I can’t say I was caught unaware when the bag snatcher stepped up to meet me, face to face. He calmly looked me in the eyes, seized the strap of my purse with both hands, and yanked it hard enough to break the leather against my shoulder. It happened much faster than you can read that sentence.
I gave my little shout and the creep was off and running, Bob on his tail. It took me several seconds to realize that I still had the purse clutched tightly in my hands. I could have laughed, but for the fact that my husband was in pursuit of a potentially dangerous criminal in a decidedly unsafe neighborhood.
The street we had walked was full of the necessities of life in this non-touristy part of Barcelona, lined with tiny hardware, shoe repair, and paint shops. We had been directed there, without any specific warning, in search of a few pieces of wood. Peeking through doorways seeking the lumberyard, we revealed ourselves as obvious outsiders. As we strayed ever further from the relative safety of La Rambla, we sensed a vague but growing threat of danger.
My antennas were out way before the interloper trespassed so suddenly into my aura. I didn’t see his approach, but I had already assumed a protective posture. Both my hands held the small purse I wore diagonally crossed over my chest.
Bob was a few steps ahead of me and didn’t see the confrontation. It only lasted two seconds. It’s astonishing what analysis and conclusions the brain can manage in those instants. I thought the man looked ordinary but grave. He stood uncomfortably close and made uncommon eye contact. I thought he would speak. I thought he would ask a question, or offer advice. Against my will, I slipped into the trusting attitude of a traveler in a foreign land. And that was my mistake.
Perhaps I’d have reacted quicker or with more suspicion if the bag snatcher had looked sleazy, mean, or desperate. But he didn’t, and I gave him the benefit of any doubt. In those two seconds, the gentleman had all the opportunity he needed to seize the strap of my bag and yank.
My feeble objection was enough to get Bob’s attention. He whirled around and leapt into pursuit, his long stride a clear advantage. When the perp dashed into a crowded alley, I thought it was all over. Bob bellowed “Policia!” at a volume that would fill an amphitheater. I, far behind, expected to see the escaping sprinter blocked or tripped by the local loiterers.
On the contrary. The sea of people opened for his getaway, then closed up again to watch the tall guy run. They didn’t exactly block Bob’s path, but seemed to plant themselves firmly as obstacles. Bob had to give up.
For me, the humiliation suffered by the would-be thief was almost enough. Like a cat with a mouthful of feathers, he ran with nothing more than twelve inches of torn leather strap in his fist. Yet, I was shaken and weak-kneed immediately following the experience, and the after effects lingered for months. Despite the fact that I wasn’t hurt, I lost nothing of value, and Bob hadn’t been tripped in the chase, I felt victimized.
Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Five: Rip-Offs: Introducing… the Opportunist