A few weeks ago I was in a Temescal neighborhood cafe, seated at the table nearest to the door, typing on my laptop while meeting with a colleague when I felt a presence behind me as if someone was going to give me a hug. Before I knew it a man’s arms reached around me, not for a hug, but to grab my laptop and run out the door. I leapt up from the table and ran out after him but it took only 10 seconds for him to run down the sidewalk, hop into a waiting car and drive off.
I yelled to the startled bunch of onlookers “Get the license plate!” but the black pick-up pulled out into traffic and disappeared down the street. Stunned, I went back into the cafe. What now? My colleague called the police and I sat down at the table and cried. I was certain that this machine — my mobile office, the piece of equipment that IS my business — was long gone. All of my e-mails and assorted information was readily available to the men who had made off with my computer since it had been open and I was typing when it was grabbed out of my hands.
I decided to write them an e-mail. Maybe the two of them would see it as they sped away to wherever theythought they could best take advantage of their new acquisition. The subject line read: “To the person that just stole my computer — I’ll give you the money; just give me my computer back.”
I was pacing outside the cafe waiting for the police to come when a guy on a bike rode up, hopped off and said, “I got the license plate.”
Yes. The man who came to be known to me as “Bicycle Bill” happened to see the whole incident go down and decided to pedal as fast as he could to catch the crooks.
Not only did he pursue them and succeed in catching up with them, Bicycle Bill outfoxed them too. The get-away car took off heading north on Telegraph but his hunch was that they were going to go around the block and then head south, towards downtown Oakland. So he took off heading south and just as he suspected, the pick-up zoomed by him and he pedaled like hell to catch up.
Of course the thieves were unaware that Bicycle Bill had seen them commit their crime so when he pulled up behind them at a stop light and memorized their license plate they were none the wiser. “I kept saying the license plate number over and over to myself on my way back here,” Bicycle Bill told me, still a bit breathless from the chase.
“Wow. I can’t believe you managed to do that!” I said, incredulous. “What’s the number?”
Bill spat out the license plate number and I scribbled it down but there were still no police to report it to. That’s when Oaklander Number Two stepped in.Since the police still hadn’t arrived on the scene, the cafe’s barista decided she would call upon a regular customer, a neighborhood cop, who frequented the cafe and whom the staff knew on a first name basis. She said, “I just called … a cop we know. He told me he’d be over soon. In the meantime would like a cup of tea or something?”
“No, thank you,” I said.
Things were starting to look up.
Meanwhile, I decided to call Apple support to see if there was any way to retrieve the data on my computer remotely, or at the very least to wipe it off my laptop so that whomever ended up with it didn’t have access to my personal data. No luck. I hadn’t signed up for the software that allows for such a thing. I was picturing the two guys riding around downtown Oakland reading my e-mails, perusing my photographs and looking at my tax returns. Or perhaps by now my computer had already passed into the hands of some lucky buyer who got the deal of the century on a Mac Book that didn’t need a password to get in.
That’s when the cop I’ll call “Officer K” walked in.
Officer K introduced himself and we explained the incident and that we had called the police about thirty minutes before, but that they still hadn’t shown up. “Oh,” he said. “Just so you know, they were never planning on coming. With all of the budget cuts and the reduction in the number of officers we’ve got on the street, we just don’t send cops out for stuff like this anymore.”
Good to know.
Officer K called the license plate into dispatch and they came up with an address. The truck was registered to a man in Alameda. By now the crooks had had almost an hour to make up their minds about what to do with the stolen goods. It could have been sold already, or safely stashed in someone’s closet.
Officer K said, “I’m gonna go down there. Why don’t you go home and I’ll let you know if there’s anything to report.” He walked me to my car and I drove home in a fog, exhausted from the emotional roller coaster, thinking about all of the things I wasn’t going to be able to do the next day without my machine and wondering why I still hadn’t gotten into the habit of backing up my data.
At 10 p.m. that evening he called to say he had located the house in Alameda. He told me that the man who owned the truck practically fell over when Officer K informed him that his vehicle had just been involved in a felony.
The man and his wife invited Officer K into the house so he could explain to them what was going on. That’s when the man’s son ran out the back door. “I’m not sure if I am going to be able to track him down. The young man who ran out of the house — he was the one driving his father’s car. He’s probably going to tell his friend, the one who took the computer from you, that they’ve been busted. I’ll call you later on if I have anything else to report, or if it gets too late, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“No — don’t worry if it’s late,” I replied. “Please contact me whenever you find out something more, O.K.?”
“OK, but I’m not going to promise anything.”
“I understand,” I said and hung up the phone. I called Bicycle Bill who had given me his phone number.
“Bill — this is Sondra — the woman you helped this afternoon at the cafe.”
“Hi. Wow. How are you? Tell me what’s going on. Did they find your computer?”
“Not yet, but if they do, Bill, it’s because of you,” I said. “You’re the man. What you did made all the difference.”
“Well, I just wanted to help if I could. Will you call me back when you find out what happens?”
“Of course I will,” I said and hung up the phone.
Eleven o’clock rolled around and then midnight. I couldn’t keep myself awake any longer so reluctantly got into bed and tried to go to sleep. I guess I must have dozed off because I was startled awake by the sound of boots clomping up our front steps. I peered out the window. It was Officer K.
I grabbed my robe, ran to the door and opened it. There was Officer K with a grin from ear to ear on his face, cradling my laptop in his arms. He reached out and handed me the brushed aluminum cargo.
I was so flabbergasted that I didn’t even ask him how he managed to do it. I just took the computer from his hands and said gleefully, “I can’t believe it! Thank you so much, officer!”
“You’re welcome,” he said looking like a man who believed this good deed was all in a day’s work.
My hat’s off to Bicycle Bill, the cafe barista and Officer K, all of whom played a pivotal role in solving this crime. Without any one of these good Samaritans there would not have been a happy ending. I am proud to call Oakland home.
Sondra Hall is an Oakland resident.
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