Pedicab Confessions: Pedicab Driver Helps Storeowner Recover $18k Rolex Watch
I had just started my shift…
when I was encountered by a frantic man looking for his car. He had a mild sweat and was looking for his vehicle with a sense of urgency. Most pedicab drivers dread helping lost passengers find their vehicles. When asked where they parked 9 out of 10 times they’ll say they parked by a Priemiem Parking lot. Premium owns like 14 lots in the French Quarter, and who knows how many in the CBD.
Helping someone locate their car when they have no clue where it is can take a better part of an hour. Veteran pedicab drivers know to quote a premium price at the outset of such a ride. I had just rolled out of the shop at 6pm and I quit frankly didn’t feel like drawing mental pictures out of this guys head by questioning him about the color of a building, a sign, a landmark, etc.
I asked the fidgety man what street his car was parked on and he said that the street started with an “I”. I told him he was parked on Iberville. He asked if I could take him, so I quoted him a price. After hearing it he decided to walk and made his way towards Iberville.
I then proceeded to pedal around to the Hotel Monteleone where I got in queue for a ride. And who do I encounter? The fidgety man dressed in slacks, button-up shirt, holding his blazer in his hand. At this point he was sweating a little more profusely. He pleaded with me to take him and he agreed to the price I quoted. Reluctantly, we pulled off into the gritty streets of the French Quarter in search of his vehicle. He gave me the description of his car and told me it had Texas plates.
He introduced himself as Louie. We started to engage in small talk and he became real talkative. I started to get the since real fast that he was full of it. As predicted, we rode around for a better part of an hour…and to no avail. I explained to him that time was money and that I had already given him a very lucrative hour of my night. I told him I couldn’t go on any longer.
When it was time for payment he felt around in his pants and coat pockets and reported that he must have left his wallet in his car. Of course my first thought was that this guy was trying to stiff me. However, I demanded his phone number. He gave it to me and I called it to make sure it worked. When he pulled out his phone I noticed he had a Blackberry…in the age of the iPhone and the Android.
I mentioned to him that it might be time for an upgrade. He told me however that he preferred the Blackberry because it was harder to trace and that he preferred that feature. At the time it didn’t dawn on me why that might be desirable. I told him that when he found his car to call me and that I would come and pick up the payment.
I then pedaled into the Quarter to try to make drop by 9pm. About an hour later I gave him a call to see if he found his vehicle. He reported to me that he didn’t. I told him it may have been stolen or towed and told him to head to the French Quarter police station to file a report. I’m sure he didn’t.
I also told him that I was going to send him a PayPal invoice. He said that he had an account. Surprisingly he agreed to it and gave me his email address. He promised to pay me and uttered this statement, “You can screw over the big man, but you can’t screw over the little guy.” I didn’t banter with him about his philosophy.
He promised to pay me, and trust, I didn’t waste anytime in sending him the invoice. However, when I sent it, the name Louie didn’t identify with the name associated with the account. It was an entirely different name. So of course I copied and pasted it in a Google search.
Sure enough when I googled the name on the PayPal account, a picture popped up of him when I went to images. I wondered why he would give me a different name, but didn’t dwell on it too long. I had to get out there and make a living. At the end of the shift at 4am I looked at my PayPal account to see if he paid the invoice…It was still pending.
The next day I texted him to see if he found his car and reminded him about the invoice. I didn’t hear back. I repeated this for a couple more days and got nothing but silence. After calling, emailing, and texting him numerous times I decided to just take it as a lesson learned. Sometimes pedicabbing in New Orleans can be like swimming in a pool of sharks.
A few days later I was having a slow night, I think it was a Wednesday if I’m not mistaken. Instead of riding around aimlessly for an hour I decided to park on the plaza in front of Harrah’s Casino to hustle a ride. It was completely dead, so I pull out my phone to catch up on the local news at NOLA.com. As I scrolled through the front page I saw a headline that read, “Rolex Watch Worth $18K Stolen from French Quarter Store.”
I looked at the image really good and my jaw dropped. I verbally said out loud, “Damn! That’s the dude that owes me $80!” I reread the article like 20 times in disbelief. I was unknowingly the get away driver for a robber! When I picked him up he had just stole an $18k Rolex from Valobra Jewelry! The thief had posed as a Sephardic Jewish businessman from Copenhagen. As he browsed the store he managed to swipe a very valuable watch.
When I encountered him he had ditched the glasses, yarmulke, and the tie. As mentioned above he was carrying his blazer as to alter his appearance. Even crazier is that while we were looking for his car, we passed right in front of Valobra. The audacity of this guy right?
Trust me, the next morning I was on the line with Crime Stoppers! I relayed the story to them. This guy wasn’t the smartest thief. I had his real name, phone number, and email address. I gave it all to Crime Stoppers along with any further assistance I could provide. A detective from NOPD contacted me and I shared with him how I got the information.
I was giving my full cooperation and trying to stay out the picture at the same time. The detective said that the store owner wanted to meet me. I was a little hesitant at first, but I agreed to meet with him. When I went to Valobra’s I was welcomed by a staff member that let Mr. Valobra know I was there. He walked out with a New Orleans Deputy Sheriff and he directed me to the little sala of the shop. I was seated in a luxury chair that seemed to have a gold plated frame.
He introduced himself as Franco Valobra. He was as sharp as a razor in his presentation. He spoke with a distinct accent. I asked him where he was from and he told me he was from Italy. I shared with him about myself and I started to relay my story to him. I addressed the sheriff as “Officer” during the conversation. Quite honestly I didn’t know the difference before then. Mr. Valobra humbly told me that he was a sheriff and that’s how he was to be addressed.
He took pride in telling me that he supports the local police associations. From the way he carried himself I could also tell that he was a very respected member of the community. He was both humble and authoritative at the same time. He’s a man that goes beyond style, he’s the epitome of class and I was totally digging him.
As we were talking I was putting 2 and 2 together in my mind. He’s Italian, immaculate style, he has the sheriff by his side…I was like “The dude that stole this man’s watch is in deep shit!” In my mind I thought he might face some alternate form of justice. But I found out later that I had just watched the Godfather too many times.
The Rolex hadn’t been recovered yet, but Mr. Valobra called someone over with a checkbook. He asked me to spell out my name and had the salesperson cut me a check worth a whole nights salary on the bike taxi. I was like hell yeah! He expressed his gratitude and told me that if I ever needed anything to contact him.
I’ve bumped into him a few times in the Quarter since then. When I shook his hand he had a $20 bill in it. I’m not sure how he had time to slip it to me…it was like magic. But it just speaks to how smooth he is.
I never did hear back from Crime Stoppers regarding the reward for bringing this guy to justice. So I decided to call them. They told me that he had been arrested but that they only gave rewards if the person was convicted of the crime. They told me that no charges were pressed. I was puzzled.
A few months later when I bumped into Mr. Valobra and inquired. I learned that my Mafia theory was way off. Quite the opposite, instead of having the guy wacked, the guy that stole the watch was shown compassion. Mr. Valobra told him that if he returned his watch he would drop the charges. But if he stepped foot in any of his stores again he’d have him thrown behind bars. I was floored and learned a little more about why this man was such a respected part of the community.
At the end of the day, the Crime Stoppers reward would have been the cherry on top of this whole capper. But most gratifying is knowing that I did the right thing. The guy that stole the Rolex was tracked down and the watch was recovered. Needless to say, If you’re ever shopping for jewelry or antiques go check out Valobra on Royal St. He’s a stand up guy!
And “Louie” if you ever read this I still want my $80!