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Petty Crime 101
Dear Savvy Traveler,
We travel internationally a great deal, and apart from the triple
whammy I am about to relate, we've had virtually no brushes with crime.
A few years ago, my husband and I went back to Madrid during the
pre-Lent equivalent of Carnivale. The city was teeming with Spanish
suburbanites and tourists -- and those who prey upon them - who had
come to enjoy the festivities.
We took the subway into the Plaza del Sol, and emerging from the
station at the top of the stairs, we got our first lesson in Petty
Crime 101. This was the 'Dropped Keys Gambit'. Two boys worked together
to distract us by tossing keys on the ground in front of us, trying
then to steal what they could during the chaos. My husband had quick
hands (and good instincts -- he grew up in New York City) and the
boys got nothing from us.
I should mention that my husband and I are hardly what you would
consider easy marks. He's 6'4" and somewhat formidable in appearance,
and at 5'7", I wouldn't describe myself as a delicate flower
We waded through the throng and comforted ourselves with a quick
stand-up lunch at the counter at Museo del Jamon. We noticed a man
looking very upset and repeatedly checking his pockets. We concluded
that this man had just emerged less lucky than ourselves at the hands
of some naughty boys outside.
In the afternoon, we headed back to the subway to return to our hotel.
When the train arrived and we began to board, two men were suddenly
all over us trying to relieve us of our belongings. I grabbed onto
the one who had targeted me and HELD onto him until I was sure my
husband still had all of his belongings and I was sure I hadn't lost
anything. If I'd had a chance to think about what I was doing, I probably
wouldn't have done it.
I presume the idea in these fellows' line of work is for them to
get OFF the train before the doors close. That way, they aren't sharing
a ride with their victims and a carload of witnesses. And indeed,
they were gone as quickly as they had shown up, none the richer.
I'm sure no one would recommend this course of action against a pair
of bad guys, but if the element of surprise is one of their tools
of the trade, I have to think that I used it on them better than they
did on me.
They probably expected my husband to be tough, but hadn't planned
on being throttled by the wife. I was lucky enough not to be killed
for failure to cooperate, so I can still find all this amusing.
One more lesson from Petty Crime 101: Don't wear the nice camera
around your neck in the most crowded part of town during the biggest
festival of the year. Just like they always tell you.