Though I managed to navigate my way through life without confronting any individuals who wanted to separate me from my wallet, on a cold night in 2005, I was removed from that comfort zone, perhaps forever.
In the days leading up to the incident, the temperatures in St. Louis had dipped well below the freezing point and, with threats of snow and ice in the forecast, homeowners tossed generous amounts of rock salt onto their sidewalks as a precautionary measure.
The freezing rain and snow never materialized, but those little chunks of sodium chloride turned out to be a blessing in a different way.
After work on the day in question, I headed to the 24-hour gym where I had purchased a membership at the advice of my doctor. Working out at night helped me relieve stress and, with only a few other diehards in the complex, I literally had my choice of treadmills and weight machines.
About an hour later, my pager started making an annoying beeping sound. Because I work in the Information Technology department at a large financial firm, I’m on call all the time. A quick phone call to the support staff on duty confirmed that I had to cut my workout short and get to my computer terminal at home as soon as possible.
I prefer walking to driving, even on a cold night, so I didn’t think twice about hoofing it home from the gym. Normally, the walk at that hour is pretty peaceful and relaxing, but about three blocks from home, the sounds of feet crunching rock salt filled the still air.
Quickly whirling around, I saw three young men walking slowly behind me in single file. If the salt hadn’t been there, I would not have realized that they were there and they would have had the jump on me. I correctly assumed that they wanted my belongings, so I ducked onto a nearby parking lot.
Before I had moved a few yards, I heard the sound of an aggressive male voice demanding that I turn over my belongings. Turning around, I saw that the three young men were now standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of me. The teenager in the middle, who I later learned had just turned 17, was pointing a pistol directly at my head.
Situations like these are commonplace on television, but with no real-life experience in these matters, I froze like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. The gunman repeated his request and the hooded young man to his right decided to play good cop’ to his bad cop’, advising me to do what the trigger man said.
After laying my gym bag on the cold ground and handing over my wallet and checkbook, the three paused for a moment and ran down the street with my possessions. It took a few moments for my brain to start functioning again and I walked the remaining distance home on legs that now felt like lead.
Thankfully, the police arrived quickly in response to my 911 call and searched the neighborhood for these shining examples of today’s youth. When they learned that my cell phone was among the stolen items, they advised me to keep the service active for a day or so. “They aren’t rocket scientists. They’ll make a mistake and use it,” one of the detectives said.