I deliberately avoided looking at them, as if that would make them go away.
They were probably about 17 and they were in a hurry, which was not comforting to realize. I couldn't remember where my wallet was--it held just $7--and because I was wearing a raincoat there was a great deal of fumbling. The two young men told me to hurry up.
The one without the gun started going through my pockets, too, and took my ring of keys, my bundle of identification cards, and last week's paycheck.
I was frightened, very frightened, but for some reason it never occurred to me that the gun would actually go off. Death did not seem imminent (though perhaps it seldom does). Just do everything they want me to do, I told myself, and they will go away as if they had never been there at all.
They were still going through my pockets when a Metro policeman drove by and saw what was going on, and my two assailants saw him. Without a word, they ran as fast as they could across the street. They turned right onto O Street and went out of sight.
The officer turned his car around--it stalled briefly--and chased them around the corner. When he came back about five minutes later, he said they had run up an alley and climbed over a fence.
The Metro officer explained to me that he was not permitted to handle crimes unless they occurred somewhere in the Metro system. "But what do they expect me to do?" he asked. "Just sit there and watch someone get robbed?"
He radioed the District police.
A few minutes later a man came walking up to us. He said he was walking his puppy farther up the block and had seen the robbery attempt. He had run into his house and called the police.
When the police arrived, a policewoman named Officer Davis took my report and radioed my description of the two young men to the station. Then she drove me home.
For a few days I was beset by a vague paranoia. Everybody I passed on the street was a possible mugger, every bulge in every pocket was a gun. The clicks and sputters of the heater in my apartment were the sounds of somebody testing the windows or trying the lock. The next day somebody stopped me, in more or less the same place, to ask directions. I jumped. He probably thought me surly and unfriendly and I suppose I was.
Since then, the event has become tedious rather than frightening. I had my paycheck stopped and it will be handed out again in a week or so. Until then, my landlady will not get her January rent. I had the locks changed, which cost me $56 that I was told was a good deal. It will take longer to get the identification cards replaced.
I thought that this would never happen to me, that I was somehow immune from the trials and tribulations of daily life, here to report on them and not to take part.
But it was nothing strange, nothing new. I have spoken to countless people who have had the same thing happen to them and I was luckier than most. "My God!" I would say. "What happened?"
Now I'll say: "Oh yeah, it happened to me, too.