Writer’s Workshop – Being in a Gas Station While It’s Getting Robbed

This post was written on Monday the 15th, the day after my February “break” post.

A lot of things happened today.

By way of update: I was woken up by the guy upstairs playing his music. But when I went on an investigation (fully contemplating gross sabotage of their front door), I discovered that not only was the music actually coming from downstairs, the people blasting it were an old couple. Which I discovered because they cranked it so loud that I heard it through my noise-cancelling headphones (which work, but aren’t literal magic capable of perfectly muting 80 decibels), so I just had to go down there, knock, ask nicely for whoever to turn it down, and pray for the best. Thankfully, they turned down the music enough where I barely hear it without the headphones, and don’t hear it at all with the headphones.

With that out of the way, I was also in a gas station earlier, when it was getting robbed.

And, this totally was not what I intended to write about.

But how the fuck could I not?

Because, on one hand, I’m still processing. And, on the other hand, in the most mercenary-writer way, it’s at least a useful experience.

I will say immediately that I’m pretty sure the other people involved were fine. I was literally the only person not behind a counter, and the people the robber was threatening were behind a protective barrier, but they still immediately gave him money (meaning the chances of him shooting them were extremely low–if you don’t know, people committing robberies in real life usually don’t want to shoot anyone and make their rap sheet worse). Anyway, this was also not a small mom and pop gas station, so the only loser today was the gas station chain (and, whatever–get fucked American corporation).

That said . . .

The confusion hit first. Something like the Uncanny Valley. I was hearing an amalgam of a million movie quotes, but spoken aloud–sincerely.

My brain took a moment to catch up, so it’s impossible to remember what he said, but it was something like, “Alright! I am not fucking around! Let’s go!The words of a caricature, stepping out of the fourth wall to remind me that, yes, these things happen.

I looked and saw a man poised against the gas station’s counter, his hands on it, arranged to conceal what could only be a gun (there was no way clerks behind a wall wound freak out for a knife). And as I turned back, I realized a few of things:

  1. I didn’t wear my glasses today. Half-awake and in the heat of preparing to confront a noisy neighbor, I stumbled out of my apartment without putting them on. Because of course I did.
  2. A lifetime of action movies trained me to expect Arnold Schwarzenegger, Spider-Man, or whoever to show up and stop this. As a writer hearing dialogue and auto-assigning the next step in the action, I know I thought of this for a moment, but only in relation to whatever process reigned it in–the part of my brain that sounded the This Is Not A Fucking Movie alarm.
  3. I was the only person standing on the store floor. There were people behind the gas station’s counter–women who were screaming and a guy who kept shouting something–and one guy behind its mini Dunkin Donuts counter (who disappeared into the back immediately to–I assume–call the police) but I was the only person on the floor itself.
  4. And I was standing at the ATM, which still had my card, and was slowly dispensing my rent.

All it would take was for this man to look to his left, see me at the ATM, and he could’ve walked up and demanded what I was taking out. Because I, a person who has experienced guns before, knew that they are the ultimate means of control. If someone points a gun at you and tells you to do something, you do it–unless you have real life training that gives you other options (which almost no one does).

In that scenario, I would either give him the money, or he’d shoot me for it.

But . . . he was too busy shouting for the clerks to “Get the other one! The other one!” which I guess meant “the other register.”

I stood there, frozen, staring at the ATM screen as it processed the withdrawal, contemplating if I should just leave, aware that the clerks would be fine because this was a chain (they had nothing to lose, were already giving the robber the money, and thus, he was extremely unlikely to shoot them). Honestly never for a single second did I think I should help (all of the boyhood fantasies I’ve had about confronting a robber and / or talking them down were lost immediately in the sea of adulthood–the cold, hard realization that “there is no wall protecting me, so on the off-chance that he really is trigger happy, he can just fucking shoot me whenever”).

A thousand breathless thoughts before the ATM flicked to “Your transaction is approved!” and the male clerk behind the gas station counter shouted, “That’s it! We’re closed, man!” And then, in an oddly casual way, like either he was tired of shouting or he and the other clerks had retreated far enough–into a room behind the counter–that they knew they were fine, “We’re closed, man. Nah, we’re closed.” I still don’t know what that means.

But the ATM whirred and finally finished dispensing.

And then, I did not even look back, certain that if I did, I’d be spotted.

I just took the money–folding it into my wallet in one quick motion which, in retrospect, was probably the dumbest thing I could’ve done (guaranteeing that if he saw me, “Give me the money!” would’ve turned into “Give me the wallet!”).

But, if he did see, he deemed the risk of trying to rob a dude who was already walking out of the store–a man who maybe didn’t see him?–not worth it.

The only reason I didn’t run is because, when I came out, there was another guy standing near the door who had to be a look out, and I didn’t want to draw attention. For the same reason (I honestly did not remember the Dunkin worker at the time), I didn’t call the cops, assuming that keeping an eye out for snitches was part of guy #2’s job. I just crossed the street immediately, looked back (which was another stupid mistake because, without my glasses, the station and guy #2 were just a massive blur from that distance [so all looking back did was almost get me caught]) and then kept walking.

I’ve been checking the news since to see if I could find details about the robbery. I even made the mistake of downloading Citizen App again–which, if you’re unfamiliar, is an app that shows incidents, like stabbings and fires, in a region (which means it’s massively depressing for New York)–but I’ve found nothing. [Edit: Even checking back now, on Sunday afternoon, I found nothing about my robbery.]

Which cranks the hopelessness meter to ‘Ultra Max,’ even though I didn’t lose anything, and–to my knowledge–no one else did either.

In part, it’s because I could not give a single detail about this robber–the ATM was far enough away from the counter that I, a blind man without his glasses, couldn’t have made out the dude’s face even if he looked back at me and I stared, neither of which happened. The glance I took was on the dude’s hands and posture, so I’m not even secure in the observation that he had a dark jacket on.

So, basically, I would be less-than-no-help in this situation, which makes me feel so oddly stupid.

And that’s probably the major takeaway here, writing-wise; I’ve been robbed at gunpoint before–when I was much, much younger–and that came with its own, way more acute sense of hopelessness, but even just being a bystander, realizing that there was genuinely nothing helpful that I could do in the moment (that legitimately I would only make the situation worse) fucking sucks. But that feeling goes beyond the moment; having been involved in police investigations before–working security and the aforementioned time I was mugged–I can’t help imagining the look on an officer’s face when I tell him, “No, I didn’t have my glasses, but maybe he had a dark jacket on?” I can almost hear him sighing, “Waste of my fucking time.” Like, thanks. I fucking hate it. I hate that sleepily deciding not to go back for my glasses impacted the day that strongly. And I hate that, even if I had gone back for them, I would only be able to provide a detail or two to the NYPD, an institution that, after 2020, demonstrably doesn’t give a fuck about me or any of the minorities working that gas station–an institution that would only be motivated to catch that robber if it turned out he wasn’t white.

Okay. I’m just moving on from that. I’m frustrated, guys. My bad. Focusing now–we’re focusing.

Another writing takeaway: in the moment, information is crystal clear but processing at such a hectic rate that you easily forget things. Like, all data is streamlined for your survival (i.e. “I’m at the ATM,” “he has a gun,” “no one else is on this side of the counters with him but me,” etc.), but that means some data is shoved right the fuck out of your brain to make space; I saw that dude working the Dunkin Donuts counter, looked at his face and acknowledged he was not the dude who was normally there, and then noted that he disappeared during the incident, but by the time I was outside (10 seconds later) I completely forgot he’d been there at all when I was considering calling the cops. That weird survival instinct to, I guess, override non-threatening information is totally new to me. Like, if it wasn’t pertinent to me getting the fuck out of that gas station, it did not exist.

And, last thing, having that event just absorbed by the general horror of life–finding that it was not bad enough to make headlines–is also kind of terrible.

Because worse things happened in the Bronx [that day].

At least it’s a soft confirmation that no one in that gas station got shot.

The little things, I guess.

~~~

Phew.

I genuinely don’t get how my life has become this batshit. Like, everything is a bad mess lately. I don’t want to go into detail, but yeah, the rest of the week was bad too.

But I’m just tired of focusing on all of that. I really want to get back to posting happy, fun stuff. I also want to redesign the website (I made a new logo for it and everything, and I’m excited to settle into a new, more fun vibe).

So, today, I’m gonna go order a veggie burger with coffee and get to work making things better for myself–in whatever ways I can.

Thanks for listening, and hopefully my account of this experience can be useful to your writing.

If you’re new here, thanks for passing by. I post every Sunday, so if you’re keen to hear more–about my life or my writing progress–feel free to stop by next Sunday.

Until then, take care, breathe deep, and maybe just lie down for a minute. Like, just breathe slowly and let a nap happen if you can. Cause we all deserve it.

Published by

Louis Santiago

I'm a fantasy writer based in New York. One of my short stories, "Aixa the Hexcaster," was published at Mirror Dance Fantasy. You can read it here: http://www.mirrordancefantasy.com/2016/09/aixa-hexcaster.html.

6 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop – Being in a Gas Station While It’s Getting Robbed”

    1. Yeah, a weird writer’s brain at its most mercenary. Like, if I did get shot one day, I’d probably be on here first like, “Guys, omfg, here’s how this feels incase you need to write about it!”

      1. haha yes!! It’s like when the kid gets stuck in the kitvchen cupboard and is screaming for his mom. “Hang on kiddo, Mom’s gotta find the camera then we’ll get you out of there!” I mean…so I’ve heard this story from a friend of a friend ;)

    1. Thank you. Yeah, I’m incrediby glad that dude either didn’t see me or, if he did, just decided it wasn’t worth it (because, weirdly putting myself in his shoes, if he turned from the counter at all, he’d lose out on the money in the registers, which was guaranteed more than the mystery amount I was taking out). I still think I would’ve been okay, but having someone point a gun at you and command you to do shit that you have to do is way worse of an experience. I really did get away as free and clear as I possibly could’ve, and that’s something to be grateful for.

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