Coffee, Counterfeit Money, and a Ride with NYPD
I was spending a few days in New York after finishing a job. Fairly early Saturday morning I went to the Esperanto Cafe on MacDougal Street, just north of Bleeker in Greenwich Village.
I had a muffin and coffee. When I went to pay, I had just $3 in my shirt pocket and my last $20 bill in my wallet. No problem, I paid and then went to a Citibank ATM. I asked for a receipt at the ATM even though it didn't seem crucial at the time.
I went on to another coffee shop to hang out and do some more work with my laptop. I had a couple of cups of coffee at the second coffee shop.
When I tried to pay when ordering the second cup of coffee, the guy at the counter said that the $10 I gave him looked counterfeit. It was! Well, I knew exactly where it came from — it was my change from the Esperanto Cafe! I paid with one of the fresh $20 bills from the ATM.
He felt uneasy about just letting the counterfeit bill go, and called the police. Two officers showed up after getting a call that "someone was passing counterfeit cash". They expected someone with a suitcase full of bogus money trying to pass it on an industrial scale. They weren't overjoyed that the guy at the register had called over one $10 bill, but as he said, that's what he's supposed to do.
Nor had they expected that the supposed perpetrator would still be there, still drinking his coffee.
I said I was going back to where I got the bad bill to demand a real $10. They looked at me funny, and said there was no way that would work. Yeah, I know, but I'm out $10 and it's because that other place gave me a counterfeit bill. At the very least, I'm going to give them a hard time.
"OK, grab your stuff, let's go for a ride."
So that was how I got a ride across the Village in the back of an NYPD patrol car.
The assistant manager at the Esperanto got a little huffy. Not a good approach with the NYPD. The cops were amused with me finding the whole thing a grand adventure, and if you're cool with them the NYPD can be very cool. Just don't huff and puff and try to contradict them.
I repeated my explanation of the history of the money — I had only $23 on me when I had been there, then I had used an ATM and bought something at the second place. So I had a receipt for all the cash I had on me except for the bogus $10 and a few $1 bills. The Esperanto register had a record of my transaction from a couple of hours before.
The assistant manager muttered that this had to be wrong. Very bad move. The cops turned on him and demanded to see all his cash from the register. He complied, saying that while the counterfeit bill might have come from there, he couldn't see how that could have happened.
They let him sweat, and give him the impression that they're just barely going to let this one slide, and I said "So while the drawer is open, where's the real $10 you owe me?"
The one cop gave me a look like "Hey, he's really going to try this". The assistant manager sputtered some more, saying he would have to call the manager at home, and I said, "Well, you'd better do that". It's amazing what you can accomplish with the NYPD backing you up....
The cops went out to the car to write up the incident, and the assistant manager called the manager. She insisted that he keep the counterfeit bill as proof. He told me, and I said "Oh, they're going to love this." I went out to the car to tell them that the guy inside wanted that counterfeit $10 bill back.
They shook their heads and said "Send him out here." So I went back in again, squeezing past everyone for the umpteenth time, and told the assistant manager that the police officers outside wanted to talk to him. By now the mellow coffee shop vibe had been completely harshed. He went out to the car, where he got a stern lecture and did not get the bill.
At the end of it all I got my $10, the assistant manager got chewed out by both the NYPD and his manager, the coffeeshop ambiance was ruined by all the cops and questioning and the patrol car parked up on the sidewalk, and the waitress had nearly strained herself giving me dirty looks.
I stopped by the car and thanked them for the help, and generally doing a great job, and for the adventure. I said something about being from Indiana and how I enjoy visiting New York as there's always something new to see and do. They were surprised that I'm from Indiana (but maybe that's why I saw it as an adventure instead of just a $10 ripoff and waste of time), and told me to have a good time.
I've never gone back to the Esperanto Cafe. They might recognize me.
Update — This adventure happened in 2006. The Esperanto Cafe was still there in 2008. But by 2011 it had closed down and been replaced by the Saigon Shack, a Vietnamese sandwich place.Back to the U.S.A. travel page
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