Monday, April 18, 2005


Faithful readers, I have a confession to make. Once upon a time, I too was a JYA. It’s true; I know them so well because I once was among them. Granted, I avoided stretchy white tops and kept my skin under cover. In fact, I loathed JYAs as a JYA. They used to sit in the JYA office and squeal about Gwenyth Paltrow and lamented the serious lack of J. Crew in this city. I mean where do I get my pink capris? But this is all beside the point.

The point is this: I once was a much less savvy rider than the battle-scarred commuter I am today.

I’d heard all the warnings. Pickpockets? Rampant. Be vigilant! Close those sacks!

But I had also noticed that the only people fearfully clutching their bags to their chests were tourists. I wasn't a tourist, I lived there, right? So I’d taken to keeping my backpack (a French brand, bien sur) on one shoulder and covering the pouch with my arm.

But the very first day I let down my guard, leaving my backpack on, I met a pickpocket ring.

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about some man stealthily reaching into your pocket while you read your novel in your seat. Oh, no. This was nothing of the sort; this was a well-orchestrated event. I suspected nothing until the very end.

It was about five o’clock on a Friday afternoon--prime time metro mania. The quai was packed with commuters, no doubt on their way to a pleasant apéro after a hard week’s work.

I prepared to board the train at Montparnasse, similar to Chatelet in size and squalor. The train pulled up; I approached the door. Passengers disembarked; I waited patiently. Then, when the crowd began to push into the car, I found myself at a standstill. Others boarded, but the men around me didn’t move to get on the train. I was blocked from the front and on both sides. I tried to get around them, but they wouldn't budge.

It was then that I felt the fourth man’s hands in my backpack. Rummaging. How long had this been going on? I swiveled around and grabbed my bag. The men started to move away down the hall. I fished through the front pocket. Wallet, check. Metro pass, check. Phone? Phone?! Decidedly not there.

Amazing myself only in hindsight, I took off after them down the hall. I shouted, “Give me back my cell phone!”

To my great surprise, they stopped to argue with me. “We don’t have your phone, you crazy bitch.” “Yes you do--I saw you take it!” This wasn’t exactly the truth, but I was doing everything I could just to keep up my courage and my French.

Our stop-and-go routine continued as I chased them down the halls, shouting the same tired phrase, “Give me back my cell phone!” We passed countless passengers. No one did more than blink at me in my plight.

Finally, nearing the heart of the station where the tickets and the security office were located, they stopped again.

“What?! You want a phone?! This is the only phone I have! You want mine?!” One of the men showed me a phone. It wasn’t mine.

“No, I want my phone, of me.”

He reached into his pocket and threw it my way. It crashed by my feet. They took off, insulting me along the way. I collected my phone and, the adrenaline leaving my system, shook hard for the next few minutes as I made my way back to the quai to take the train home.


Blogger Nicolas said...

Emily's the girl to have around in a pinch. "similar in size and squalor" - love it.

PS - I too, have a shameful admission: I was once JYA. I steadfastly refused to be seen in public with any of my fellow-students and I insisted on speaking French with everyone. I'm pretty sure they hated my guts - oh wait, do I care?

11:12 PM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger Emily said...

Nicolas also tried the whole I-only-speak-French-all-the-time thing with me... but now we only do that fancy talk when walking through groups of thugs in the 18th.

11:33 PM, April 18, 2005  
Anonymous Mathieu said...

Wow, you ARE a battle-scared veteran!

You got that phone back 8-O

12:02 AM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it always in one piece ?


8:17 AM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Emily said...

Yes, the phone was of the old-school, bulky, Motorola variety, so it emerged unharmed from the incident.

2:27 PM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Lauren said...

Jeez you guys keep making me think of events from my past, not just any old events but railway related events .... on a train through the old Yugoslavia (this was about 15 yrs ago) a guy tried to steal the ring from my finger while I was asleep!!! Can you believe it! He didn't succeed, I did the 'stirring in my sleep just about to wake up' act and he left me in peace.

9:46 PM, April 19, 2005  

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