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Letters of the Week

We don't know about you, but travel always makes us want to write long juicy letters to everyone we know. Maybe it's bragging rights, maybe it's a burst of poetic inspiration from seeing the Taj Mahal, but one way or another, suitcases and sunsets in strange places turn us into letter-writing fools. So, if it turns out you're the same way....be sure to include us in your list of people you just have to drop a line to. Don't worry, you will make us jealous...but hopefully we'll also be inspired by your adventures.

Want to see what other Savvy visitors have to say? Read our letters of the week, and be sure to tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you!

August 24, 2001

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 either.

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.


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