Community Post

Moral Ambiguity

On Sat night, my wife and i sat down for a movie on the ol’ tele. At around 9pm, we heard a knock on the door. I don’t normally open the door since my dog goes ballastic when strangers arive. So I looked through the peep hole and saw a man standing at the door.

I said hello and asked him what was going on. He pointed across the street, said he was a new neighbor, and asked if I knew where “Lincoln Towing” was located. I said I did not. At this point he left.

I was pretty weirded out by such a random visit, while at the same time sad that we are not a culture/neighborhood that welcomes the random visit.

In my guilt I decided to step outside and talk to the gentleman further, possibly getting to know a real neighbor in need. I walked outside and saw him enter the gate of the house across the street. As I walked over, I saw him talking to the owner of the house across the street. As I approached, he kinda waved me off, like he didn’t want me to interupt his conversation. I went right over to their conversation and asked if he had found out the information he needed. The owner of the home looked rather uncomfortable and as soon as I engaged the inquiring man, he saw his chance to bail and promptly shut his door. I engaged with the man, first with him telling me he wasn’t from around here and didn’t know where the towing company was. I said, “wait, i thought you said you moved in around the corner?” He got a bit upset at being challenged. Then he told me the cross streets for the towing company and I said the #2 bus probably went decently close to the location. To this he said thanks and walked away.

Now, on the one hand I feel really guilty about assuming this guy was casing properities or up to no good. He was African-American and smelled of booze, but was I profiling this guy? On the other hand, given the rash of break-ins and general mischief around the CD, I thought I was appropriately cautious. I didn’t call the cops.

So how should I have reacted? Did I overreact? Did I act appropriately? Should I have called the cops?

0 thoughts on “Moral Ambiguity

  1. Central Towing used to be at 20th & Madison but that was 15 or more years ago. Lincoln was never around here. He might have been casing houses but more likely looking to hustle some booze money. My wife naively lost our gas can this way to a woman who was “out of gas” late one evening.

  2. That’s exactly what he was doing. He did this to me the very weekend I moved into my house. Like a small-town moron, I opened the door. I should have just told him to go away. He must have noticed my concern because the first “calming” words out of his mouth were, “Don’t worry, Miss. I’m Gay. I won’t hurt you.” He was looking for money and I didn’t give it to him. And what’s with the “Don’t worry…” line? Sheesh. And for the record this was 2.5 years ago, so this guy has either moved around a lot in our neighborhood, lost his car a lot, or can’t read a Google Map.

  3. I think I would have filed a report through the non-emergency line. The worst that could happen is that it’d take up a few minutes of the operator’s time, and at that point I could rest assured that the ball was now firmly in SPD’s court. If he were really pulling a scam (to me it sounds like he was just a disoriented drunk), he’ll probably show up again somewhere else with a similar ploy, and when he does, they’d have your report as well.

    The non-emergency line is 206-625-5011 if you do end up to file an after-the-fact report.

  4. Unfortunately I’ve heard the “out of gas” line more times than I care to remember. (I feel like I should be asking for a driver’s license and keys as proof that they even own a car now.) We even had a woman who routinely made rounds in our neighborhood with that story. Occassionally she’d forget which blocks she’d covered and we’d have to remind her that she was supposed to be working the next block.

    And yes- I’ve heard the “Lincoln Towing” bit as well, and the guy was casing houses. After realizing he had asked my downstairs neighbor a different question, I caught up to him down the block harassing a woman on the street. He was eventually forceably ejected from our block. The next day a neighbor revealed that her ATM card and some cash had been taken from an unlocked back door.

    Sadly, it’s always good to have healthy skepticism of people’s intent. Over the years, I’ve found it easy to distinguish between people who genuinely need help, and those faking it. Those who need help are gracious and eager – and not evasive and vague. Any time your “bullshit detector” goes off, you probably should listen- especially at that hour of the night.

  5. I’ve heard multiple variations of this hustle – all around the common theme of “i’m stuck and need your help to get home/work/etc”. They play on you by saying they live just up the street, hoping you won’t turn down a neighbor in need.

    I think I had run-ins with the same woman that jtoce mentions. Her story was that she has an abusive husband and needed money to take a cab to a shelter on Whidbey Island. The distance helped push up the total bill due to ferry ride, etc. Then just a couple weeks later she was back with a similar story but a different remote location. I asked how Whidbey had been and she gave up.

    Fun times…

  6. I could swear that I have read almost the identical story on one of the south Seattle neighborhood blogs within the last month — right down to the Lincoln Towing request. (It might have been in the comments to a blog post, though.)

  7. (To clarify, I don’t mean you are plagiarizing. I mean that this is apparently something that has been happening to a bunch of people lately.)

  8. I’m certain that this is the same guy that has knocked on my door a few times over the past 10 years. Last year he got annoyed with me when I reminded him that he came by a couple years before that. “Don’t worry, I’m gay” and “I need a tow” were lines that he used. I see him around still.

  9. He’s tried to hit me up three or four times, in different places I’ve lived around the CD. He says he’s gay, and sometimes he asks for money and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he says he needs a locksmith. The last time I opened the door and saw him, I was fed up.

    “Hey, I know you’re broke. I’m broke too, I’m a single mom. That’s why I can’t help you.”

    And I closed the door. He just moved on to the next house.

  10. FYI: Apparently the non-emergency line is only staffed on weekdays based on my experience Saturday. I tried calling and navigating the menu selections twice to report that an alarm bell was ringing on the outside of the Catholic Community Services building, but that I saw no smoke, flames, or sign of forced entry (the bell was above an exterior door for the sprinkler system, so thought it may be a false alarm). After trying twice I called 911 instead and then they transfered me to the fire department (which has a station directly across the street). Anybody else ever experience the non-emergency line being apparently unstaffed on weekends?

  11. We’ve ID’d a chronic nuisance in the CD.

    This is the same guy–lives with his boyfriend, although he never asked me for $ or told me why he needed to get to Lincoln Towing. I told him I do not open doors for stangers b/c my dog will bite them:-)

    To WWSL, I think questioning ones assumptions about others is healthy and needed. But your comments were very constructive and I’ll make certain to pass judgement whenever possible. Thank you

  12. Don’t be afraid to use 911 for these kinds of calls. The rule is to use 911 for events that either just happened or are happening right now, even if the severity of the event is low.

    The non-emergency number is poorly staffed and the ridiculous menu will waste a couple of minutes before you’re even queued to talk to a real person.

  13. This sounds like the guy who came to our place (Madison Valley) 1-2 years ago.

    It’s pretty clear there are several people (men and women) making regular rounds with these kinds of scams–a bunch were discussed here a couple weeks ago, too:

    Maybe it’s time to capture photos or videos of these individuals and share them here–and especially with new residents in our neighborhoods.

  14. That’s actually not a bad idea. This same guy has come to our day–gay and in need of a locksmith–but only my father in law happened to be around, so I never actually got a look at him.

  15. He showed up at my door last night. It’s the third time he’s shown up in a couple of years. Last night he claimed he was looking for a hospital. I yelled at him and told him he’d come to my door before. He left but seemed kind of miffed. ha!

  16. I’m at 15th & Union, and I’ve interacted with this guy at least 25 times over the past 15 years. He originally always named some nearby business (Seattle U, the Crypt, wherever) as the place he worked, and his car had been towed. After a few years, he began saying, “Hi, I’m gay,” as he started his spiel, apparently thinking that would make a difference. But it was still always the same story. Usually, he approached me after passing me on the sidewalk. He never seemed to know that he’d ever spoken to me before – but it only started freaking me out when he actually came to the door. As far as I can tell, he’s harmless, but irritating.

  17. I’ve interacted with him a number of times. Sometimes I’ve been tempted to say, “fast-forward to the part where you ask me for money”, but I never have. I just wait for it and then say, “I wish I could help you but I don’t give money to people I don’t know. Just a personal policy I have. Goodbye.” He then loses his chipper attitude and storms away.

  18. This guy has his us with the gay line and the “I got locked out of my house” line. I don’t know if it was the same guy twice. I got taken once as a new kid to Seattle and my husband, who should have known better, got taken with the “I’m a new neighbor locked out of my house” line. Both times he wanted a couple of bucks. It’s kind of hard adjusting to life in the big city sometimes.

  19. I am pretty sure this is the same person that “welcomed us to the neighborhood” a few weeks ago. One thing is for sure, he seems to be a staple in the CD. I am really glad we have this blog to rely on for information, otherwise in any other neighborhood I would have treated this as an isolated incident and would have continued to be worried.

  20. The guy got us too when we first moved to the CD a year ago. He used the old “Welcome to the neighborhoood, I’m gay, need a locksmith” thing. Being new and not knowing how a panhandler would know that we just moved in, I gave him a few bucks. It seemed fishy and I always wondered if I’d been had. Now I read this and it looks like I was! Gah.

  21. Same comment, same guy, “new to the neighborhood,” needed money to pay the locksmith. 32nd Ave S. and S. Washington He gets around.

  22. I’ve had this guy come by twice in the six years I’ve lived at 26th & Washington area. He got us when we were brand new to the neighborhood, but not the second time. I’m actually hoping he comes by again, because I’d like to ask about the “don’t worry, I’m gay” line. Why do you say that? What’s that supposed to mean?

  23. with the “i’m gay and locked out…” story hit not only us but all 4 other townhomes in our complex! we thought he lived close by and just targeted our homes but apparently he really gets around. i guess if you have any ‘real’ new neighbors move in then be sure warn them of this sleaze bag.

  24. I recently moved into a house across from Garfield. About two months ago my neighbor, who is also new to the CD, told me that someone had approached him saying that he was a janitor at the high school and was not able to get into the school because he didn’t have his keys. He asked my neighbor for money so he could call a locksmith to open the door for him. My neighbor gave him money but later realized that he had been scamed. About two weeks after that, the same person approached me with the same story while I was working in my yard. I just smiled at him and shook my head and told him that I had already heard about him. He walked off miffed with my comment.

  25. let me just confirm the same guy has come to our door and our neighbors door…
    he’s been by our place twice, both times after 9pm. His story was he was a janitor at TT Minor and needed a tow/ phone number for lincoln towing.

    Next time I’ll try and get a photo of him.

  26. We’ve had 3 different guys come to our house in Madison Valley. One was the “i’m gay and locked out…” guy. Another was the “I’ll leave my shoes” guy. (I didn’t personally deal with guy #3.) And, other characters have been mentioned on CDN: the “cup of sugar” lady, the “women’s shelter on Whidbey” woman (whom I’ve heard visits Mt. Baker regularly, as well), etc.

    I think it’d be great, the next time you come across one of these individuals, if you have the disposition of a journalist or writer or documentarian, to try and interview them, get a sound clip, photo or video, and post it as a story on CDN.

    It’s just an idea, but I think it might be a good way to “shine a light” on this such that maybe the CD can go from being the “home of 100 door to door scammers” to the “scammers not welcome neighborhood,” or something like that.

  27. We have lived in our house for 23 years and have heard every scam out there but just one story taught me to keep an open mind.

    Many years ago now there was a late night knock on the door. My husband answered and the man outside asked for help, their car had broken down and they were trying to get to the hospital. I came to the door to listen, expecting to hear a plea for money. He re-iterated that they needed to find the hospital and said their baby was sick. He’d said ‘we’ so I looked out past him and there was a woman standing on the sidewalk, holding an infant. I realized he was not asking for money. He was asking for help. We live 1/2 mile from the hospital. I told him to wait for a second and grabbed my keys so I could give them a ride. It was a crazy thing to do but that baby was sick with croup and they were scared. I dropped them off at the emergency room and never saw them again but there was a note in our mailbox the next day thanking us profusely and saying that the baby was better.

  28. This guy (probably the same one) came to our door when we first moved in in Sept 2007. He was telling me the same story that he was gay, and he lived down the street and he was locked out of his house and his “partner was white” (as if to say that being white makes him legit) then he went on to say he needed $25 of which he had $20 so all he needed was $5…my husband came to the door and let him know in no uncertain terms that if he knocked on our door again, it would not be a good situation for him. About 7 months passed and he came to the door on the very night that my husband just happened to have gone out of town. This time he was wearing a bright yellow satin jacket and knocked on our door at 11:30 pm….I was disgusted and scared. He knocked really hard like he was trying to beat the door down,,well I asked who is it in my most threatening voice and he said “Uh do you know where Harborview is?” I told him I was calling the police and then I ran to the window to catch him scurring up the street….The next day I saw him in the alley getting our of a brown 1990-1991 Toyota-like car wearing the same bright yellow jacket (whick I saw him in the other night). I told him if he ever knocked on our door again, I wouldn’t even bother calling the police…….. My husband was irrate…It sounds like this guy (who is probably a crack head) is at it again. If you are traveling for the Hoilday’s have your nighbors keep an eye out…Again he is black and skinny and drives/goes around in a brown Corrola-like car.

  29. I got this kind of story twice going to Group Health on Cap Hill, a man and a kid (white BTW) saying they need gas money. Well, fool me once. I realize it’s a whole ‘nother thing when people ring the door bell. Maybe the economics will change so people are not desperate, not that we should help these scammers. Give to charities doing the real work and just tell these scammers to go there,

    Here is my standard deal with people ringing my doorbell:

    Many times I do not even answer the doorbell. I can look out from the room above the door to see who is there.

    Do I know you? Either I ask or just think that to myself.

    I get the phone before talking through the door to someone I do not know. At any time I might call 911.

    If they say they know my neighbor then I might take my keys, lock the door and walk over to the neighbors with them.

    If it’s an emergency then I might take my keys and lock the door and go outside with phone to see what the deal is. I gotta say the previous two have happened to me, so lest we get ALL JUMPY ALL THE TIME, remember that people are people and stuff happens.

    If they say they represent someone or some issue then I listen. If it’s ME trying to register you to vote I hope you would listen. If they want money, I take the info and decide later if to send a check.

    Here is a funny story:
    Back in the day, the young adults of four or five families of our childhood Catholic parish would gather after Christmas midnight mass for champange and danish at my parents house while they were in Saudi Arabia. My youngest sister was responsible for closing up the church. One winter it was below zero, and about when we were ready to send out search parties for her, she showed up with a family that she had seen in their car broke down by the side of the road on her way home. OMG — this was the MOST timid of kids, but she saw a family sitting in a car in freezing weather (this before cell phones) and brings them home.

    We fed them danish and champagne and they got to hear all about forced abortion in China until that speakers brother told her to ‘shut the f*** up already’, and then we sent them home with one of our friends. And, my sisters and I proceeded to the important business of opening presents.

    PS They were from Latin America and did not even have much English so to this day I hope they did not even understand the rant about China.