The tasteful tourist

Pickpocket, left, pretends innocence after stealing a wallet from Diaz, right.
Pickpocket, left, pretends innocence after stealing a wallet from Diaz, right.

Bob and I looked at each other in disbelief. Only we knew the incredible odds we’d just beaten. To stroll into Rome’s Termini, the main train and subway station, pick a platform, peg a pair of old men as pickpockets, position a victim, and have it all work as if to a script, in under twenty minutes, on Take One… we were flabbergasted, giggly.
The fact that the film crew’s hidden cameras captured it all was merely the cherry on top. This had been our hope and our plan, but we never dreamed we’d pull it off so quickly, if at all. Our prey were Italians; ordinary-looking, regular citizens. Not ethnic minorities, not immigrants, not identifiable outcasts. We’d begun this project for ABC 20/20 with this, the toughest challenge of them all.

Just last night, at dinner in a wonderfully touristy trattoria, investigative reporter Arnold Diaz and segment producer Glenn Ruppel had expressed their severe doubt. They wondered why ABC had allowed this frivolous endeavor, invested the time and significant expense in so improbable a venture. Hidden camera expert Jill Goldstein, serious videographer though she was, just seemed pleased to be along, on her first trip to Europe, her first trip abroad. The five of us ate an innumerable procession of courses any Italian would have pared by half, toasting luck first with Prosecco, then wine, grappa, and finally little glasses of thick, sweet limoncello.

Arnold Diaz interviews Bob Arno about pickpocketing techniques.
Arnold Diaz interviews Bob Arno about pickpocketing techniques.

Bob and I had worried all the previous two weeks, fretting over myriad potential obstacles. How could we be certain to lead the crew to thieves, get Arnold Diaz pickpocketed, and get it all on film? How would we find the perps in all of Rome?

Our hopes slipped a little when we first met Arnold. With his refined Latin looks and flair for fashion, he blended right in with the local Italian crowd. He didn’t look like a typical American tourist, who may as well have the stars and stripes tattooed across the forehead. Arnold didn’t look like a tourist at all; rather, he looked like a European businessman. So we gave him a five-minute makeover. We slung a backpack on him, put a guidebook in his hand, a camera around his neck, and a “wife” by his side (me!) and, poof—there he was: a tasteful tourist, ready to be ripped off.

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Two (part-g): Research Before You Go

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