Update five days later: in the post, I estimated how my behavior would change. Now I have some data. For one day, I was (irrationally) afraid to walk the streets at night. That’s gone.
I am still taking my new phone out a lot less on the street, usually holding it in two hands and taking a look around to make sure no one is nearby first.
I have also started to feel less bad about getting ripped off as I’ve walked the streets day and night and frequently been within arms’ length of someone else’s phone. They are all absentmindedly checking their phone like I was, and I could snatch their phone just as easily as mine was snatched. “Be careful” is always good advice, but realistically almost everyone is a huge, easy target. Luckily getting something stolen is a low probability event in Buenos Aires and most places.
Last night, I had something stolen for the second time ever while traveling. If you’re in the market for an iPhone 6 Plus, there might be one for cheap somewhere on the black market of Buenos Aires.
After an amazing dinner with friends at a (not so) “secret” parrilla in Buenos Aires last night where we learned after we’d finished that each bottle of wine we’d bought entitled us to a free bottle of champagne, I headed out with a few guys. I called it a night early for Buenos Aires at 2:30 AM and was walking the three blocks home that I’ve walked dozens of times at all times of day and night.
As I got within 10 steps of my door, I had my cell phone in one hand and my keys in the other. A short guy came up behind me grabbed the phone right out of my hand and took off.
I started chasing him. I wasn’t sprinting because I didn’t necessarily want to catch him. He hadn’t shown a weapon, but who knows, and I didn’t even want to fight. I just wanted to make it clear to him that I could run all day, so that he would just drop the phone.
I hadn’t taken into account that he had a getaway car, and a block and a half into our jog, a regular city taxi turned onto the block, and he hopped in. There was a moment when I could have maybe grabbed the driver or hopped in myself, or stood in front of the car, but I didn’t do any of those. And probably none of those would have been smart.
The car had another man and woman in the back seat, and the driver was clearly part of the team, so at least four idiots went out to steal cell phones last night.
As the car drove away, I tried to remember its license plate, but I can’t 100% say that I got it–all that free wine and all.
Another taxi driver pulled up 15 seconds later and said he saw what happened and to hop in. We turned down the street they had turned, but we didn’t see them and gave up the search after a few blocks when we saw two beat cops. (In Palermo, Buenos Aires, there are cops throughout the neighborhood who stand around on a certain corner for hours on end. Generally it makes the neighborhood very safe, though these cell phone snatches occur with some frequency.)
I told them the story, and they sent me to the nearest police station to fill out a report. I gave the officer taking the report the license plate as I remembered it, and she said that would be turned over to an investigator today. Hopefully I remembered it correctly, and that leads to the taxi driver being collared and me getting my phone back. I do consider that unlikely though.
Last night I was exceptionally angry for obvious reasons. I kept replaying the chase in my head, but this time I caught the guy and doled out various forms of physical retribution.
I was also embarrassed for less clear reasons. Maybe it’s because I always heard stories of other people getting robbed, pickpocketed, and stolen from in Buenos Aires, but thought that it couldn’t happen to me. Reality is, it can and did happen to me. (By the way, I consider Buenos Aires to be just as safe as most places and definitely safe enough to visit.)
I’d like to draw a grand lesson for me and you, but frankly I doubt I’ll learn much from this. When I have another phone, I will definitely still use it on the street, which will capture my attention, which will make this type of thing possible again. Maybe I’ll be able to stop it next time because an approaching person will set off an alarm bell to grip the phone tighter or because I will sprint after him anticipating I don’t have much time to catch him before he hops into a car.
The Story of the First Time I Had Something Stolen
I rented a moped on Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua for a few days and was heading back to the town to take a ferry the next day to the mainland. I fell off the moped by forgetting that you can’t steer while breaking. I was near a clinic, so I went there just to have them clean and dress my cuts. When I came out of the clinic, a very strong rainstorm started, so I decided to take refuge in a nearby restaurant where I had asked the cute waitress for directions a few days earlier.
She was still working, so we started flirting, and I sat down to order something while I waited. I completely forgot that I had put down my backpack when I entered the bar, and it was now out of view on the other side of the counter.
At some point over the next two hours, a guy popped in to ask the waitress directions. When I got up to continue driving, I couldn’t find my bag anywhere. I think that guy used directions as a pretense to grab the bag, since he asked from right where the bag was and the bag was out of view by his feet.
The good news is that the bag contained only several days worth of dirty clothes and a few books. I replaced the contents for probably $100. My passport and other valuables were locked in my moped.
Call me a dummy in the comments or share your similar stories.