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Tandem Acts of Violence: My Encounter with a Phoenix Purse Snatcher

Illustration by Keen Azariah

Illustration by Keen Azariah

North Phoenix - 2008

My regular morning bicycle commute took me along the Black Canyon Freeway, where I would ride the gravel shoulder south along the exit ramp until I reached Union Hills Drive.

Like every morning, I'd stopped at the corner AM/PM gas station on 27th Avenue to pick up something for lunch later. After nodding hello to the young man and woman sitting at the corner bus stop, I pedaled to a pole in front of the gas station, locked up my bike, and went in.

It was upon leaving that, while fumbling with my bike lock, I heard the unmistakable sound of a girl sobbing. It was the young Mexican girl I’d passed at the bus stop who’d been sitting with a young man. She was now standing and looked to be holding a cell phone to her ear, while waving and trying to get the attention of a man pumping gas. Oddly, the young man she’d been speaking to was nowhere to be found.

I hopped on my bike and sped over to her. To my surprise, she wasn't holding a cellphone after all, but had her hand was simply clasped over her cheek.

"What the matter?" I asked.

"He hit me and took my purse!" she bellowed with tears streaming down her face, pointing eastward toward the Black Canyon Freeway.

I sped across the street and down the incline towards the freeway overpass. When I reached the intersection at the bottom, I noticed in my peripheral, movement up atop the angled concrete barrier adjacent to the southbound on-ramp. It was the young guy from the bus stop--the one I’d seen talking with the girl. He was now sliding down the concrete incline from the motel parking lot that sat above it. Right in my direction. I decided to play dumb, as it appeared that he had quickly discarded the woman’s purse and was now attempting to appear inconspicuous as he approached me.

"Hey, can I get a ride?" he asked.

"A ride? Sure,” I replied, “Hop on."

“Cool,” he said as he moved toward the rear of my bike.

"No,” I said, knowing that I'd rather have a criminal in front of me than behind me, “Jump on the handlebars."

The handlebars on my Schwinn Jaguar were as big as moose antlers. He steadied, then lifted himself onto them--resting his feet on the front wheel sprocket. As I began to pedal, the full realization of just how out of shape I had become over that past five years became frighteningly apparent. But after a few awkward, shaky seconds, I was off on a my first spontaneous and random adventure as a new Phoenician.

As I pedaled east up Union Hills Drive, there he sat on my handlebars, his head on a swivel, presumably looking for any sign of police. After re-emerging on the east side of the Black Canyon Freeway, I asked him where he needed to go.

He asked me if I could drop him at a certain intersection.

Being new to Phoenix, I had absolutely no clue where I was going or how to find the intersection he spoke of.

"I can do that," I assured him.

As we traveled, he seemed to be getting more nervous with every passing block, looking as if he expected the police to pounce at any moment.

"Let’s take the side streets," he interjected, nodding toward his right, “Turn on this one coming up.”

"Nah," I replied, I know a quicker way."

I wasn't about to let a violent criminal direct me into some desolate area. I didn't know if he was concealing a weapon, and I wasn't about to take a slug for a handbag.

A couple blocks later, growing desperate and still on lookout for police, he interjected once again.

“How about this street coming up? he said. “Take a right, I’ll show you which way to go.”

“No, trust me. I replied, “this is the quickest way.”

Then, out of desperation, he suggested we pull into a nearby Circle K store for refreshments, and I agreed. Not only would it give me a few minutes to breathe, but he would also put him on surveillance video upon entering.

"You want anything?" he asked as he hopped off my handlebars.

"Uh, well..." I stammered, acknowledging the sheer absurdity of the situation, "I’ll have a Coke." He nodded and went inside.

At the time, I didn't own a cellphone, so calling the police wasn’t an option. So as soon as the store's front door swung shut behind him, I looked around for help. Then, to my right, I noticed a man in his fifties talking on a phone inside his van. I knocked on the driver's side window, and he rolled down the glass.

"Sorry to bother you," I said, "but I have no cell phone and need to call the police."

He nodded yes, and as a voice buzzed through the speaker of his phone, I continued.

"The man I'm with just assaulted a girl at AM/PM and took her purse," I explained, "I need you to call the police and tell them that the suspect will be riding the handlebars of a purple and silver bicycle going east on Union Hills, but I don't know long I can keep him with me."

A few seconds later, my companion exited the Circle K holding two sodas--one of which was my Coke.

“Thanks,” I said, opening the bottle and raising it up slightly,“Cheers.” Then we both tilted our bottles and killed most of the contents with one long swig, like some campy soda commercial from the 70s. And just like that, we were once again.

He tried one last time to sell me on a less populated shortcut, to which I again kindly refused, making him noticeably agitated for the first time. I had no plan B; My .357 Magnum would do me no good, as it was sitting in a drawer at home. However, I did have a sheathed knife on my hip, and seeing as time was not on my side, I pondered the idea of suddenly grabbing him around the neck and wrestling him to the sidewalk.

Ok, but then what? How long would I have to hold him down until the police arrived?...if they even did. What would passing motorists think? I struggled to glance into my bike’s mirror in hopes of seeing any sign of flashing lights, but the handlebars were too shifty under the extra weight.

As we approached a bus stop next to a gated community, my brainstorm was interrupted when he again interjected.

"You can drop me at this bus stop right here."

"You sure? I replied, "I don't mind taking you the whole way."

“Nah, this is good,” he said as he pushed himself off of the handlebars and onto the sidewalk.

I stopped and watched as he began walking toward the bus stop. Then, after looking back in my direction, his eyes widened and he lunged at the six foot wall of the gated community and started climbing it. His sudden change in behavior confused me until three seconds later, when two black and white police cars sped past me towards him and skidded to a stop against the curb. A uniformed officer sprang from the driver’s seat, then quickly jumped the fence in hot pursuit. An officer from the second car stayed with me to take a report.

The length of our spontaneous little excursion allowed me to remember thing about the punk little coward too: his height, his weight, his shoe brand, the color of his socks, the pitch of his voice, the matching tattoos on the back of his earlobes, his cylindrical chrome earrings, the scar on his cheek, and the intersection he claimed as his destination. I relayed it all to the officer as he scratched away at his notepad like a waiter working a table for twenty.

He thanked me and I continued on my way to work.

"Sorry I'm late," I told my boss as I sat my bag on the counter, "I picked up a hitchhiker."

I never found out if they caught the guy or not. But if someday, by bizarre random chance, the victim stumbles upon this post and reads it--I owe you a Coke.

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