The Bank Robbery
I remember this day so vividly, even though it was 18 years ago. Picture it with me... it's December 2005 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. There are heaps of snow, it's freeze-your-eyeballs-solid cold, and the hectic holiday season is in full swing.
I was 21 years old and the head teller of a bank in a famously troubled area of the city. There was never a dull moment there. It often felt as though we were in some kind of a dark comedy. This place was wild. I had been working there for three years and had experienced a bank robbery, two customers were murdered, I had a stalker and countless other shenanigans. But, those are stories for another time.
It was Friday morning, and I was late for work due to a doctor's appointment. Arrangements had been made for someone else to cover my duties until I arrived. Normally, I would have been at work around 8:30 am, however this time I didn't get in until around 10:40 am. Friday's were always insane at this branch. We had lineups that went out the door, even in the dead of winter. We were often so busy I'd miss my breaks without even noticing. Those days flew by. When I got in this particular Friday, the branch was unusually quiet. It took me by surprise, but I was also relieved because then I could get myself set up without the glares and grumbles of clients waiting for their turn to be served. We were fully staffed (also a rarity), so the few folks in line would be helped in no time.
I stood at my wicket, clearing out the deposit of the previous customer. My supervisor had been helping clients until I got in (using my wicket), and she had just taken a rather large cash deposit. She saw me coming and handed it all over, so I immediately started to sort the cash to lock the majority of it up in the bandit box (what we affectionately called the time lock safe we each had). We had very strict cash limits to help discourage robberies.
As I was sorting the money, a man walked into the bank wearing a bucket hat, sunglasses and a seafoam green tracksuit. I immediately had a sinking feeling. We're going to get robbed, I thought to myself the instant I saw him. He initially stood in the line, but he turned toward me and started to walk in my direction. I had my "the next teller will be happy to serve you" sign up, but he was unfazed by it. Uh oh, I thought. I started to scramble to move the cash to the bandit box. I could sort it later, it just needs to be locked up. I'm cramming it through the little slot as this guy approaches my counter and just stood there.
I'm struck by how odd this man looked. He was very slender and had an unusually long neck and a small head. He looked like a sickly goomba from the Super Mario Brothers movie (1990s) attempting to disguise himself as Hunter S. Thompson. I had never and have never since seen anyone like him. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a full piece of white paper (8.5" x 11") and handed it to me. For a moment my fear that I was about to be robbed subsided. He's got too much of a distinct look and a full piece of paper, there's no way he's going to rob me, I told myself.
I took the paper and it said the following:
I have a gun.
Give me all of your 5's, 10's, 20's, 50's and 100's.
No baits. I have a gun."
He had scribbled this in large print on the full piece of paper. I stood for what felt like an eternity scrutinizing the note. This has to be a joke. "Give me all of your 5's, 10's, 20's, 50's and 100's". I read that over and over. I looked up at him waiting for his stone face to crack and reveal this was some kind of idiotic prank. I looked at the note then I looked at the robber, and when it became clear this was not a joke, I remember rolling my eyes. I was scared, but also furious now.
I read the note again, becoming increasingly incredulous at the stupidity of this. "Give me all your 5's, 10's, 20's, 50's and 100's" No shit! I screamed in my head. What, you don't want the 150lbs of coins that I have? "No baits" Oh buddy, you are definitely getting the bait.
Fun fact: the dye packs heat up to high temperatures which trigger the smoking mechanism. It also smells a lot like sulphur. Some dye packs have been known to get so hot they'll melt through things like car floors.
I kept hoping he was going to stuff the wads of money down his pants. While I successfully managed to get much of the excess cash locked up, there was still a lot that I couldn't get tucked away in time. The good part of that was it made it easy to hide the bait, which was why I hoped he would stuff his pants with the loot. I'm sure my face gave away that I had given it to him because I couldn't fucking wait for that damn thing to explode in his possession. I didn't care. This was now an act of "play stupid games win stupid prizes." Or as it is currently known: "fuck around and find out."
He snatched the note back from me, took the cash and left the branch. He wasn't far into the parking lot when the dye pack went off. A plume of red smoke billowed and enveloped him as he began to run from the scene of the crime. He was dying the snow red outside leaving a trail directly to where he was going. Genius.
I stood at my wicket, staring at my empty drawer. Well, almost empty drawer, he wasn't interested in the coins. (haha) I was stunned. This actually happened. It wasn't a joke. I just got robbed. But I just got to work! What the fuck!? As I stood there, paralyzed by disbelief, one of my tellers came over needing money for her customer. She took one look at my empty drawer, looked at me and said "Oh my god, you gave that customer your bait! You're going to be in so much trouble!" My eyes flashed up at her, my mouth agape from how silly she sounded to me and I loudly said "I was just robbed." I marched over to my supervisor and the manager of customer service, threw my arms in the air as if in defeat and said with a big sigh "I was robbed." They laughed because they thought I was kidding from my delivery. But when I didn't move or blink they walked quickly to my wicket to find it barren.
I was shaking from the rush of adrenaline. I was definitely scared, but that had transmuted to anger so quickly that I wasn't registering the underlying fear. I was ready to fight. If he had said he wanted to fight me, I would have happily obliged. What I learned from this is that it doesn't matter how much you try to prepare for something, you never truly know how you'll react until you're in the situation. I always knew I'd comply and stay calm, and I did. But what I did not expect was the level of rage that came up and how ready I was to throw hands if necessary. I was looking around me for things to use- I could stab him with my pen or letter opener. I could smack him in the forehead with my stapler. I had a footrest under my counter that was a metal bar, I could take him out at the knees or across the back with that. Seriously, the things that raced through my mind were insane.
When I recounted this to my dad he looked me dead in the eyes, his eyebrows furrowed and he said dryly "you were going to take a stapler to a gunfight?" He shook his head then said "that's my girl," thick with sarcasm and an eye roll. Nothing beats the feeling of making your dad proud, eh? (hahaha)
Time had slowed to a crawl during all of this. It happened at 10:57 am and he was gone before 11:00 am. It felt like he was there for at least 20 minutes. I read and re-read that note over and over. I scanned my environment for things I could use to fight him. I vividly remember that. I carefully handed him the cash, I didn't rush anything, because I didn't want to draw any attention to us. He said he had a gun, though I seriously doubted that, I wasn't about to test it either. This guy was a dumbass, but I didn't know if he was crazy or desperate.
The branch went into lockdown, and the police were called. I was on the phone with the police dispatch, doing fine until a coworker walked over to me, put their hand on my shoulder and asked me if I was ok. I hadn't been asked that yet, and I began to weep. This caught the dispatcher (and myself) off guard. She asked what was happening and if I was ok. Explaining to her what happened at that moment was embarrassing, so she quickly moved on from it. The cops arrived soon after that. It's a damn good thing there weren't many customers, because it took hours to process the scene. Everyone was interviewed. I can't imagine how long it would have taken had there been a branch full of people.
It's worth noting that the night before, as I was balancing the cash, I made a joke to my supervisor, and a couple of mid-office colleagues: "If we get robbed at 11 am we can be in the bar by 2!" A few of us made this joke infrequently, especially just before the days we knew we would be run off of our feet. One of my colleagues mentioned that I said this, to the cops. And since I was robbed at 10:57 am, they had a few extra questions for me. It felt like they were becoming suspicious of me when I described the bank robber to them. I was asked "are you alright?" by one police officer and asked if I had taken any medication by another. I understood, this all sounded a bit far-fetched and a tad too convenient. It was quite the ordeal. My statement was originally taken by one cop, then he brought in another, then two more, then the branch manager. We were all crammed into a small office in the corner of the bank. It was awful. I made a mental note to myself to never make that joke again and I didn't.
This branch was located in a strip mall, and the bozo that robbed me was caught roughly three weeks later. He was spending the money from the robbery at the convenience store at the other end of the mall. The money was dyed red, so the police were called and he was apprehended. The cop responsible for organizing the police lineups was a regular customer and I knew her very well. She came in to do her banking one day and told me they got the guy and she said I described him perfectly. We laughed really hard, and she apologized that it was hard to believe me. I understood because this man was truly bizarre looking.
Looking back at this, if it were to happen to me now, I think my initial reaction would pretty much be the same. But, I think the more mature version of me would look at this guy and ask if he's alright. I'd be concerned that he didn't have friends, because friends wouldn't let friends do something this fucking stupid. I would also have a lot of questions about that note (as I am sure you do too)...
Why did you specify every denomination of cash?
Why such a big piece of paper?
Is this your first robbery?
Surely a simple "give me all of your money" should suffice? Or even simpler still "this is a robbery"
As it would happen, that was not his first robbery. Far from it. He had been involved in dozens of robberies just that month alone! So my next question would be "What has been happening at these other robberies that made this note necessary?" Seriously dude, tell me everything!
I wish I had been able to keep that note because I would have it framed on my wall. You're probably asking yourselves, why? Well, because anytime I feel stupid, I could look at that note, vividly recall that day and immediately remind myself that I might be dumb, but I'm not that dumb.
At 2:30 pm that same day, my coworkers and I found ourselves in the cozy diner in the parking lot, just outside our branch. We shared fries and gravy, then I had a humongous slice of apple pie with ice cream. I'm not a drinker, so clogging my arteries felt like the next best thing to do.
Since this was the branch's second robbery in the span of a few months, a robbery prevention specialist was called in to talk to us. I'll be honest, he looked like he walked right off the set of a bad 1980s cop show and straight into our foyer. I can only assume Tom Selleck was his hero, as he seemed to have fashioned his look off of him. He would randomly shake his wavy mullet loose like he was in a shampoo commercial. He had on a white cowboy hat, cowboy boots and jeans a few sizes too small. He walked as though he had just been kicked in the groin. This entire situation couldn't get any more ridiculous. It felt surreal, honestly. I sat there wondering where this cast of characters had come from. The robber, now this guy. Surely this was some kind of cosmic prank and the powers that be were laughing themselves silly. I was desperately trying not to.
He paced the room as he talked, stopping to emphasize how to scare away a robber. He would hold eye contact a tad too long and it was almost impossible not to chortle through this shitshow. This man took himself very seriously, which did not help.
My favourite part was when he acted out a scenario where a suspicious person enters the bank and stands in line. Let me see if I can do this any justice:
Mr. Tight Jeans stiffened up, stood very still and dead-stared in front of him.
"This is suspicious. He's probably going to rob the joint. But we can stop that. Here's what you do..." he begins
He then proceeds to do the strangest heel-toe strut I have ever seen. His arms slightly bowed from his sides- this was a cartoonish depiction of a "tough guy" and he was into it.
"Hey pal" he nearly shouts "Hey! So uh, what brings you in here, huh?" he continues
I wasn't sure if he was trying to scare off this suspicious character or pick him up.
He goes on to say, "You come around here often? I don't remember seeing you."
Once again, I thought he might be trying to get a date and had forgotten what this gig was. I had no idea what he was thinking. He was oozing arrogance. I was chewing the inside of my mouth to keep myself from laughing.
"Can I help you with something?" he shouted.
I couldn't look at anyone around me, because I knew I was going to start laugh-crying. I slouched in my seat, closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I need to get out of here, I thought to myself. All this accomplished was drawing his attention to me. He got up close and smugly said, "that will scare them away." Listen, man, that would scare anyone away. Would-be bank robber or not.
The entire hour plus he was there were these strange one-man acts of could-be scenarios and what to do. He yelled at us directly a few times but mostly reserved that volume for the more bewildering moments of his performance.
I will say this if you're going to get robbed... 10/10 this is the way to go.