The Hobo Guide to Getting Mugged
The first time I was mugged, it took me a while to realise there was a knife at my neck. Blissfully unaware of the guy snarling at me to give him my watch, I’d babbled on over the traffic thundering below, stoked that a Colombian had asked me – fair haired, blue eyed me – for directions in his own country. The whole thing was a bit of an anticlimax – just a small man who, if it wasn’t for his little blade resting by my jugular vein, I probably could have thrown off the bridge we were on.
After exchanging around $60 and my mobile phone for, presumably, his sparing of my life, we were faced with the awkward walk down off the bridge and onto the footpath together. Minutes later, I had my phone back and had just sent two massive specimens from the Colombian Marine Corps after him, M-16 rifles and all. Not a complete victory, but I like to think I came off better than he did.
You can minimise your chances of being mugged by sticking to the safe parts of any given city, but by doing so you often miss out on the more interesting sights and experiences. And sticking to “safe” zones indicated by the guy at your hostel isn’t a sure thing either – the little incident above took place in an upper class neighbourhood with private security guards at every door. The street stick up is an elegant dance, one where a rash or unexpected move by either party can have serious consequences. By following these steps, hopefully you can cut your losses next time some punk kid pulls his mother’s potato peeler on you.
- The first and most obvious move is to carry only what you need for the day. No credit cards, large stacks of cash or passports. Back up your photos regularly so it’s only the camera you’re losing. If it disappears from your dorm, at least you have a list of suspects.
- In Bogota I met an American guy who used to carry a switchblade in the street. “In case anyone tries me,” he used to brag. He’s lucky no-one did. Pulling a knife on the guy who pulled a knife on you does not fix the situation, it just means you’re now in a knife fight. And if the guy’s packing anything with a little more firepower, well, good luck seeing how far your dinky Swiss Army knife gets you.
- If someone expresses a desire to relieve you of your belongings in a public place, make them work for it at least a little bit. A friend once had a gun shown to him in a street crowded with people, and by simply smiling, playing dumb and continuing to walk, the would-be thief was forced to give up. Don’t go throwing your stuff at the first idiot who shows you the handle of the pistol in his pants.
- There’s no getting out of it if you’re alone and/or they’re right in your face, and here the strictest rules of stick-up etiquette must be observed. Don’t freak out and make a bunch of noise – you’re not the first person in the world to get mugged. Hand over your cash, keeping your wallet and any I.D. and other cards if you can. They get your watch, your mp3 player, your camera, your phone, whatever they ask for. Do exactly what they want you to do, within reason. I knew a girl who, when being relieved of her smartphone at knifepoint, insisted on taking the sim card out before handing it over.
- No possession really is worth the trouble of fighting back but if you must, you have to be absolutely sure that you’ll come out on top. If the slightest thing goes wrong, he’s the one with the knife in his hand.
- If you’ve been stuck up in a spot that obliges your mugger to stay in your company for a little while after the fact (for example, pedestrian bridges are popular in Bogota), see if you can gently reclaim anything. That mobile phone I got back? I did so by telling the guy I was on my way to meet a really hot girl and I just needed to write down her number, so I could call from a payphone and explain why I wouldn’t be showing up later. He went one better and let me keep it. Then he shook my hand before we parted ways, which was a little weird.
- Once they’ve disappeared, you need to hold yourself together. As the mug-ee, this is your one opportunity in the whole dance at regaining some redemption, and it is no time to fall apart. You have a rapidly fading window where you may be able to get your stuff back, and really it depends on a law enforcement officer being nearby. If you speak the local language (or he speaks English) give a description and an address where he can find you. Maybe they’ll get him, but they probably won’t.
- If you have insurance, go to the nearest police station to file a report. If anything’s going to get you compensated, it’ll be that document.
- Be prepared for all sorts of crazy emotions when all the action is over. After my first time as a mug-ee, I came out with an adrenaline high, my hands shaking and feeling like “well, that wasn’t so bad”. The second time was more violent and I was a volatile combination of scared and pissed off. I would replay the whole incident in my head for weeks afterward, only where I hunted my attackers down, knocking the three of them out one by one. Then I’d undress them, hog tie them and beat them senseless before leaving in the street for the night. I thought about carving the word ladrón – Spanish for “thief” – into their foreheads with their own knives.
- With that in mind, be advised that getting some mates and some kitchen knives and going back into the street after your mugger/s is definitely not a good idea. If you’ve followed Step 1, all they’ve taken is stuff that can be replaced. They only rob you of your sense of security and self-confidence if you let them.
And that’s it. Learn from the ordeal if there’s anything to be learned from it, chalk it up to experience and move on. Don’t let it ruin your holiday.