It was a perfectly glorious sunny Monday afternoon. Murphy's Law has been in effect for me for about two weeks now, so it was no surprise that my internet went out on Monday morning at 11am. When I have several deadlines swirling around at once, I try to schedule out my day, and cannot waste one hour. Normally, if my internet were to go out, I'd take the subway down to In Good Company and work in their delightful space. But I didn't want to take the subway time, so I went to my local Starbucks at W. 103 and Broadway.
Everything was jelling, and they even had my favorite type of donut. Many home office workers were in there, and a newly laid off media type who was persistently picking up a young woman sitting next to me, who doubled as an actress and some kind of graduate student. I went to the bathroom, and she agreed to watch my things, which included laptop, bag, iPhone. I came back with no trouble.
A few hours later, the girl had left, and another graduate student took her place. He was the silent type, brooding in his studies, but a frat boy type, so it's odd because they are normally cheery. I had a client call at 4pm, so at 3:50pm, went to use the bathroom. I asked the brooding student to watch my stuff, to which he nodded.
There was a line at the bathroom, of course. The person in the bathroom was taking a very loooong time, and we could hear some running water and other commotion. Usually when this happens in New York, the person is homeless and is bathing. Sure enough, the person came out, a tough looking woman, who was clearly homeless, but her clothes were clean, hair spiked, earrings, that sort of thing. She walked past the drink counter and ask the barrista if he had any leftovers, and he didn't, but told her when to come back. She proceeded to wander around, surveying the room, and took a seat opposite mine at my table, which was now empty because I was standing in line. That was a bummer, because now I had to have a client call with a homeless person across from me, but whatever.
So I left the line to sit back down at my table. I gathered my things to make room for the new guest (at Starbucks, sometimes you share tables when there aren't any left). The plug to my earrbuds caught my eye. They were naked, plugged into nothing. I looked at the table, trying to remember if I put my iPhone in my bag, and then looked at the brooding grad student. He simply nodded his head, and I looked at the woman, and said: "Give it back."
She said: "I don't have it."
Me: "Yes you do. Give me my phone back."
Woman: "Some dude was sitting here"
Me: "No there wasn't. Give it back."
Woman: "Do you want to search me?"
Me: "Yes. Give it back."
Woman: "Ok, let's go in the back" ewwwwwww
Me: "No. Give it back."
She began to stand up. I panicked. I wasn't going to let her get out of there with my phone in her pocket. I asked the brooding grad student if I could borrow his phone to call the police. He ignored me. Incredulous and stunned, I turned to two college age girls who were sitting behind me, and asked them if I could borrow their phone to call the police, because this woman stole my phone. They also were deaf to my plea.
The homeless woman started walking. I doubled round to the front of the Starbucks to block the doors. Or just stand there. I'm not sure if I actually would have held the doors and done something totally foolish looking. I took a deep breath and announced to the store:
"Can somebody please lend me their phone? This woman just stole my phone and I need to call the police."
Finally, another woman held her phone up, saying "Here, use mine." And I proceeded to dial 911, where I was met with questions that weren't getting me anywhere. I told the operator I was at W. 103 and Broadway, and she asked if I was in Manhattan. Are there other intersections of that name? Maybe. Don't they have GPS? Grr.
A Starbucks employee began talking to the woman. He asked her what was she thinking, and to give back the phone. At this point, she was standing at the drink counter, just hanging out there. As I was getting nowhere fast with 911, he suddenly handed my phone to me. I saw my little orange and black WellAlarm sticker on the back, and was hugely relieved. I gave the nice hero her phone, and went to my seat to collapse. I couldn't decide if I should apologize to the brooding grad student for putting him in that position, or for asking what the H$&(# was he thinking to do nothing to help?
At that point, a girl behind me started speaking to me, telling me that this homeless woman is in there all the time, and that she had given her an apple fritter once, and the woman suggested that it would go much better with coffee. She said that from that point on, the woman attached herself to her. The conversation went on for a bit, but I was too rattled to stay, so I packed up my things and headed home.
STANGENESS PART II:
I rescheduled the call, which then affected the timing of another call scheduled for 5:30pm, and went home to check on my internet. Still nothing. I headed off to Sip, another coffee shop in my neighborhood with internet. I had both calls there, continued through emails, edits to Collective-E, and finally called it a day at 9:30pm, which is normal for me these days. At Sip, they are so nice and wonderful, and to pay for my time there to keep the local store alive, I had gone from afternoon coffee time, to a muffin, to happy hour. So, latte, muffin, extremely tall beer.
As I was walking home, actually to pick up a burrito on the way, I saw her - the homeless woman - walking in the opposite direction. I always look at people to see who they are and keep moving. I just like to stay alert. I stared for too long (stunned that it was her), and she stopped, took her ski hat off, and pleaded with me to stop. I thought she was going to stab me, so I kept walking. She begged still, and I did stop to listen. She had been praying to God that she would see me so that she could apologize. She told me about her situation (girlfriend was on the lease, took all of her money from her bank account, can't afford shelters, so can't shower, so can't go to work in Queens, etc.). A few times she may have teared up, but it could have been the cold as she was telling me of her 6 days experience on the street. I told her that despite her losing all of her money, the phone was the way I make my living. She apologized for causing me that stress.
After I accepted her apology, she asked if I would go back to the Starbucks the next day, or whenever, and tell them that she apologized. They know her. I said sure. The words of the girl at Starbucks stayed in my mind, that this woman would attach herself if given anything. So I did not give her anything. I didn't have any change or bills in my pockets, and I don't open my purse in that situation. I felt badly, but she just stole my phone, right? I mean, what would Jesus do? He would probably give money, but I couldn't. I could have bought her some chips at the burrito place, but I feared the attachment.
So I went home and took a hot shower. And I realized that I was taking a shower to warm up, and she couldn't even take one to get clean to go to work. So. I don't know why this happened, but I'm going to remember the things that I do have access to, and be grateful. And I'm going to go to In Good Company when my internet goes out.