Monday, February 1, 2010


Shift #21

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21 -- McAllister/Larkin to Sacramento/Hyde -- $5.35

HE’S A NOT-TALL WHITE GUY with short brown hair, wearing glasses, and standing in front of the Asian Art Museum at 7:14 a.m. He’s not physically imposing, but he strikes me as very fit -- not exactly Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, but something along those lines. You would never notice him in a crowd, but right away I sense a strength and confidence about him.

I am surprised to hear him say that he’s spent the whole night out and about: “Dancing without drinking -- I proved that it can be done. Just now I was at the Endup -- that place goes all night long. It’s dawn now, the sun’s coming up, and people are still bouncing away… Hello, people -- time to go home...! Time for me, anyway -- I have to get ready for work, where I will do my best to act like I haven’t been awake all night... I’ve been thinking maybe I should apply for a job as an Endup bouncer -- I spend all day arresting shoplifters, so I feel like I’m pretty experienced at handling big, intimidating, agitated people...

Me: “You’re undercover?”

“Yes. I work for (a large local retail chain)...”

Me: “How does it work?”

“Some stores have cameras and I can just sit there and let the action come to me, but some days -- and I wish today wasn't one of them -- I have to spend all day on my feet pretending to shop...”

Me: “Is there always someone to catch?”

“Not all the time. It used to be that way, but I’ve gotten more cautious. Now I make sure that I have personally witnessed every part of the act. You don’t want to find yourself standing there with a crying, handcuffed mother, with her kids around her, and find out she doesn’t have anything...

“Yes, that actually happened -- not to me, but it happened... One of the security guards told an undercover guy, ‘Stop her -- she’s got pants in her purse...’ So the undercover guy makes the arrest -- he’s got the woman standing there handcuffed, and she’s crying, and she’s surrounded by her kids who are of course also crying, and now the undercover guy can’t find any pants anywhere, and of course the security guy is long gone, nowhere to be found... The undercover guy, he got fired. (The company) paid $70,000 to settle that one. Five years ago I might have made that arrest, but not anymore. If I don’t see it, I don’t do it...”

His thirteen-block ride has flown right on by. A dozen questions are lined up on the tarmac of my mind, but my fare’s got to go get himself ready for a day of busting shoplifters. I’ve been so engrossed in his story that I’ve thought of nothing else, and when he digs for his wallet I don’t even bother scanning my body. “Every day...” I tell him. Etc.

His lips purse with an ironic smile, and a small shudder of acceptance shakes his shoulders and filters down into the rest of his body: Of course -- the perfectly weird ending to a perfectly weird night... He doesn’t protest, doesn’t spend a second evaluating this surprise development. Like many of us, he has spent years pondering the concept of something for nothing -- he’s even made a career out of it.


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