Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Was in the Middle of a Bank Hold-Up

     It's hard not to feel as though you're at the epicenter of a crazy-making world when you go about your business, as usual, day after day, and bad things get in your way.
     On March 28, 2012 I went to the bank to make a wire transfer before heading to the clinic to take care of my patients.  I step inside a bank no more than three or four times a year.  On-line banking and ATM's have made bank buildings sort of obsolete.  Why are those concrete bank buildings still here, with their super-friendly tellers whose robotic movements remind me of cartoons like Dick Tracy or the Flintstones?
     Wire transfers have to be done in person.  So that day I sat across from the assistant manager and was signing the requisite forms when I heard a loud male voice shouting at the teller.  It was a forceful and demanding voice, not angry but faking anger.  I turned around and saw a human figure in a black costume, replete with hood and gloves, his arms extended and wielding a big gun.  ("How big was the gun?" an FBI agent asked me, a short interval later.  I wondered if he might have been one of the FBI agents who had raided my office.  I looked at his holster and said, "Bigger than your gun.")
     The robber saw me looking at him, stepped toward me, and pointed his gun at my frontal lobes.  "Head down!  Head down!" he yelled.  (Part of my brain noted, in that surreal way the brain works, that this was a poor use of English.  The robber should have said, "Put your head down," to get his message across with more clarity.)
     "Head down, I said!  I'll shoot!  I'll shoot!"  He was talking to me.
     I brought my head down to the desk with a movement that felt ritualistic, like the floor-bows in Islam--but in a mosque, one would be hearing a recitation of the Qu'ran, and a bow like that is forbidden if made to anyone but God.
     I rested my forehead on the cool laminate material of the desk, and listened to the adrenalin-infused voice of the robber at work a few feet away.  I wondered if I might knew him--could it be one of my patients?  After all, we were just a few blocks from the clinic.  And if  he were my patient, could I possibly have said something, as his doctor, to keep him from doing something so stupid?
     And stupid, it was.  A smart bank robber would have demanded cash without a dye-pack or an RF beacon.  A smart bank robber would have checked for video surveillance systems in the area of the planned escape route.  A smart bank robber wouldn't have used the most obvious escape route, or had a white getaway car that would display the dye-pack stain like blood splattered across the entire passenger door.  A smart bank robber wouldn't have robbed a bank in the first place.
     I was the only customer in the bank at the time of the robbery.  Immediately after the robber departed, I wanted to finish my bank transfer and get back to the office.  But the employees were frozen.  "I've been in the banking industry seven years, and this has never happened to me," one said.
     "Please, could we finish my paperwork?" I asked.  "It's the most practical thing to do right now."
     "Are you kidding?" they asked.
     Then the police came, along with FBI agents.  They questioned us. "What did you see?  What did the robber say?  Are you hurt?"
     When I was able to go,  there was Do Not Cross This Line tape around the entire building.  I had to ask permission to step under it, on the way to my car.  My exit was caught on TV-20's video footage that night.  Here it is:
     Great, I thought.  The two times I end up on the news within a year are for an FBI raid on my office, and a bank robbery.
     I told my friend, Betsy, about the incident.
     "You were in the middle of a bank hold-up?" she asked.   "Did they take your purse?"
     "No," I told her.  "My purse is red and shiny, and it weighs about twenty-five pounds."
     She laughed and took a photo of the purse, which I have carried daily for two years.  Here it is.  If you see it, don't take it, because you might suffer a rotator cuff injury from lifting it.
     A week later a woman from PNC called me at home to ask how I was doing.
     "What do you mean?"  I wanted to know.
     "You know, the incident."
     I thought, in a panic, that she was notifying me about another raid on my clinic's bank account.  It always feels as though the axe is about to fall--for what, I can't imagine.
     "What are you talking about?  Is it my bank account?  Is it the clinic?"
     "No," she said.  "The incident last week."
     The phrase, "bank robbery," must be taboo, because she steadfastly avoided it.
     "Ah, yes," I answered.  "The incident."  I had put it out of my mind--and it seemed to have occurred months ago.
     "Do you want to go for counseling?"  she asked.
     "Counseling?  Why?"
     "An experience like that, well..."
     "I think I'll be fine," I told her. 
     There are about 10,000 bank robberies per year.  Men rob banks fifteen times more often then women, and race is fairly closely divided between blacks and whites in the United States.  The most common time for a robbery is Tuesday morning from 9-11 am, followed by Wednesday from 11 am-1 pm.  From now on, I'm avoiding the bank on Wednesdays.
     The police say they have found and arrested the two men responsible for the PNC bank robbery on March 28th.  The men had been boasting at work about the escapade.  Maybe a fellow employee wanted to do something moral, or maybe the $10,000 reward was the motivation, but a report was filed.  
Here's the story about the arrests:
     One-fourth of all banks that are robbed will suffer repeat robbery in a week, and one-half within a month.  I haven't been able to understand why this should be the case.  Do robbers just keep robbing the same bank until they get caught?  Seventy-five percent of banks use dye packs.  If you were planning to rob a bank, wouldn't you do a little research, first?  The information about how banks protect themselves from bank robbers is all over the internet.
     I saw the face of the purported robber, and he wasn't my patient.  I wonder what a person is supposed to say to someone who is planning to rob a bank.  Once, a patient told me his best plan for solving his financial problems was "to rob someone."  He seemed quite sincere, and perhaps felt hopeless.  So, I said:  "That's stupid.  You can do a whole lot better."
     Three months later, he told me he had gotten a job.

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