About a week ago, I was in Athens Greece visiting family and kicking off a two month trip around Europe. I was getting on the train on a very hot July afternoon and I wasn’t really expecting any problems at my aunt’s local train stop. I also had my backpack on which probably marked me as a tourist. That was probably my first mistake.
Waiting on the platform I didn’t notice any group of suspicious people. I admit, I was looking at the woman security guard who had what looked like some kind bullet proof vest on, but she had no gun. Anyway, there weren’t many people standing around me, but when the train pulled in and I moved from my spot a little to get in a car that looked less crowded, it seemed that there were now five or six people standing with me at the train door that I wanted to get on. I guess not thinking anything of this was my second mistake.
As you can see from the picture above, there is some kind of metal divider in the middle of the train door entrance. I walked in on the right of the divider behind a guy that went into the train first. The man in front of me stopped only about three feet into the train and I was stuck behind him because another guy came in behind me. So now I couldn’t move forward or backward because there was someone in front and behind me. I also couldn’t move to the left because of the metal divider and I couldn’t move to the right because it also had a metal divider. I was boxed in! I have rode New York City subways all my life and everyone knows that when you get on the train, you move all the way in to let the people behind you get in and also to get your own personal space if there is room. The strange thing was that the guy in front of me did not move. He just stood there with his back to me. If the train was packed, this would have been his only choice, but the train had a lot of standing room. This made no sense to me. For a second I thought it was some cultural thing to not care as much about personal space as Americans do. Before I could consider if I should ask him to move forward so at least I can walk out to all the available standing space, it dawned on me that he was doing this on purpose.
I immediately looked down at my two front cargo shorts pockets and put my hands over them. When I looked down at my left pocket, sure enough, the guy on my left on the other side of the metal divider had one arm with a folded jacket over it covering what he was doing with his other hand. His hand had one of the two buttons on my left pocket open. In another second or two he probably would have had what was in my left pocket. I had 900 Euros and my credit cards and ATM cards in my left pocket and my passport and $1200 US dollars in my right pocket.
After I grabbed my pockets I pushed both of them out of the way breaking their box they had me in. The pickpocket said to me “Take it easy!” in English. I said to him “I know what you’re doing!”. I turned to face them with my back to the opposite door making sure no one was behind me. At this point I wasn’t sure how many of them were working together. I was looking at everyone, including women and children, not sure if they are working with them. I just stared down the three I knew for sure were in on it as the train pulled out of the station. I wasn’t sure if they were going to try to jump me and get out at the next station. I just stood there with my arms and legs apart and watched them while they acted nonchalant like nothing happened. No, I am not Chuck Norris or an MMA fighter; I just figured that they do their thefts in a non confrontational way so they would probably not try to continue with me after they have been exposed. The rest of the people on the train didn’t seem to notice what was going on and I doubt would have got involved if the situation got worse for me.
When the train pulled into the next stop, about six people got off. I can’t say all of them were working together, but there were definitely three and maybe up to five of them. Had they known what was in my pockets, I don’t think they would have given up after my resistance. Of course, if they pulled out a gun or knife I would have given them whatever they wanted because money and passports are just things that are replaceable.
So besides this article being a travel tip on staying alert, what does this incident have to do with anything? Well it shows you the importance of diversification even in a micro sense. If I had everything in one pocket and they stole it, I would be in a really bad position and probably have to really delay or cut my trip short. If they just got the Euros and credit cards, I still had cash and my passport in the other pocket. Had I lost the passport, it would be the most devastating in terms of getting new travel documents, but I would still have cash and credit cards.
Now you might be thinking, “If you didn’t have all of that in your shorts, you wouldn’t have this problem in the first place.”. That is true, but the only other place to put them is my backpack which can also be stolen. This incident made me think that I need some kind of passport and money holder that goes under my clothes that pickpockets do not even have on their radar.
Just because this happened in Greece, it doesn’t mean that Greece is more dangerous than many other tourist countries. As a matter of fact when I was around 14 years old around 1985, my cousin (who is only a few months older than me) and I got robbed in broad daylight in Times Square in New York City on Thanksgiving Day. This was no pickpocket either, the guy steered us to the outer edge of the sidewalk while many people walked by. He picked us because he followed us into McDonald’s and saw my cousin break a $10 bill to buy a 50 cent ice cream cone. He said he had a knife and would stab us if we didn’t empty our pockets. We emptied our pockets with one hand while we continued to eat our ice cream with the other hand. He got about $15 between the two of us. He then told us to walk and not turn around. As we walked away eating our ice cream and walking towards the 49th Street subway station, my cousin asked how we would get on the train with no money. I told him not to worry because I had a $20 bill in my sneaker. I guess even back then I was weary of putting all my eggs in one basket.