Thieves used to have the good grace to be sneaky. Now they simply rely on their legs -- and at the Tenleytown Metro station, legs are proving plenty good enough.
What the thieves are stealing is Farecards. The heists take place right under the noses of would-be subway riders. As soon as the would-bes have finished inserting their money and punching the button that produces the Farecard, the thieves appear.
They snatch the Farecard out of the slot the instant it appears and bolt up the escalator. Only victims who are in Olympic shape could pursue a thief up those long flights. That's another way of saying that the Farecard thieves are getting away with it -- and have been for many months.
Who are they? No one can say for sure. But if you're a fan of circumstantial evidence, here's a healthy helping:
The bulk of the Farecard snatches take place at about 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to readers who've contacted me and Tenleytown kiosk attendants I've asked. The snatching is almost all done by teenaged youths. Wilson High School is two blocks from Tenleytown. Many Wilson students commute between home and school by subway.
A Wilson administrator said that, as far as she knows, no Wilson student has ever been arrested for Farecard snatching. (Metro officials confirm that.) However, the administrator acknowledged that Wilson students might be involved. "They sometimes egg each other into this kind of behavior," said the administrator, who declined to be identified.
Metro spokeswoman Mary Bucklew said that Metro police are aware of Farecard snatching at Tenleytown. However, Mary said there has been no systematic snatching at any other stations.
Metro is fighting back by stationing plainclothes police officers on the Tenleytown concourse, near the Farecard machines, Mary says. However, if passengers are still afraid or dissatisfied, they can alert the station manager in the kiosk or call the Metro police dispatcher at 962-2121 (a line that is staffed 24 hours a day).
In the meantime, all of us should take a look around before inserting our Farecard money. Relying on Olympic conditioning is one thing. Relying on basic urban caution is another.
Terry Parmelee of Northwest says her friend, Evan Rotner, also of Northwest, was a passenger on a D4 Metrobus the other day. As the bus turned from 20th Street onto P, a motorist in a "new flashy car" made a right turn on red and nearly turned a pedestrian into mincemeat.
The pedestrian reacted the way I've recommended over the years. He slapped the car's trunk with the flat of his hand.
The driver leapt out and shouted, "You hit my car!" The pedestrian retorted, "You almost hit me!"
This might have led to much rhetorical wheel-spinning (or much mayhem) if the passengers on the D4 hadn't acted as a jury. According to Evan, they began shouting out the windows at the driver that he'd been at fault and that they'd seen him fail to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.
The driver was so surprised (and chagrined?) that he got back into his car and took off, without another word. SEND A KID TO CAMP
Michael Moriarty of Bethesda says it very well.
"I have been a very lucky child," he writes. "Every summer, since I was 8 (I'm 16 now), I have gone to summer camp. I'm getting ready to go again in a couple of weeks.
"It should be another excellent summer of swimming and hiking and canoeing. But I couldn't leave for Maine without sending you a contribution for the kids who aren't as fortunate. If camp is wonderful for me, and a break from my routine, think of how wonderful it must be for them."
I've thought about it often, Michael -- and seen it often. Camp is no cure-all for underprivileged kids. But with enough checks from enough Michaels, we can send 1,100 kids from the Washington area to camps in rural Virginia this summer. Like Michael, they may come home with glowing memories and enhanced self-esteem. That's the kind of medicine these children need. Ditto our community.
Won't you please help today? Send a Kid to Camp is a 43-year Washington tradition. As always, we depend on you. TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
In hand as of May 30: $35,396.62.
Our goal: $275,000.