Sunday, April 02, 2006

Surviving a Subway Pickpocket

Throughout my travels I have been pretty lucky to never have been a victim of any type of crime. 
I have only heard stories about people getting robbed/mugged/taken advantage of when they were not alert.  In Bolivia I ran into a guy I had met from The World's Most Dangerous Road bike ride who had been a victim of a pickpocket.  The thief spit on him, when the guy turned around to see what the deal was the thief had already taken his wallet and was escaping.  Losing your wallet sucks...but losing your passport is even worse. 
Hearing stories from other travelers about their bag with all their important documents being picked off when they put it down at a bar or left it in the hostel that didnt have any lockers was never too reassuring.  It always made you a little nervous to carry a lot of dough or anything nice at all because there is always someone out there that will steal it. 
Besides your passport, the worse thing you could lose would be your journal or your fotos of places you went to. That happened to two folks I met along the way.  Remo from Germany had his journal stolen after holding on to it and writing in it for eight months.  The Raj said he had a gun pointed to his head in Buenos Aires and lost some fotos and his journal back when I met up with him and some buddies for Christmas. 
It shakes you up when stuff happens like that.  Yea, insurance will reimburse the cost of your camera...that is no big deal.  Losing a journal and other personal effects that are impossible to replace is what really gets ya.  It's what makes you really angry. 
This almost happened to me on the last day of my trip in Buenos Aires. 
Here is how it went down.  My last day in BA was a busy one.  Busy getting last minute gifts, getting receipts for the Global Refund, picking up the suits I purchased, writing just a few more postcards, getting one last steak, picking up laundry, and saying goodbye to some of the folks that I had met there.  So my mind was a little preoccupied with all the stuff that I had on my list. 
I was in the subway heading back to the hostel around 130 in the afternoon.  It was pretty packed in the subway as I filed in and stood there.  I waited and people watched as the stops passed by.  I used my left arm to hold onto the above railing and had the other hand in my right pants pocket to prevent any foolio from reaching in and snaking the cash that I had in my pocket.  The top of my Arcteryx Bora 80 backpack can detach and become a fanny pack.  It is a very convenient way to stow your journal, a camera, your iPod, and a coupla other things in there because it is small, light-weight and portable.  I positioned the fanny pack strap over my left shoulder and the bag rested on my chest and slightly underneath my armpit.
The subway was boring, noisy, non-air conditioned, and packed.  I was zoning out and doing to some people watching when it happened.  About 10 or 15 seconds before the subway car stopped, the doors would open and people would rush in and out I glanced at my bag from the corner of my eye.  What was weird was that it was about halfway open and there were two fingers.  "Holy Shit!" I thought.  I turned quickly and shoved the decently dressed guy in his 20s into the car's wall.  That got the attention of  everybody on the subway car.  A huge gringo pushing a guy and yelling in a loud and booming voice "Porque su mano estaba en mi bola!!!!...Te vi con su mano en mi bolsa!!!!"..."Why is your hand in my bag...I saw you with your hand in my bag.  The only thing the guy said was "No hice nada"  ( i didnt do anything) in a mumbled voice.
The subway car stopped, the doors opened and I followed the guy down the subway platform.  I look back and chuckle because I didnt bump into anybody exiting the car this time (which is unheard of during peak times), everybody got out of the way of the 250lb gringo as I began to yell and draw lots of attention to this asshole.  He made his way down the platform towards the crowded escalator.  When I confronted him again at the escalator he did an aboutface and walked back up the platform he just came from towards the train coming in the opposite direction.  I was full of shock and anger.  WTF!!  I looked into my bag...iPod? check.  Camera? check. Journal? check?  Passport inside my journal? check. 
There was an Argentinian that stopped and helped me out.  He asked if any of my stuff was missing (none was) and if we should goto the police.  Since none of my stuff was missing and I needed to get to the tailor to pick up my suit I decided to let it go and catch the next train. 
Assholes like that piss me off.  When jerks take advantage of tourists or other folks, it builds an anger in me. And You Dont Want To See Me Angry!  I was trying not to think about what happened the rest of the ride back to my hostel and to the airport later in the day.  But it was hard not to think about it..."What should I have done differently?"  "Should I have hit the guy?"  "I could have really hurt him, why didnt i get a shot or two in?" "Why was I not paying attention" "Did I push someone who didnt do a thing?"  All these things were running through my head for a while. 
This was probably the only unpleasant experience that I have had during my whole trip.  And it sucks to have a memory like that.  Yea, there were taxi drivers that took advantage of me and maybe charged a little too much.  But nobody has tried to rip me off with out my acknowledgement.  I hope nobody gets to run a guy like this pickpocket.  It just ruins your day.  So watch your stuff when you are traveling because it will happen when you least expect it or when you put your guard down. 


Melissa said...

WOW! -- I am this James Peters talking?!?! What badass! I am totally impressed, and yes you should have hit the guy...he needs a memory of a fist in his face the next time he feels like stealing.

This happened to me in NYC. I was crammed in a train next to a client of mine and his fiancé. The Subway was silent; I had my purse on my shoulder and felt something strange...

I looked at my purse and my wallet (a very long check book wallet) was almost completely out of my purse. He had been working on it the entire way. It was uncomfortable because he was about 6 inches from my face when I noticed it and he was the ONLY likely suspect. He was a tall intimidating large man. I quickly put the wallet back in my purse and changed shoulders clutching it ever so tightly, thinking ... OMG... the guy that was trying to steal from me is literally so close to me we are touching arms! VERY SCARY!

I didn't say a word and just waited till we got to our stop. Losing an ID when you are 2,000 miles from home along with credit cards and all your cash; talk about total devastation! Can't get on a plane, get back into your hotel or buy anything, including food! Very scary that everything we need to survive is in that stupid wallet.

James, thank you for not telling us this story until you returned safe. :)

Dan Perry said...

Hi James,

Glad to hear you made it back safely. That was a scary experience, but it sounds like you did just fine. Not that you did anything wrong, but what I would have done differently would have been to keep my passport in my money belt and maybe put my cash in the daypack and hold onto it tightly with both hands, even though I know that can be tough to do in a subway car.

It sure was nice not to have to worry about theft for two weeks on that cruise, wasn't it?