Tag: muggers

Spotting the Mugger First

Living here, I have learned to be alert. Each lesson where I have not done that has been costly. We were held up at knife point a couple of years ago, maybe more. You can read about it in The Knives of Mexico in this blog. In that case, a young man ran up the stairs past us—203 to our house from the old city center—twice, and the last time planted himself in front of us, brandishing his knife, a few yard from our garden gate. The missed clue? The lack of awareness? No one runs up the stairs in this city. Unless they’re high on something and/or have robbery on their mind.

At the beach a year ago, staying in a converted trailer, I followed the landlord’s advice and did not turn on the air conditioning. Instead, I kept a window opened (with screen) and turned on the fan. At 07:45 the next morning, I was aware that a man was standing a foot from where I slept. He darted out with my iPhone, a book, my one pair of trousers and other items that came to a tidy sum. I ran after him, without success. I had my money and credit cards in plain sight, tucked into a small Indian-woven purse. He missed it for some reason, or I’d have really been jodido. The lesson: keep windows locked and the air conditioner on, regardless of what any landlord says. He had taken off the screen and come in the window under the cover of the noise from the fan.

Yesterday, a Saturday, I started home wearing my expensive Ridge Runner’s 25 LLBean day pack. Nothing wrong with that, except that it signals you have enough money for that and for what’s probably inside it. I fell in behind a woman in her thirties. She was wearing medium-length high heels and very short black shorts barely covered by a black skirt, with black straps crisscrossing her mostly bare back. Every once in a while, she would reach back and adjust her shorts to a more modest length. Mexican women dress carefully and rarely, if ever, adjust as they walk along. There was something not ordinary about her and her progress through my neighborhood. Plus, I had never seen her before.

At the first alley, a good-sized man came up behind her. He was leering at her, which was also out of the ordinary. How do I know that? Because one notices those thing. We got to the stairs where I have to begin climbing. She turned into the darkness there—there was plenty of daylight left. The stairs are always in shadow. Something I have never done before: I sat down on a low wall on the other side of the road and waited, to spare her me climbing up behind her, if she was so worried about her modesty.

The man had not followed her. She had distracted me from thinking about him. I only knew this in retrospect. After a while, I started up the stairs. At the top, at the level of the higher road, there was no sign of her. Which seemed a little odd. So I started up the next flights of stairs. Half way up, I decided not to rest. The same man was coming up behind me, and I had already decided there was something making me uncomfortable with that. After all, where had he been before? Why was he still around? Why hadn’t he climbed up behind her, or continued on the road below?

At the very top, I sat down on a low wall, as if taking in the extraordinary view of the various church towers, the university and the rich cluster of old colonial buildings in the city center. And I watched the approaching man. Ten feet away, he glanced at me three times, and looked away. Out of the ordinary. Ordinary would have been holding my gaze long enough after the second glance to add a greeting. That is how it works here. But he looked away each time, his face in neutral. Then he sat down on the opposite low wall and looked at his phone.

But my wife and I had been stalked before by a couple of thugs in Guadalajara, and that was what they did: keep referring to their phones. To show their disinterest. Plus, what was keeping him there? There is ordinary behavior, which includes sitting for some reason. You’re old, your children are tired, you’re tired from lugging a heavy bag of groceries up to your house, you’re making a call, or you’re visiting with someone. But no one sits without one of these reasons. I could also tell he wasn’t delighting in the view and wasn’t reading anything on his phone. He and his face were blank, empty of activity. And I wasn’t going to let him get me isolated from that public spot, where five narrow alleys came together, six, if you include the stairs. So, I got up and went back down the stairs, as if, as a tourist, I had taken in the sight and was now retracing my steps. Which I did, all the way down to the center of the city, where I hailed a taxi and went up the side of the canyon and home that way.

I looked back a few times to see if he was following me. But he wasn’t. And today I climbed home, taking a different path, just to throw off anyone bothering to be watching for me.

These things happen here every once in a while. A social predator or two roll in to town and try their luck. That was what the knife holdup was. A chance spotting by someone passing through in a car, who got out and ran up after us. In this case, this series of little things out of the ordinary, is probably a one-off occasion. But I am still curious to know whether the man in this story was working together with the woman so concerned  by the length of her shorts and so successful in distracting me from the man who was tracking me.

Muggers and Smoochers

We have begun a conspiracy. We are plotting strategies for neutralizing the muggers in the alleys of my small colonial Mexican city. I will not mention the name of the city. Enterprising young Mexicans respond to challenges, and I think I have already issued one at the beginning of this screed.

I prefer to call this a manifesto. Unite, citizens of the city! You have nothing to lose but your wallets!

My friend Jorge lost his laptop two nights ago. He is only now entering the post-traumatic stress zone. He cannot stop talking about the attack. Jorge is the barista and beer-ista at my favorite coffee house, the Café Acropolis. He heads home every night at about 12:30 am. That is when the twenty-year old highwaymen come out—alley boys, here. These two ruffians had a knife and a screwdriver–the latter, possibly sharpened on a grinder. They took his laptop and five hundred pesos in tips. He cannot replace that kind of loss. He asked me to consult with a local intellectual friend and café-ratón like me. That’s a cafe mouse, a regular client, who hangs out drinking strong cappuccinos, reading La Jornada, and writing fiction—or some other questionable material.

Perhaps I am the perfect consultant–being someone who pursues fiction, i.e. things made up. For that is exactly what we need here, where the police are not respected, are underpaid, untrained, and ineffective in combatting street crime.

Here are my suggestions. We find an attractive 30-year old woman who is fearless and very strong to walk up Jorge’s alley, carrying a laptop under her arm, at 00:30 in the morning. Military time seems appropriate here. Before hand, we position people along her path, couples that are locked in public embraces which they believe make them invisible to the public. These embraces have always provided an outlet for the hot temper of the young man or young woman, or both. But when it comes to recruiting smoochers, for the operation I have in mind, it is not always easy to find authentic couples that are already thick into the politics and clutching of new love. And so some of the smoochers have to be actors who do not necessarily know each other.

At their feet, there will be two plastic bags of cheap commercial Mexican eggs with their thin shells and pale yokes. The kissing, or pretending-to-kiss couples—the latter may experience some embarrassment—will have to smooch with one eye on the bait’s progress up the alley.

In order not to spook the young assailants, the clutchers and smoochers–real and pretend, both groups in the moment less than spontaneous–will have to fill the doorways and corners and not appear to show any concern for the public they are shutting out.

This will relieve the young highway robbers, who are circulating on motor scooters and underpowered motorcycles, looking for marks to hit. These víctimas would include students with laptops returning from study groups in friends’ apartments, theater and concert goers who have had a post-theater drink and aren’t paying attention, and anyone returning home after a very late dinner.

One lone thirty-year old is the perfect target, and when the lads park their scooter ahead of her and approach with the knife and screwdriver, she blows on her silver whistle in continuous short blasts. The smoochers pick up their bags of fragile eggs–a bag for each smoocher–and run toward the whistle blasts. As the teams–say, four of them–approach, they take out their eggs and begin throwing them at the assailants. Tomatoes are good, too. They throw hard and continuously. The bait woman keeps on blowing her whistle, flushing the neighbors out of their homes and confusing the robbers. A fifth pair–smoochers or non-smoochers–rush to the scooter and lock a chain through the front wheel so that it cannot turn.

The muggers find the scooter won’t save them, as planned. They run from the continuous barrage of eggs. The throwers stop throwing. The lovely bait-woman is also covered with egg. She has wrapped her laptop in plastic before hand. She goes home to shower, escorted by one of the four smoocher teams, having done her citizen’s duty. The fifth team leaves on the motor scooter. The muggers have left the key in place for a quick getaway. Some of the real smoochers discontinue their relationship from the stress of the operation.Some of the acting smoochers and clutchers form lasting relationships, from the stress of the operation.

The muggers never find their scooter again. Team number five has delivered it to the Municipio Público, the city police headquarters. The assailants give up attacks in the city’s alleys, even though they still have the knife and possibly sharpened screwdriver—because everywhere they look there are young, embracing Mexican couples, every night at 00:30.

I asked Jorge what he thought. He said he liked the plan and wondered when we could begin.