Europe '96: Unplanned adventure

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(April 13, 1996, Madrid) My pocket was picked this morning. I got into Madrid at Estación Chamartín and 2 guys must have spotted me on the Metro, definitely experienced pickpockets. When I got on the escalator at Plaza de Castilla with all my luggage, they must have gotten on behind me. Then one guy overtook me by a step. At the top he dropped his cigarette lighter and remained on the escalator fumbling for it. While I struggled not to fall over with a heavy pack on a moving escalator and with a leather jacket over my arm, his confederate used the motion of the escalator (etc.) to bump up against me, get my wallet out of my pocket and (I realized later) drop it on the escalator where the first man could grab it.

I knew in seconds -- as soon as I regained balance -- that I'd been pickpocketed, but at first I misunderstood who had the wallet. I grabbed the confederate and accused him of taking my bolsa (I should have said cartera; that's what 7 consecutive years in Seattle and a little panic will do to my Spanish-language skills). When he didn't react and seemed to be stalling for time I realized the other guy had it and took off running after him yelling "Ladrón!" ("Thief!"; at least I got that right). Naturally with all my baggage he easily outran me and only one older man gave futile chase.

The stationmaster later told me this happens a lot.

They didn't get much, really: about 3000 pesetas ($25), a ten trip Metro ticket with 9 trips left, my business cards and a $1 garage sale wallet. Everything else was either in my moneybelt under my clothes or in locked sections of my backpack. Never let anyone tell you that it isn't even worth putting cheapass little locks on the zippers of a backpack.

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Originally written: April 13, 1996

Last modified: 26 February 2021

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