Once upon a time in Linwood

Last updated 14:16 12/07/2012

Last week I mentioned  how easy it can be to forget things but then a few days later I was struck by how surprising the process of remembering can be.

I had just popped into the local petrol station on Saturday morning to get the weekend paper - this being a new habit I have got into since the Mobil Mart reopened post-quakes - and as I was leaving, paper tucked under one arm, I noted a couple of colourful stickers on the automatic doors as they slid open in front of me.

A sticker (or are we calling them "decals" now?) ran along the edge of each door where they came together at roughly eye-level, a strip of rasta-stic block colours - black, yellow, white, red.

Immediately I recognised what they were for. In the event of theft or some other crime, surveillance cameras would be able to pick up which part of the colour strip a perp's head came up to. This allows for a more specific guess to me made at a person's height. Halfway up the red part of the sticker? Must be 5 foot 11ish then.  That's the way it's supposed to work.

And WHOOSH, my cerebral flux capacitor kicked into action and in my mind's eye a dude is pointing a sawn-off shotgun at me.

Did I mention that time I was in an armed hold-up?

It was 1997 and I was working a Friday night at the Warehouse branch in the wealthy and affluent suburb of Linwood. And by "wealthy and affluent", I mean "bwaaa haaa haa!"

Anyway, it was about 15 minutes to closing and I'd just taken a phone inquiry from someone who wanted me to check that we still had their size in a particular item of clothing. I can't remember what it was now, but let's say it was a pair of navy trackpants in size 20, because back then that kind of stuff was The Warehouse's bread and butter. My working day was pretty much a blur of air mattresses, brick games, plastic scuffs, and those ugly, saggy-assed trackpants.  

As a supervisor (respect my authoritah!) I would usually have flicked this inquiry on to whomever was assigned to that part of the shop, but being it was nearly closing time and not especially busy, I decided to do it myself. So off I strode in the direction of the clothing department.

As I got in amongst the racks, hoping not to find somebody's discarded McDonald's milkshake, I heard a commotion at the front of the store. Someone yelling and a child crying. This wasn't unusual behaviour though, and I idly wondered whether we'd have to ask an aggravated parent to lay off a bit. Sometimes you had to deal with some very unpleasant people. In my periphery I was aware that someone walked past, but with so many racks between myself and the main thoroughfare it was only a fleeting impression of movement.

I couldn't find what I was looking for and headed back to the front of the store only to emerge out of an aisle of cleaning products to find the most bizarre sight. Everyone was just sitting on the floor. Crouched, actually. It was a bit like that Radiohead music video. The one where everyone lies down on the footpath. Except that music video didn't feature men in hats and bandannas with guns who seemed to be pretty busy further along the front of the store emptying the cash registers. They hadn't seen me as I was still obscured by shelving. What an odd scene I'd come across. Would Fox Mulder be here soon to explain it all to me? I certainly hoped so.

And then a woman opposite me who was cowering next to a rack of discounted CDs hissed "he went that way!" indicating the direction I'd just come from. For some reason, I took this to mean I should go looking for "him". Which was quite possibly the single most stupid impulse I've ever had in my life. Yes, Moata, you should definitely go and find the person this woman is talking about. Ask him if he'd like a cup of tea, why don't you?

I hadn't gone more than a few steps when I came face to scarf with a young man toting a sawn-off shotgun. I'd never had a gun pointed at me before (or since) and it's funny what does and doesn't go through your head at that moment. Like, the fact that I wasn't scared. It didn't occur to me for even an instant to be frightened. Things were simply far too strange to be terrifying.

He barked at me to get down on the floor so I did and I noticed with interest that I'd instinctively dropped my eyes the second I registered the gun. I might not be aware of being fearful but my body certainly knew a threat when it saw one and had adjusted my body language accordingly. At least some part of me was up on the play.

It wasn't very long at all before the banditos regrouped and left taking a few thousand dollars with them and leaving a shocked group of floor people. I remember looking up as one of them exited, noting where his head came to on our "height stickers".  

One of my colleagues called the police but before they arrived I went to the cupboard behind our desk and took out every notepad and pen I could find, dispensing them to all the customers and asking them to write down everything they remembered about what the robbers looked like, how tall they were and so on.

And then there was going to the police station, getting fingerprinted (all staff who'd touched the tills had to be fingerprinted to eliminate their prints as those of the robbers) and making a statement. It took hours and was nothing like CSI (not that I knew what that was then).

Work made a counsellor available for the staff who'd been involved, which, despite my initial reluctance, was a very good thing. In the days that followed I found myself looking at people's faces. Was it that guy? What about him, is he about the same height? I also experienced a strange sense of freedom. I didn't feel as self-conscious as I usually did. Yes, I'm singing a Radiohead song to myself as I walk down the street. I care not if you approve of my singing, for you do not have a sawn-off shotgun. A surprised or disapproving look would have washed over me like a nothingness made of air. I may not have felt terrified as it was happening but my behaviour afterwards makes me think that it must have registered somewhere.

And that, dear readers, is why whenever I see a movie where a bank is being robbed but "nobody got hurt" so it's okay to still be rooting for the robbers, I have a moment where I think "yeah, but I bet a lot of those people were traumatised - I wonder if they had nightmares?" And then I get back into the movie. It only happens for a moment but it's pretty much every time.

In truth, I haven't thought about this in years and I don't know that it's had a profound effect on me or my life. I've forgotten a lot of the detail too and it's just impressions and feelings that are left. I just though it was interesting that the sight of those door stickers at the petrol station could make me recall that episode. I hope I haven't bored you all by telling you about it.

Have any of you ever been in a similar situation? Or have you had a memory called forth by something seemingly unrelated?

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29 comments
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Anon   #1   02:30 pm Jul 12 2012

Every time I am in Cashel St, outside Ballantynes, I remember the day the guy held up the sports goods store further along. I was working on one of those stalls selling some "miracle product", when people started running down the mall and into the shops.

I couldn't see what they were running from, but my colleague quietly told me to unplug my mike and move away from the stall, towards Murrays Chemist. About 20 seconds later the guy walked right past where I had been standing, holding a gun.

Every time I am at that spot, I remember being stunned and shocked that someone was walking there (right there where I had been a few second earlier) holding a loaded gun.

J Smith   #2   02:47 pm Jul 12 2012

I worked for Warehouse Stationary Linwood for a while, and even five or more years after your experience, it was still talked about around the shop as the one Warehouse to ever have an armed holdup. (I can't confirm that is actually true though).

erin   #3   02:51 pm Jul 12 2012

when i was working at a cafe in dunedin as a student, a guy came in with a knife. turned out he was the cook's ex-boyfriend and he 'just wanted to talk to her'. he'd been harrassing her previously and he was served with a trespass notice previously. i was the youngest there but i had to go out front and calm him down and assure that the cook would come out - provided he wait outside the front away from the patrons, while my boss wailed and cried in the kitchen and the other staff called the police. couldn't believe that my boss bailed. shows what some people are made of.

D   #4   02:53 pm Jul 12 2012

I've been tied up and robbed. Not burgled, robbed. They trotted all of our belongings past the sofa where we sat tied hands behind backs, so we got to see all the uninsured high value items (we'd JUST left home) flash before our very eyes.

I remember the time vividly it was 9:17pm. It was 1990 (factors being: first flat, first live-in boyfriend, before first car).

I remember needing to be untied first, as they'd used the phone cord to tie my hands - well before the days of cell-phones. I remember what I was wearing.

I DON'T remember the date. I DON'T remember what ANY of the robbers looked like, wore, or sounded like. But I remember exactly how much we paid for that (uninsured) telly.

Memory is a weird thing.

viffer   #5   03:32 pm Jul 12 2012

What I want to know, is did the banditos get a bargain? And a money-back guarantee?

AndiNZ   #6   04:11 pm Jul 12 2012

I've done Armed Holdup training, and that was freaky enough. I have no desire ever to experience the real thing. :(

One of my friends was held up at gunpoint one time though, and at first she really thought it was just some of her friends having a laugh. We don't expect that to happen here, which must count as a Good Thing.

arby   #7   04:13 pm Jul 12 2012

I worked for a particular bank for a totaly of 7 years. In my time as a teller I was involved in 4 hold ups ... I started feeling like the black jellybean!! It was scary, but even now I remember that when the last one happened I groaned out loud and said "not again!" - probably not the smartest thing to do!

Alice2   #8   04:21 pm Jul 12 2012

Not an armed holdup - but in my 5 years at Stanmore New World, there were several acts of theivery (most common ones were people sticking trays of meat or bladders out of wine casks up their jumpers & trying to walk out past the checkouts). Those height stickers at the door got a fair amount of use!

Ben   #9   04:39 pm Jul 12 2012

I think you have an over active imagination. The reason for the stickers is so that when the doors are shut someone does not walk through, and in case you think it unlikely it does happen. They may be useful for estimating the height of the 'perp' as you so colourfully put it but that is not their purpose.

P   #10   04:42 pm Jul 12 2012

I worked at the Warehouse Barrington in 1997 and heard about the hold-up at the time. When I read your list of common Warehouse items of the time I thought about packs of 3 videotapes. They were very common. And those 400 gram Cadbury milk chocolate blocks.

I don't have any scary stories about burglaries, although I do imagine they would be awfully scary. Good on you for having the forethought of having people in the store write down their experiences in note books!


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