I spent the spring semester of my Sophomore Year at Cornell studying in Hamburg, Germany (this would be 1995). This was, as you might expect, a lot of fun. I spent most of spring break in Spain with my friend Andy Shuler.
On the final day of this trip we were in Madrid and were walking in an underground tunnel to catch our train back to Hamburg. Most likely we had been sleeping in a train station or at the very least unkempt and unshowered after a long day of walking around with oversized backpacks.
As we walked through the tunnels I noticed someone was right behind me. I assumed they were trying to get around me and I shifted to the right. He shifted to the right as well. So I shifted all the way to the left. So did he. So I stopped and turned around.
At this point I noticed his hand in my coat pocket.
I should digress for a moment here and let you know that my coat was incredibly baggy and had huge deep pockets so the fact that I didn’t feel him in my pockets is no surprise. And I should also take the time to mention that I had one of those money belts you are supposed to use when traveling abroad. You know to keep most of your money in and also your passport. Except I had quickly tired of wearing that belt and had started just shoving the whole belt in my coat pocket. I had no other wallet with me.
So I see his hand in my pocket and he is trying to pull out my money belt. But my pocket is so deep and those belts tend to have lots of extra straps so its kind caught on something and he had been having trouble getting it out.
We locked eyes for what felt like an hour – but was probably less then a minute. Me staring in shock at this thief who I had just caught with his hand on my wallet. He just stared back at me as he, I assumed, weighted his options. After the stare down the thief went right back to trying to pull that wallet out of my pocket. I pulled my right fist up in the air.
I should once again digress for a moment to let you know that my hand was not empty. I had a recently been in Toledo, Spain and purchased a sword that would not fit in my bag. So in my, now raised, right hand was a sword tightly wrapped in white cloth.
The man looked up at my sword, let go of the wallet, and ran far far away. It was only his look of fear that reminded me that I was even holding a weapon in my hand. I was so angry that this had almost happened to me that I really wish I had swung at him. The sword wasn’t sharp so it wouldn’t have done a lot of damage, but I think the solid clunk of the metal hilt hitting the pick pocket’s head would have been very satisfying.