A Tale of Thievery and Bravery(?) set in a Paris Underground Metro

If at some point in your travels you find yourself going up an escalator in a busy Paris metro and it suddenly stops for no reason, chances are someone is going to get robbed. If you happen to be a tourist juggling luggage, chances are, that someone is you. Oh wait. That someone was me.

First time in Paris and the city laid out the welcome mat. I hadn’t even inhaled a single breath of that cosmopolitan air when my first adventure found me in the form of two seasoned pickpockets.  It was March this past year and my friends and I had just stepped off the RER and were slogging through the St. Michel metro station towards the exit for our hotel.

The four of us were lined up like sitting ducks on the escalator when it suddenly stopped with a confounding beep.  When it appeared that the machine would remain motionless, we started climbing the stairs in resignation. I was first in line and gamely tried to keep a reasonable pace to the top.

Of course, my bag felt particularly heavy as I lugged it up one step at a time.  While I worked up a sweat, I paused for a moment to let a teenager behind me pass, assuming she was peeved by my snail’s progress.  I turned around to motion her ahead and almost checked her with my shoulder, she was standing so close.  Those Europeans must have never watched Dirty Dancing.  She gave me a look of surprise and annoyance and waved for me to keep going.  It was an odd response but I thought maybe she was just being polite or that I had startled her by stopping so abruptly.

By the time I heaved my luggage to the top of the escalator, I was out of breath from cursing and set my stuff down at the top to wait for my my friends. I watched the girl  behind me walk up with an outward impression of great effort, a baby bump covered in a zippered hoodie leading the way.  My spidey sense tingling, I instinctively looked down at my purse and saw that it was open. Immediately, I felt for my wallet and found nothing.

If you’ve even been robbed, you know there’s this moment where you’re consumed with dread while trying to quell this surge of panic that rising from the pit of your stomach. A myriad of thoughts were rushing through my head. Where could it be? Who took it? Did I lose it somewhere else? Oh my God, my credit cards are in there, and f*ck, my driver’s license. I’m in another country, how in the world am I going to deal with this and why the f*ck me??!!

Trying to remain calm, I looked up and saw the girl step onto the down escalator just as the up escalator started to work again, bringing my friends up with it. Alarm bells began to ring in my head.

I had a strong suspicion that the girl behind me had stolen my wallet and wanted to run after her. But I feared the embarrassment of falsely accusing someone. What if she’s got brass knuckles and a crazy posse to back her up? What if she didn’t steal my wallet and I’d end up being some psycho bitch yelling at a pregnant girl?  Les Américains typique. I briefly considered just dropping the issue and report my wallet missing. After all, I only had about 20 Euros in there and my credit cards could be replaced. The prospect of confrontation was paralyzing.  It seemed like an eternity in my mind but it was probably only a matter of seconds before I shook off those doubts and gathered my wits. It had to be her and dammit, why was I so willing to let some one take away my sense of well-being?

With a sense of utter dread, I dropped my luggage by my bewildered friends saying that someone had stolen my wallet and ran after the suspected thief before it was too late. Maybe it was too late.  I had lost sight of her by now.

But I saw her as soon I as turned down the escalator.  The girl had hidden my wallet underneath an unfolded metro map and was fiddling with the zipper when she glanced up my way.  She didn’t expect me to know it was her, much less come after her. The startled look on her face betrayed it all as she quickly threw my wallet over the side and onto the stairs.  Vindication fed my courage and I ran right down to her and repeatedly yelled at her to give me back my wallet.  She looked at me without a word, waving her empty hands and pointed to the stairs where she had thrown my wallet.  Fine. I’d better go get it before my wallet meets another opportunist.

I rushed past her and saw her escalator-button-pushing accomplice below, looking up at us, her face and hands contorted in a look of complete disbelief.  Seeing that brought a small measure of satisfaction to my frazzled mood for a moment as I scrambled down past her and turned up the flight of stairs. More f*cking stairs!

My friend Lesley, who still had no idea what occurred, had followed me down the escalator in concern and we crossed paths as I was running back up and I gave her a breathless recap while I recovered my wallet, with all contents in tact. When I got back up to the top of the landing, I was greeted by my two other friends who each bore the same looks of bewilderment that I had left them with moments earlier.

It wasn’t until we got to the hotel ten minutes later that I finally caught my breath and we all began to recover from the shock.  I hated the sense of violation but was lucky enough to get everything back so I filed this one away in the travel safety and awareness box for future reference.  The foiled robbery became the topic of conversation for only as long as it took for us to get distracted by the wine and food at dinner.  We weren’t going to let those thieves ruin a perfectly good vacation.

So when you’re traveling, what do you look out for?  How do you prepare yourself properly and avoid theft or mitigate your losses?  Nothing is ever obvious until you reflect upon it so the best way is to always stay aware and trust your instincts if something feels wrong.  And more importantly, if people are crowding around you for no good reason, grab your belongings and get out of there!

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