March 23, 2017
I saw it coming, almost, before it came. I had a few seconds of murky premonition. And then bingo: a gentle sort of mugging—just a team pickpocket play, really, with downfield blocking—which was halfway clever, and nearly worked. Fortunately, I scuffled and I squawked. Even more fortunately, these small-time thieves weren’t carrying knives or guns or attitude. This was Paris, after all, city of grace and light.
It happened in the Réaumur-Sébastopol Metro station, while I was connecting in from the airport, riding a long crowded escalator toward my next train. Standing beside me was a little guy I thought I recognized. Hmm, wasn’t this the same fellow who, five minutes earlier, had accosted me smarmily, as I gawked at a map, asking if he could help me find my way? I had brushed him off, not rudely, and now here he was again, by strange coincidence, lurking like an innocent stranger at my elbow. Too fishy. I didn’t like that. But what I didn’t notice yet was that he had a comrade just in front of me and a comrade or two right behind. They had spotted me, from that first encounter, as easily as if I wore a sign on my back: I’m an American doofus, with a roll-aboard suitcase and a shoulder bag, and I don’t know just precisely where I’m going. Hey, why not rob me? When the front man caused a congestion, with a dropped-coins gambit at the escalator dismount point, and we all got bunched, I felt my wallet rise out of my back pocket like it was levitating.
Here’s what you do in that situation. You grab instantly at your right buttock, and you holler. You spin around, addressing the perps and everybody else on that stretch of escalator, and you holler some more: Who’s got my wallet?! You start pushing and snatching at the guys you guess to be responsible, yanking at their arms, trying to see their hands, hoping to impede their escape, which is impossible. People stare. A few onlookers scowl and tisk