I had my phone pressed to my ear and I was telling my girlfriend, “No really! I can get you anything! This place has every knock-off thing you can imagine. Gucci, Prada, Rolex…”
I was on Canal Street in Manhattan, and I was sixteen, and for whatever reason I was trusted to be on my own. I was trying my damnedest to project an air of confidence, that probably just came off as cocky naivete – the kind that only an over-privileged, over-indulged white kid can muster.
During my boisterous listing of the few name brands I was able to commit to memory or have shouted at me by vendors on either side of me, I caught someone’s attention.
“Fake ID’s,” the large black man interjected, leaning over as he passed me on the street to add to the secrecy. As if he pierced my ear with a fish hook when he walked by, my head turned and my body followed.
“I gotta call you back,” I closed the flip phone. “Sir, I believe you’ve found a customer.”
I followed this dude through the alleyways leading away from Canal Street (it was daylight, but I’m willing to acknowledge it wasn’t the best plan) as he explained the process. We would go up to his guy’s studio for the photos, and he would print them out right then and there with whatever magical machine he had stolen specifically for this purpose. This guy was the best – used to work for the DMV and shit.
We landed in a small Chinese cafe across the street from the spot. Then the negotiating started. “How much you got on you?”
“Really, I only have about $80. So that’ll have to do.” I tried sneakily pulling the money from my pocket without getting my wallet out so I could continue bluffing. Being much more adept at this than I was, he noticed right away.
“Hey man! We gotta trust each other here! You gotta be up front with me! Is that really all you got?!”
It was not. I pulled out the entire $130 that I had in my pocket and handed it over.
“Alright. Coo. You gotta trust people, man. Anyway, here’s the thing. This guy is super paranoid, and he don’t trust anybody. I need to prove to him that you cool and you not wearin’ a wire.”
It was far-fetched, but what did I know about the illegal fake ID industry? I handed him my watch, which was the “most likely place for me to be hiding a recording device.” He left me with my phone, though, which was very nice of him and really should have raised some red flags.
“Alright. I’m gonna run across the street and check in with him. Stay right here and I’ll be back in a minute.” I saw him disappear into a store across the street. I counted to 60. I made it to 50 before jumping out of my seat and following him.
I got inside the store and immediately saw the door leading to the other street that I couldn’t see from the cafe. I ran outside to try and find him, but Canal Street was buzzing with other idiotic tourists trying to find cheap alternatives to luxury items. Also, there was a subway entrance on each corner. This dude was gone.
Any normal person would probably have cut their losses, but not your young, privileged idiot protagonist! I ran back inside and asked the Israelis who owned the place if they had seen the guy. They hadn’t, but they said they had a pretty decent surveillance system, so I called the police so I could finger the guy (not like that).
They arrived not long after I called and told me to describe what happened. “Alright, so I was buying a fake ID, but we’re going to have to look past that for the time being because this guy robbed me.” I explained the rest of the story in as much detail as I could remember. Apparently this was a recurring issue with tourists – two dudes from Australia just had the same thing happen to them the week prior.
I accompanied the police inside, and found them a pretty decent (though grainy) photo of the guy. Part of me wants to think that my insistence on being in the right lead to this guy’s capture and imprisonment, and part of me is impressed by the guy’s commitment to his craft, and hopes that he continued duping dumb white tourists for years to come.
If you ever plan on living in a big city, I strongly encourage you to get robbed a couple times. I’m not going to say it’s resulted in me making better choices, but they’re definitely better-informed bad choices.