I was sitting on the Metro platform at Mt. Vernon Square yesterday evening. It was a quarter to six. The Cubs were in town playing the Nationals, and I was waiting for the Green Line train down to the ball park for the second game in the series. I had come down the first set of stairs onto the platform, and saw that the Metro employees had set up one of those huge industrial-strength fans blowing right at the bench that is tucked under the escalator, and a couple of them were sitting there cooling off, so I had joined them.
A baseball game always means a busy evening for the Green Line, and this evening was no exception. There were plenty of people milling about on the platform, some in Cubby blue, others in Nats red. In retrospect, the bench I was sitting on is isolated from the rest of the platform; “sketchy,” Hedda called it. But I’ve ridden the Metro a thousand times before, and felt uncomfortable only a few of those times; my hackles weren’t raised this evening. I was playing solitaire on my iPhone.
And suddenly my phone was snatched out of my hand by someone behind me. After a half-second of stunned incapacity, I spun around, and saw a body disappearing around the other side of the escalator. I jumped up and followed and caught up to the person before they got much farther. Honestly, I was expecting to see a friendly face, perhaps one of my friends from Hedda’s days on the Nader Campaign or from my game group, pulling a prank on an unsuspecting me. Instead, I was met with a face I’ve never seen before: a large black man, several inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than me.
At this point, a strange calm came over me. I knew what was happening, and I knew he had nowhere to go.
“You took my phone. Give me my phone back.”
“What you talking about? I a’int got your phone.”
“You took my phone. Give it back.”
“You’re crazy, man.”
If my phone had been back in my hand at this point, I probably would have dropped the whole thing. Instead, I realized this is getting nowhere quickly, and so I started yelling “Police! Police!” (I know, so cliché! But it works.) A pair of faces framed in Cubs royal blue peered around at me from the other side of the escalator; I made eye contact with them and said, “Go get the police. This guy just stole my phone.” They nodded, and left, and I turned back towards the thief, and told him again to give me my phone back.
He walked around the platform, and I followed him – back a bit – to make sure I wouldn’t lose track of him. After a bit, a Yellow Line trained pulled up in the station, and he boarded. I stood outside the open door and stared at him, memorizing what clothes he was wearing, the color of his shoes, his hair cut, the number of the car he was on. He taunted me to get on the train with him. Ten seconds later, the doors closed, and the train started to move.
It was then I noticed a station manager walking up to me from the tunnel side. I ran up to him, pointed out the guy in the car as it was passing, gave him the car number, and explained he’d tried to rob me. He immediately went over to a phone to call in the Transit Police, and then he took me up to the kiosk to wait. We chatted for a bit, and I learned a great deal about the problems with kids that they have on the Metro, in large part because they have unlimited-ride cards. They get on the Metro system and then just goof around, and the employees can’t do anything to stop them unless the Transit Police happen to be nearby. (I can’t seem to find any reference to this program online; I’d love to learn more.)
After a few minutes the Transit Police arrived. I filed a report with A. France and M. Bradley, and got myself an incident number. While we were talking, they got a call that they searched the train he was on, and didn’t find him. I’m sure he got off before they were able to stop the train. Hopefully my description will be of some use, though. All was done, so I left and went to the baseball game. While I was waiting for the train – again – I played solitaire on my iPhone.
The Cubs won!