We deliver to the Playa

How I got mugged using Craig's List

July 26, 2014

I run a bike camp at Burning Man, called Playa Bike Repair (www.PlayaBikeRepair.com).
We need to buy a welder. So ...

11 AM, I posted an ad on Craig's list. "Wanted: MIG Welder, 220 Volt."
4 PM: Text received. "I have a Millermatic 211. My late husband left it to me, and I'm not a welder. I’d like it to go to someone who can use it. Call you at 6."
6 PM: The seller, a very nice woman, called and agreed to meet at a shopping mall in Pittsburg, CA at 8:30 pm.
8:30 PM: I let the seller know I was parked in front of Chase bank. She said she was on the way. I waited. A woman and her son got out of a car, and walked to the ATM. The boy, 7, followed, waving a toy gun. "That's kinda odd," I thought, but not the seller. A bit later, a white SUV parked nearby, and I thought it might be the seller, but no one from that car engaged me either. I sent a few more texts to the seller. No answer.
9:15 PM: I finally received a text. "Very sorry; phone died; car won't start, and I'm not comfortable inviting someone I met c/o Craig's to my home."
9:20 PM: I called, explained I'd driven an hour to get to Pittsburg I needed the welder by morning. She could take a taxi to the mall, and I’d pay for it. Or invite a friend over. Heck, invite the police over. She said she'd think about it and let me know.
9:30 PM: Text received: "788 Wedgwood, Pittsburg. Text when you are close and I'll meet you outside."
10:00 PM: I arrived at the destination; a nice, suburban neighborhood. Nothing unusual, and yet, my intuition told me something was weird. A young woman was walking a dog. I thought about asking her if she knew the people at 788 Wedgwood, prior to going inside, then decided to instead send a text to a friend, and let him/her know I was not entirely comfortable with my situation.

I was thinking about whom I might text, when I was interrupted by a knock on the passenger window. It was the dog walker. Her blond hair was pulled behind her head, in a ponytail. 25. Very Cute. She invited me to step outside, so I did. Once I was on her side of the car, I noticed a leash in her hand, which lead to a pit bull. Not so cute.

Woman: "Loren?"
Me: "Yes."
Woman: "Sorry, I wanted to check you out before taking you to my house. I mean, it's Craig's list and all. My kids are there. My house is actually two blocks away, up the street." She was extremely nice, and very pleasant. But her pit bull growled at me, and I stepped away.
Loren: "Sorry. "I'm afraid of dogs. That breed in particular."
Woman: "Oh, he's harmless. He's a shelter dog. I mean, someone left him at my house. Anyway, my house is ahead. Park behind my car, at the stop sign." I got back in my car, and drove toward the stop sign. The seller followed on foot, walking with her pit bull.

At that moment, I had a flashback, to when I was 17, and walking in Amsterdam. In that instance, I walked off my map, and asked a woman for directions. The woman replied, "It's not safe here. Walk with me." Eventually she led me into a dead end alley, pushed me into a doorway, and held a 6" knife to my throat. I'd been lead into a trap. A man demanded my wallet. I handed it over, and they fled (with an empty wallet cause I'm good like that...)

Back in Pittsburg ...

When I reached the seller's car, rather than park behind it, I slowed and looked in my rear view mirror. I'd been in the 'hood nearly 30 minutes and hadn't seen a single car. But at that moment, two cars rounded the corner, at the same time, and were approaching me from the rear. Odd, I thought. I rolled thru the stop, as if I'd seen neither her car nor the stop, and turned left. A third car was approaching from the front. It was a trap. I was going to get mugged. Or worse. Maybe a lot worse.

I shifted my VW into gear. I dogged the oncoming car, then made a bunch of quick turns, hoping to lose the the front car before it could make a u-turn, and the rear cars before they rounded the corner. It didn't work. When I looked in my rear mirror, and all three cars were chasing me at 85+ mph. I continued to make random turns, praying none of them lead to a dead end. (There were many).

When we hit the main drag, we were doing 100+ mph. I passed through at least 20 intersections, and no one slowed, even at the red lights. If anything we went a little faster thru each one, with me hoping to attract the attention of the police, and the thieves hoping for something else. In my left mirror, I could see the white SUV, presumably the same one that I'd seen at the bank (where I got the cash, and they confirmed I was alone.)

At the next straight away, I called 911 and my phone went into a weird mode. The screen turned an ugly gray. Like the "sad mac" error of yesterday. Unbelievable. Maybe I already died? I had a dream once that there were lots of phones in heaven but none of them worked. I restarted, and re-dialed.

"Three cars are chasing me at top speed."
"Are they still chasing you?"
"Yes!"
"Don't stop."
"Well, um, okay."
"Where are you?"
I read the dispatcher the names of intersections as they flew past, then said, "I have an iPhone. Would you like me to give you my log in?"
"We don't have that technology." I was puzzled. I'd tracked stolen phones. How could 911 not see mine?

Then, as rapidly as the cars appeared, they vanished. 911 was still on the phone. The operator suggested I drive to the police station, so I did. Twenty minutes later, an officer questioned me.

Cop: ""You were set up."
Loren: "She seemed really nice. Perhaps I was being paranoid?"
Cop: "No, they planned to rob you."
Loren: "How can you be sure?
Cop: "We get reports exactly like yours all the time. Especially Craig's list. You did the right thing."
Loren: "Really? I always use Craig's list. No problem."
Cop: "Well, you're lucky. This time, you could have been shot."
Loren: "Do you want the address? Or phone numbers?"
Cop: "All fake. Forget it. Don't use Craig's List."

A bit later, I received a text from the seller. "What.was.that.about?"
I didn't answer.

And I still need a MIG 220V Welder