You know the old adage often declared loudly by your parents: bookworms and lovers of the outdoors, television will rot your brain more than that; it’s certain to turn you into the ever-prevalent couch potato. But in Julie Dragline’s case, it might have saved her life.
Julie lived in Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco. She worked as a PR specialist for Second Networks, and she indulged in the occasional crime drama when it came time to kick her feet up and relax. Of course, you might expect that crime shows on TV aren’t any good for more than killing a few post-work hours; they’re mostly fiction, after all. Julie might have agreed; that is right up until September of 2017 when she faced a terrifying scenario she’d seen before on TV.
It was about 5:00 p.m., and Julie was on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train. Since it was Saturday, the train was free of the usual horde of rush-hour riders. The 32-year-old rode to Dublin in East Bay City with just 15 other passengers, one of whom had sinister intentions.
As the train passed through San Francisco, a woman with strawberry blonde hair sat down behind Julie. Cameras captured the ensuing scene as the stranger casually dropped a note on Julie’s lap. Julie picked it up and read it over; then she panicked. Anyone who’s ever ridden public transportation, especially the BART, will tell you that it isn’t unheard of for strangers to hand out notes. Usually, the messages claimed a debilitating ailment and asked for cash. This note, however, put its spin on the practice.
Written in ink, the note carried a terrifying message: “There are two guns pointed at you now. If you want to live, hand back your wallet and phone now and do not turn around. Be discrete. Do not turn around until after you have left Civic Center, and you will live.”
Then Julie did what anyone in her situation would do: she started freaking out. She didn’t want to give up her stuff, of course, but what could she do? Heart racing, she surveyed her surroundings. Something stood out.
What stood out to Julie as the seconds ticked away? Nothing. And that was something. She saw no evidence of guns, no one watching her every move. Across the train, was there truth to this note? Would she truly be killed if she did anything but comply? “Is somebody really going to shoot someone for a phone and a wallet?” she thought. “I started to question it a little bit, but I was still really scared.”
Nonetheless, she needed to do something. The robber was waiting, taking stock of her surroundings to make sure once more that no one had a gun leveled at her. She mouthed “help me” to the man sitting across from her. He didn’t notice, apparently, because he left the train at the next stop with hope exiting the train somewhere around 16th Street. Julie had few practical and discrete options left: hand over her wallet and phone or take the chance that there weren’t any guns pointed at her.
Then a crazy idea struck her, and she’d gotten it from TV. Julie determined that she had to fake a seizure. It was a risky strategy, but it was crazy enough to work. “If I faked a seizure or faked like I’m passing out, I’m not even not complying,” she told CBS San Francisco, hoping someone would come over to her and, at the very least, make it a tough shot for the alleged gunman.
Julie put on a performance. “I slumped sideways and started shaking and crying. I closed my eyes and increased the vigor so people would pay attention.” Would her stunts land her in hotter water?
As Julie convulsed in the train seat, a nearby couple noticed. Like Good Samaritans, they rushed to check on her, and that’s when Julie handed over the note. Once the couple read the bold red ink threat, they understood exactly what was happening.
Apparently, drawing attention to herself did the trick. As Julie reported, the strawberry blonde woman she assumed, and who cameras later confirmed to be the note passer, exited the train as it stopped at the Civic Center station. Julie was safe. Or was she?
As it turned out, there weren’t two gunmen sitting on the train waiting to shoot Julie. The note was a lie, a scam designed to get some money out of someone panicking for his or her life. Later, authorities searched the Civic Center station for evidence of the stranger. Authorities found no evidence of the woman at the station, but they did see her on BART’s cameras.
Still, Julie didn’t care if they caught her or not. She wasn’t going to press charges and hoped to leave the incident in her past. She remained level-headed afterwards. In fact, Julie relayed the whole experience very matter-of-factly on Twitter: “Someone just tried to rob me, ‘at gunpoint’ on BART. They sat behind me and dropped this note into my lap.”
Later, with her head clear, Julie recalled where exactly her seizure idea came from. “I think it had something to do with watching a lot of Law & Order,” Julie said. “I think I saw that in an episode. I was very impressed with myself.”
So, there you have it, folks. A little TV might rot your brain, but it also might just save your life. It’s impressive that Julie was able to stay calm with that note on her lap, calling a robber’s bluff and thwarting the attempt is like something out of, well, a crime drama.