The train comes rumbling to an abrupt stop. My head jerks slightly forward. I open my eyes, realizing I have managed to nod off again on my morning commute to the city.
Looking at me you couldn't tell. Talking to me it wouldn't have dawned on you. But try and spend more than a few hours of quality time with me and I will rock your world. (Sometimes literally.)
The local newspapers have called me a Modern Day Robin Hood. But I'm much more humble than that and, honestly, I try to avoid whatever press I may come across. In reality, they have the slightest idea who I am.
They have tried to narrow it down ethnically, geographically, and even by social class; but they have bombed on every educated guess.
See, the magic I create satisfies a need for an "everyday hero" in some of the city's most depressed areas.
The dollars that I press into their hands keeps them warm, keeps their lights on, their bellies full and a roof over their heads.
The heavy metal doors slam open and I get up from my seat, checking to see if I left anything behind. I narrow in on my surroundings taking note of all the different people. I make sure I do not make eye contact with anyone. I keep my head low and move swiftly through the crowds. The escalator delivers me upward from an underground commuter train station to a very busy downtown city block. And my work day begins.
I take a few moments to study the people walking past me. There's a certain type I'm looking for. You can smell the wealth on some of them oozing from their pores. They pass by me in their flashy Armani Suits, Jimmy Choo shoes and carrying Gucci bags and briefcases.
I grab a cup of coffee and quickly make my way to the bus station across the street. A lady has set her bags down while she purchases a newspaper from a daily box. She neglects to tuck her pocketbook back into her bag after rustling out the four quarters in which the box required. I time it right and within mere seconds her pocketbook is in my hands and in my jacket.
I'm that fast. Swift. Precise. There's no time for second guessing myself. My blood is rushing. The world around me spins. I wipe the light sweat that's beaded at my brow. I glide into the bus station's men's room and into a bathroom stall. I take a minute to listen. No one has followed me. I'm clear.
I am fully aware of the consequences. The penalties and time I will have to serve if I am ever caught. But with a free mind, I can say the end result is so worth all of the risks I take everyday.
I clean out the pocketbook and wipe it down for my fingerprints. I leave it behind in the stall - minus the cash. I marvel myself at the take $721.00. Sweet.
As I'm leaving the bus station, I can hear the the woman yelling at her husband. "But George it was just right here! George, it was right here!" I can't help but to think, poor George, as I blend into the crowd and out the door.
I continue up a few blocks further North and enter a busy shoe store. There is a man bent at the waist tying his son's shoes. There's no time to ponder and I take action immediately. With grace, I slip behind him and retrieve his wallet and slide out the door. I walk up another block and into a fast food, chain restaurant.
A tall teenage boy sporting bad acne sluggishly takes my order. Retention is not his strongest trait so I had to repeat myself twice. I ordered a burger and a shake. Opening the wallet I just pick pocketed to pay, I smile as I count out the cash; $400.00. I hand the counter dude a twenty. He holds it up to the light to see if it's real. I laugh out loud and he frowns at me; muttering something about fake bills going around. I tell him to keep the change and watch his eyes light up.
I'm sitting down at a table, eating my burger when the father and son from the shoe store happen to come in. What are the odds? The man is talking on his cell phone, dragging his son by the hand. The boy stares at me diligently; almost with an expression of recognition. I smile at him and give him a little wave. He looks up at his dad and he's pointing at me. I can hear his father grumble into his phone about being grateful he had an emergency credit card in the car's glovebox. I give the kid another short wave as I make my quick exit. The man never did see me coming or going, but his kid certainly did.
I go with my basic instinct and double back to the train station. I take the next train a few stops further up.
Glancing at my watch; It's 2 p.m. This is the average time Corporate America lunches.
I head towards the county courthouse that is around the corner. Sitting on a park bench directly across from the main doors I can see the steady flow of people coming and going.
I set my sights on a very rotund, young attorney exiting the building and crossing into the park. In one hand, he is carrying his briefcase, and in the other hand is a greasy brown bag. Lunch, I would imagine.
He sits down at the first picnic table which happens to be about 100 yards from me. I watch him as he tears into the bag, rips the wrapper from the sandwich and devours it like a lion would devour it's prey.
Without hesitation, I make my way across the park and ask him for directions back to the train station.
The slob had dripped mustard and ketchup on his sports jacket lapel. I point it out and try to help him spot clean some of it. Taking a handkerchief from his inner pocket; he revealed where he stashed his billfold. We danced for a minute or two and together we tried to clean his lapel. Skillfully, I was able to finesse the billfold from his inner pocket. Trust me, it was painless. He never felt a thing.
I thanked him and went the opposite way of the directions in which he gave me. As I was walking away, I heard him shout out. "Hey you! Wrong way mister. Hey buddy, you're going the wrong way."
I keep walking. I circle the park a few times and take $319 out of the big guy's billfold. Before tossing it into the trash I wipe it clean for prints.
A couple hours later, I stood in line at the bus stop with the county clerks. The bus was filled with commuters all going home. I managed to find a seat near the front. And within minutes I was nose to nose with a red Chanel bag. I took my time and eased the zipper partially open. I pulled out the bills that were resting lightly on top. I hear the driver call out the next stop and excused myself to the door.
I got off that bus with $485, that in doubt, would have been going to some upscale, local department store.
Whistling, I walked back to the train station and board on the next train going Eastbound. I was headed to the harder side of town. About an hour or so later, I entered one of the city's Section 8 housing projects.
The first thing that hits you is the smell. Rubbish decaying in the stairwells. Both human and animal feces clumped in piles every where. And a pungent scent of urine so strong that it burns the hair in your nostrils. You would think that with all the stray cats roaming about, there would be no mice or rats, but indeed there are.
The second thing that hits you is the noise. Rap and hip hop music blares from every angle and you hear the non stop crying of babies and children. Every so often, you can hear gun shots and sirens. And it's hard to get the screeching of the women screaming at each other from ringing in your ears. To many that live here; this is normal. To many; this is home.
I take the stairs to an upper floor. Keeping my eyes on the ground. Keeping my ears in tune. Passing by gang bangers that want to sell me crack rocks and asking me what I'm doing here; the whole time calling me "cracker". I don't stop, I keep walking.
In the distance, down the hall, I hear a child crying and follow it. I come to a unit with it's doors wide open and I take a peek inside. A child is sitting and crying in his playpen. His face is crusty from snot and his eyes sunken in; showing signs of malnutrition.
Across the room spralled out on a dilapited couch is probably his mother. She's passed out cold. On the floor directly below her sits a bottle of vodka. I stash the bottle in my backpack, take a couple of bills from my pocket and shake her gently. I quickly press $200 into her hand. I'm already down at the end of the hall when I hear her call out to me to stop. I don't stop, I keep walking.
I round the corner, and on the stairs I can hear a couple of gang bangers badgering a few school kids. The little boy is crying that he has no money for the toll the banger is demanding to let him go up the stairs. His sister next to him is pleading she just wants to go home. I reach in between all of them and hand out $100 bills. You would have thought it was Christmas.
I take the stairs down to the lower level. There is a first aid, walk in clinic a retired nurse funds. She's never has yet to close and stays available 24 hours a day. She lives out of a closet sized bedroom in the back.
When I get closer to the unit I can hear her down the hallway talking on her cell phone. She's complaining about her section 8 check not being enough to cover her much needed supply list. She tells whomever is listening that, sadly, she may have to shut down for a bit. I palm her the $500 I have bundled up in my hand. And I keep going.
Looking at what I slipped her, she drops the phone. Rushing after me, she's hollering for my name while trying to tap me on my shoulder. She wants me to turn around, she wants to see my face. She calls me Robin Hood, she calls me Cracker Hood. Demanding to know where I'm from. She follows me all the way to the door leading to the stairwell. I could of sworn I heard her say that she has heard of me. While she offers shouts of gratitude I slip into the dark, vastness of the stairwell.
I exit through an Emergency door. Ironically no sirens go off and within seconds I'm back on the steet. I keep walking without looking back. I stagger block to block giving to the poor what I have taken from the rich.
My days repeat themselves. I feel no guilt, no remorse. And I will continue to be their "everyday hero" until fate catches up with me.
Solemnly, I board the train to go home. I settle into a window seat and close my eyes. I wonder how proud Robin Hood might be of me right now if only he could see my work. And I try to recall the faces of some of the less fortunate I have encountered and imagine how
many lives I may have changed - even if it was just for a moment.