A Burger, Tank of Gas, and Three Luxury Jackets

It was a typical Thursday evening, and I was contemplating how best to beat traffic on my drive home from Redwood City to Campbell, California without running out of gas. I decided that rather than get gas immediately, or make it home on fumes and procrastinate until the next day, I would split the difference and stop in Mountain View. I could also grab some quick dinner at In-N-Out Burger while I was there. It was just off the highway, and I could easily grab gas before getting back on the highway (I grew up down the road so know the area quite well).

So, I did just that. I ate dinner at In-N-Out and drove across to the street to the gas station, at one of the busiest intersections around. I was filling up my tank and staring at my phone when I heard somebody behind me ask for directions. I turned around and he was sitting in his car, having pulled up next to me, between my car and the convenience store. Again, he asked me “Can you give me directions to SFO?” with a very thick Italian accent. At first, I was bewildered by the fact that he was in Mountain View asking for directions to SFO, nearly an hour away with traffic. Regardless, I knew that the easy route of 101-north was a parking lot at the time, so I entered SFO into Google Maps on my phone and showed him the route, listing off the 4 different highways he would have to take over the 52-minute journey.

He didn’t pay particularly close attention to the instructions I was giving him, or even ask me to repeat or clarify anything, nor did he seem worried that he was nearly an hour away from the airport and seemingly horribly lost. Instead, he was very appreciative of my help, and explained that he was a fashion designer working for Giorgio Armani and was flying home to Italy after attending a design conference at the Moscone Center (which is in San Francisco) that same day. I had no reason to question either of those, given his extremely heavy Italian accent and the fact that he was extremely well dressed, which is very out of place for the heart of Silicon Valley. By contrast, I was very casually dressed in a grey tshirt and hoodie, both branded with the name of the company I work for. I was certainly not emitting a strong fashion sense.

I noticed a soda cup from In-N-Out next to him in the center console of his car, and thought to myself that it was fairly strange for somebody of his apparent status to fly across the world to San Fransicso, a city with many top-tier restaurants, and then choose to drive an hour south to eat fast food. At the very least, there are dozens of In-N-Out’s closer to San Francisco than Mountain View.

He shook my hand and thanked me again for my help. In addition, he gave me his business card and offered to buy me dinner if I ever traveled to Italy. He continued to express his gratitude and offered me a present. I cautiously went along with it and he told me he would back up and park behind me. While he was doing that, I went back around my car to remove the fuel nozzle which had finished dispensing gas. He parked behind me, got out of his car, and shook my hand to thank me. I again thought to myself about how out of place he looked in his high-end suit. We both walked over to the rear passenger-side door of his car where he showed me three luxury jackets he was offering to give me. They were each nicely folded inside of protective plastic bags. He explained the materials of each ones, inviting me to feel their quality and stating that they were valued between $1200 and $2000 each. One of the jackets was sheep skin and he demonstrated that it wasn’t flammable by holding a lighter-flame to it. I smiled and laughed to myself about how he found me fitting to judge the quality of these luxury jackets based on my lazy-programmer attire and the old Honda Accord I was driving.

He then pulled out a small binder which contained a piece of paper showing the value of the items he was giving me, before handing me a bag and placing the three jackets inside of it. Once I was holding the bag, he explained that he was going to give me the jackets as a present, but wanted me to help him get something for his son in return. I couldn’t understand what he wanted my help with so he repeated the entire explanation four times (although I told him I completely understood the first part). Each time, he also pulled out an Italian passport and proudly showed me that it confirmed his name. I finally realized what he was saying he wanted from me, which was cash (sounded very strange with his accent). Then, he went on to explain that he only had Euros and not USD, pulling a small wad of cash from his jacket pocket, including both Euros and USD, although I couldn’t tell how much of each.

He said he wanted $100 in exchange for the jackets, to which I responded that I didn’t carry cash on me and offered him back the bag. Gesturing at the gas station convenience store, he asked if I could get the $100 out of the ATM. Thinking quickly, I said that the ATM did not work for my bank, to which he responded by asking how long it would take to drive to my bank. I told him I didn’t have time to do that, at which point his demeanor notably changed. He said “ok, no problem”, took the bag back from me, and turned away towards his car. He was clearly no longer grateful for my help, and didn’t even acknowledge my “have a nice flight” as I walked back to my car and he got into his.

I was curious if he was even going to follow the directions I had given him earlier, and attempted to follow him out of the gas station, but lost him right away due to traffic. When I got home, I looked at the business card he had given me a bit closer.

I noticed a few strange things about it:

  • The business card is very thin and feels plastic-like; certainly not high-quality.
  • Who puts the year on the front of a business card, let alone the current and next year? He likely ordered a batch of business cards and didn’t think he could get through them by the end of 2016.
  • The “g” in the logo is lowercase on the front, but uppercase on the back. The real Giorgio Armani logo is in all caps, and in a totally different font.
  • He misspelled “designer” (at least he was consistent with both places he did so).
  • I’m guessing he meant “luxury fashion show 2017”, although have no idea what that is supposed to mean on a business card.
  • He claims to be a high-up designer for Giorgio Armani in Italy, but has an “@gmail.com” email address.

I also looked up events for the Moscone Center, and couldn’t find any mention of the event he claimed to be attending. In the end, I’m fairly confident that his goal was simply to scam me out of $100 for some fake clothes, but I was never going to give him any money or pursue things past a conversation. From a practical perspective, it seems like a pretty elaborate scheme for him to be running for a relatively small payout, but I suppose he’s betting on people having that amount of cash on their person. It was certainly an interesting experience, and the last thing I expected at a gas station in Mountain View.

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