This article originally appeared in the July 27, 1982 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
It was the perfect urban crime — perfect for the victim, that is. No one was hurt, there was restitution, a high-speed chase, a little comedy, and lots of drama. So why do I feel so lousy?
It was 7:25 p.m. I was riding back to work on the Dudley bus from dinner in Harvard Square, pleased that I got a seat, looking out at the resplendent evening light on the Charles, listening idly to the conversations around me. I thought of how cosmopolitan the Dudley route is, crowded with students and vegetarians, blacks and whites and Hispanics and Orientals, a rare thing even on a public bus in Boston. At Mass. Ave. and Comm. Ave., I stood to wedge my way to the door.
The tugging was unmistakable. How many women lose their wallets from the popular African hemp bags you see everywhere these days? In seconds, I checked and saw the wallet was gone, thought sinkingly of the bureaucratic nightmare awaiting me at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, calculated how much cash I’d lost, and flashed unexpectedly on the MBTA’s “Operation Rainbow” posters I’d stared blankly at on all those empty subway rides. The ones that instruct you how to react in just this situation.
I turned to the crowd of passengers standing behind me in the bus. “Somebody took my wallet,” I said resignedly. “Who’s got my wallet?” I found myself facing a young black girl in a lavender blouse. “Who you lookin’ at?” she demanded. “Just ‘cause I’m two shades darker than you?”
I turned to the front of the bus, angry now, and spoke louder. “There’s a goddamned pickpocket on this bus, driver.” To my astonishment, the driver answered. She was a tough black lady in black leather gloves and a blue short-sleeved operator’s shirt. At Central Square she had hassled a few passengers who didn’t pay the full fare. “I know who they are,” she said. “I’ve got my eye on them. All’s I need to do is get to a police station.” It was enough to frighten off, as they say, the perpetrators. Another passenger told me the wallet had been dropped on the floor behind me. I examined it, amazed. Nothing was missing. Not the $40, not the license (thank God!), not the dry-cleaning stub (“No ticket — No clothes. No exceptions!” the sign at the cleaners had read). No harm done, I thought. I can walk back from the next stop.
But our lady driver had another idea. Already she had swerved the bus onto Boylston Street, barreling down toward Copley Square, the passengers all open-mouthed, either laughing or protesting. “If you’re doing this for me,” I told the driver, “I’ve got my wallet back, and there’s nothing missing.” But the driver was adamant. It was the fourth time pickpockets had been on her bus that day, she said. Two women from Cambridge, suitably trained in assertiveness, were supporting the driver. “She’ll get back on route as soon as we get to the police station,” one assured the confused crowd. Behind me, I heard the girl in the lavender blouse. “How they gonna prove it,” she muttered. “Just ‘cause she looked at me?”