As soon as I got out onto Broadway, I could see it had been a bank robbery. Helicopters had been buzzing over the neighborhood for a good hour and half, back and forth, low and loud, so I knew it was something of the sort.
In front of the Santander branch, there were two news vans on the scene, a photographer with pro equipment slung around his neck and a dangling press card, everybody standing around doing not much. It had just turned 5; the TV guys were sitting in their vans, out of the sun, waiting until it was time to set up for a live shot on the evening news. I looked in through the windows of the bank. Empty, but for a few employees. No cops anywhere. A sign on the door read “Closed due to an emergency.”
I walked over to the photographer.
“Bank got robbed?”
“Yeah. Guy in a wheelchair.”
“A wheelchair, yeah?”
“Yeah, in a wheelchair, scooted right off. No way he’s really in a wheelchair. Must’ve dumped it somewhere.”
“Cops didn’t find it though?”
“So that’s a good story.”
“Yeah, or else it’s just a bank gets robbed and who cares.”
“Not like he’s going to come back though.”
“Nah. I’m beat. Got sent out five times today. Started at 8:30. First, a church was on fire.”
“Nah, white church, Ozone Park. Then they think the Amtrak guy’s coming home in Forest Hills. So I go out there. Then there’s some kid trapped in a sewer. Time I get there, he’s already out. And now this. What’s that, five? Maybe four. Where the hell is he?”
We’re holding a parking space across from the bank for his replacement, the nightshift guy, who’s swinging around the block to get on our side of the two way street.
“Do you just get paid if you sell something? Or are you staff?”
“Freelance. I get paid for the shift. But still. You want to see some recognition for the work.”
“Like this one,” he takes out his phone and shows me a picture of a kitten in the arms of a cop, who’d just rescued it from the engine block of a squad car. “It’s a great picture.”
I agreed. It was a great picture. Nothing beats a rescued kitten. I’d seen it in the paper last week.
“Yeah, great picture. And they only ran it in the metro.”
Eventually, the nightshift guy pulls his car in. I lazily take a few pictures of the action, if you can call it that. People looking in at the bank across the street, the photographers talking shop.
The day shift guy asks me about my camera, “What is it a Rebel?”
“Yeah, a Rebel T3i”
I look at his, a bigger pro model, with a more serious zoom and a flash, also a Canon. He tells me he likes the lens he’s got, an 18-135 zoom. Not too expensive.
“So I guess you have to buy all your own equipment?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s all mine, all insured.”
“We pay for the cameras, the car, the gas,” the nightshift guy says. “Every little thing, we pay for. If they think of some other thing, we pay for that too.”
“Well, good luck guys. I’m off and on my way.”
“You’re taking off?” the nightshift guy says.
“Yeah. I’m not—I’m not working.” I thought my small camera, not at all tricked out, made that obvious, but you can gain a lot of credibility just standing around and looking like you’ve got nowhere to go to, which is one skill I’ve got.
“He’s just from down the block.”
“Just out for a walk, taking pictures. But if I get some shots of the guy, or his wheelchair, I’ll give you a commission.”
On my way back home, I stopped in front of the bank again, a quick look-see. Two young women, beat reporters, were comparing notes.
While I was taking a few more lazy pictures, they approached me.
“Hi, did you hear what happened here?”
“We’re with the Post and the News. Could you tell us how you feel about it?”
They looked up at me, pens on paper, waiting for a quote.
Later, I tried to imagine what I might’ve said to them if I were the type who talked to reporters. How did I feel about it? “I think it’s just great,” said Astoria resident Erich Strom. “Between the wheelchair robber here and the prison break upstate, it’s been a good month for brazen criminals with a flair for the dramatic.”
Instead, I told them I wasn’t the guy they wanted to talk to. They could see that I wasn’t and fell away from me, scanning the sidewalk for a more gregarious area resident.
Meanwhile, Channel 7 was setting up to go live, and overhead, a police helicopter continued to fly low, hours after the robbery, looking for a man in a wheelchair.
- Fear of Frying
- A burnt-out cab