Attack of the Bag Lady

Attack of the Bag Lady





She appeared in our neighborhood in the summer of 1978.  She was inseparable from the shopping cart that contained all of her worldly possessions.  I could see that about 45 years previous, she was probably an attractive, vivacious young girl, but time was not kind, she was old and battered, well weathered anyway, I guessed that she was about 60 years old.  What happens to a person’s life plan? How can they become homeless, walking the streets, and sleeping under bridges?  I would see her walking the sidewalks in the vicinity around the Infinity Surf Shop of Laguna Niguel.  She was tall, perhaps 5’11”.   She looked strange, always wearing a full-length gray trench coat and a nappy brown wig.  She looked weird but was definitely female.  Once, I briefly wondered what she was wearing under that trench coat and then quickly abandoned the thought


Terry Senate was my shop manager at the time, he was a hot surfer and good all-around guy.  It was the shop closing time one November evening, so Terry flipped the CLOSED sign over but failed to lock the front door.  He opened the cash register and proceeded to organize the cash into piles of $100, $50, $20, $10, $5 and $1 bills across the sales counter.  He also had a pile of checks and charge receipts.


From the obscurity of the darkness outside, the bag lady was able to see all that cash on the counter of the brightly lit surf shop, this might be her day!  She tested the door and unbelievably, it gave way.  She entered the shop, and like a spider hunting a bug, she pretended not to notice the cash, but became intensely interested in the sandals display. Terry, being the polite, respectful guy as he was, said: “We’re not open” but could not bring himself to kick her out of the shop when she insisted on shopping.  She tried on a pair of sandals then asked Terry to help her find a certain style in her size.  As he was searching the rack, she casually scooped over $650 in cash, checks and charge receipts into her big trench coat pocket.  Terry found the sandals she requested then returned to the counter.  He was shocked to find all the money removed, obviously by the bag lady.


Terry tried psychology first, he said “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna be fired because somebody took all the shop money.  If you could find it, you could save my job.”  The bag lady didn’t give a damn about his job, and she lost interest in the sandals real quick.  She said, “Well good luck finding your money” and headed for the door.  Terry leaped away from the counter and cut her off at the thresh-hold.  “No way you’re getting outta here with that money”.   She was two inches taller than Terry, but he was not going to let her pass.  She was damn quick and said, “Oh, well do you have a rest room?”  She was playing Terry like a guitar, he said: “Yes mam, it’s down the hall on the left” after which she did an about face and rushed to the rest room.


Terry phoned me at home: “Steve, the bag lady has all the money in the bathroom”.   What? I said!  “The bag lady took the money off the counter and ran into the rest room”.   What do you mean?, I said again.  “That bag lady broke into the shop, held me up, took all the money and she’s hiding out in the bathroom.  What should I do?”  Oh, I said: “How did she get in?” “I forgot to lock the door”, he said.  I answered:  “Well lock the front door so she can’t leave when she comes out, then call the sheriff’s department.  I’ll be there in a few minutes”.


As the bag lady peaked out of the rest room, she heard the sheriff’s sirens and saw the flashing red lights.  She new the shit was about to hit the fan, but she wanted that money so bad, so she turned back into the rest room to think of a strategy and look for a hiding place.  


The Sheriff was immediately suspicious of the shopping cart full of her stuff, he wanted to meticulously search it, but Terry persisted in franticly repeating over and over again that the bag lady was in the rest room with all the money.  Finally, the Sheriff reluctantly got the picture.  He said: “Well what did she go in there for?”  Terry said, “I wouldn’t let her out the front door”.  Oh! the Sheriff said as he charged the rest room door, hand on his Billy club.  He said “Mam, you’ve got to come out”, but she did not appear.  The bag lady searched every nook and cranny in the small room for a place to hide the money.  Finally, after finding a solution to her problem and much persuasion she appeared, swearing that she never even saw any money.  The Sheriff felt in the pockets of the trench coat but did not find the money, he was reluctant to search her further.  He entered the restroom, checked everywhere even inside the water tank, but the money was not there.  He called for back up.  He needed Helga, the county’s biggest, toughest female sheriff to come and do a complete body search.


With in minutes, Helga appeared in her own squad car.  She was one heck of a robust sheriff’s officer and immediately took charge.  Helga marched the bag lady back into the rest room and conducted a thorough strip search.  Again, no money.  The bag lady was weird looking, but she wasn’t stupid.   She knew that she couldn’t be convicted without evidence, she had flushed all the money down the toilet.


What a waste, a whole day’s cash receipts flushed down the toilet.  The bag lady got off with out charges because, after all, there was no evidence.  From that time forward, Terry locked the front door before counting the money.  A short time after that, the bag lady left our area, we never saw her again.


Other than brilliant thinking, Terry was a pretty good employee, so I put a planer in his hands and taught him to shape surfboards.  For over a decade he was my primary short board shaper and gained quite a reputation shaping for many of the pro surfers in the 1980’s.  After we moved the shop to Dana Point, Terry opened his own shop in San Clemente.   I wonder if he has a “No Bag Ladies Allowed”  sign hanging above his door? 


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