“Watch out for the gypsies. They are great pickpockets,” I was warned by my friend Josh.
We were walking through Florence, Italy, and Josh and Kerry were about to leave us. They were headed to join a tour, while Kathy and I were going to explore and shop.
I immediately thought of the 250 euros I had in cash and decided to move it from my pants pocket. I inventoried what I was wearing and decided the left breast pocket of my shirt would do it.
I Can Handle This
This pocket opened on only one side and had a velcro closure. No pickpocket could possibly get the money from there without my knowing it. My money was secure. Now all I worried about was my phone and wallet.
We walked and shopped, and I bought stuff with my Visa card. Then we stopped for some gelato. The cashier asked for 12 euros. I reached awkwardly into my left breast pocket and pulled out a twenty. He gave me change which I put in my pants pocket. We enjoyed our ice cream, and it was time to go back to the hotel.
We Were Tired
Kathy said, “There are lots of taxis here. Let’s skip the bus and travel more comfortably.”
“We need to go through the trouble of taking the bus. It is all part of the experience,” I responded.
She readily agreed, and so off to the bus we went. We finally got to the main bus station at 5:07. The next bus to our destination was 5:17.
The crowd was building, and I wasn’t sure we would even get on the bus. It came, and we squeezed on. Literally, we squeezed on.
It Was Sardine-Like
I already had our tickets in hand. They needed to be fed into the timestamp machine. I had some guys pushing me from the middle of the bus to the machine. They had the same problem I had; they had to get their ticket stamped too.
Two men stood out from the crowd. Even in the chaos, I noticed something different about them. It was their eyes. They were cold, lacking engagement. One was thin and carrying nothing, and the other was a little heavyset with a backpack strapped to his chest.
It Was Annoying
They pushed me forward to the time stamp machine, which was annoying. I was doing my best to squeeze through the crowd to the front of the bus, and they were right on my back. There was lots of contact.
I finally got close enough to the machine to ask another passenger who was riding next to the machine to take my tickets and stamp them.
Now I was determined to squeeze back to where I came from and find Kathy. On the way back, I got pinned hard between a couple of people.
I Got Stuck
I literally got stuck for about ten seconds, like someone was holding on to me. One of the men I was pinned to was the guy with the backpack on the front of his chest. Just then, the bus stopped, the doors opened, and I was released. These two men got off along with a number of other people.
I reached for my wallet in my right back pants pocket. It was there. I reached for my phone in my left back pants pocket. It was there. I reached for the cash in my left breast pocket. There was something there, but it didn’t feel like before. I pulled out a fifty euro note, but the rest was gone.
They Got Me!
The last time I got robbed was in a Paris subway. Those guys were even better. They picked my pocket when there was no one even near me. But these guys were good too.
They work in teams and identify you while you are waiting for the bus or train.
They look you over carefully and figure out where you have your money stashed.
They will figure it out. I would never think somebody would keep their cash in a breast pocket of a shirt.
They position themselves around you. One physically accosts you, or pins you in my case, and the other goes through your pockets and gets the cash.
You are so distracted by the harshness of the physical touch of the first guy that you don’t even see the second guy. You push back to get relief from the first guy.
Then It Is Too Late
Their timing is perfect. They know exactly when the bus or train is about to stop. That’s their exit plan. They will move in just before the stop. By the time you figure them out, they are off the bus and gone. Pocket picked with a successful escape!
A bus packed with people, and I’ll never forget the blank expression in the eyes of those two men.
Also published on Medium.