Rob Me

There are certain aspects of my life where I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve managed never to break a bone or have a cavity, I went to a great university despite being an unapologetically lackluster student in high school, and hell, today I flew cross-country for a job interview only to find myself in the TSA screening line behind the very person I was traveling to meet.  But there is one place that luck seems to elude me (and it’s not my dating life, for those of you who read this site regularly)—it’s that people love to mug me.

That is not a statement you can write if you’ve only been mugged once. I’ve been pickpocketed in Manila, held at knifepoint in New York, and punched out in both Baltimore and Los Angeles. Having been mugged or otherwise robbed four times means, clearly, I’m doing something wrong. Word to the wise: if you don’t want to get your ass kicked and become intimately familiar with the practice of replacing the entire contents of your wallet, don’t be named Kyle. I hear that works pretty well.

MANILA

The Philippines, beautiful as it may be, is insanely dangerous. In the south, there are al Qaeda–affiliated terrorist groups who like to kidnap tourists; in the north, there was a military coup three weeks after I left town. Before college I was there visiting my great-uncle, and near the end of my trip he pulled me aside and told me I needed to “truly experience Manila.” My options were to go with him to a brothel so he could “make sure I left as a man,” or to go see what is regarded as a cultural hallmark of the Philippines, a cockfight. Telling my girlfriend back home that “it’s not cheating because my uncle made me do it” was not a thing I wanted try, so I figured watching chickens fight to the death was slightly safer.

We were dropped off at what can only be described as the shadiest arena ever built: this place looked like a dilapidated tennis stadium coated in a centuries worth of grime and chicken shit. Inside, all the seats had been removed and a crowd of nearly a thousand men (no women allowed) surrounded a fighting pit the size of a boxing ring. About halfway through the third bout, I felt something rubbing against me and looked down to see a hand stealthily trying to slip my wallet out of my pocket.

Looking back, I realize I made a few mistakes: aside from going to what is without a doubt the most dangerous place I’ve ever been in my life, the bigger mistake was the spectacle my uncle and I made upon our entrance. Two people getting out of a chauffeured car and leaving a bodyguard at the door is a bit conspicuous. Add in the fact that I’m a head taller and significantly paler than the rest of the crowd, and it starts to make a little sense why I was targeted. When traveling, it’s wonderful to get a true sense of the local culture, but if you stray from traditional tourist destinations, be careful not to bring the tourist vibe with you. There is something to be said for the theory that you’re safer when you blend in with the herd.

NEW YORK

In the fall of my first semester at NYU, the oppressive summer heat had started to give way to the welcome crispness of autumn, and it felt like a great day for a walk around my new city. There I was, minding my own business, listening to a mixtape from my then long distance girlfriend (yes, the same one I didn’t want to piss off in Manila), when a guy started yelling at me that I had bumped into him and broken some glassware he’d just bought.

I can be oblivious at times, but even in my own world listening to some awful Feist mashup that I thought captured the depth and complexity of “love” at age 18, I was fucking positive that I wasn’t responsible for the random shards of glass that this guy was claiming I broke. I protested, and that’s when he got more aggressive and flashed a knife at me. Bear in mind: this is mid-afternoon on 14th Street, and somehow I happened to be on the one block that was completely deserted. For those of you not familiar with Manhattan, finding a deserted stretch of 14th Street at any hour is like winning the lottery three weeks in a row—except, instead of becoming a millionaire, I lost the money I’d intended to use on a fake ID.

The lesson was to not fight it. At the end of the day, nobody robbing you really wants to hurt you: it’s just an intimidation tactic. While it sucks, giving up a little cash is the easiest way to ensure you stay safe and get the whole process over more quickly. That being said, if you plan on walking or taking public transit a lot in a major city, it’s best not to carry large amounts of cash on you. Most places take cards nowadays and paying a few extra ATM fees is better than getting stabbed or losing a hundred bucks in one fell swoop.

LOS ANGELES/BALTIMORE

One of the dumber things I’ve failed to learn in my life is that bad neighborhoods are bad neighborhoods for a reason. That’s not meant to seem like this privileged half-white kid from Malibu is afraid of minorities (after all, I am one); it’s more to point out that walking down a block filled with burned-out buildings in a sketchy part of Baltimore or trying to score some tacos at 3 am in a park known for LA’s May Day Melée is probably a really stupid idea.

Both of these instances have one major thing in common—drinking. An analysis of my drinking habits would likely necessitate another article, or bloat this current one past a length my editors would be willing to publish, but the thing to glean from this is that having one too many makes you an easy target. When sober, I’m pretty vigilant, but while drinking (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) I tend to get a little more reckless. Typically, this means I make ill-advised decisions with my phone or possibly earn some “constructive criticism,” but other times it means I go to iffy areas and mistakenly think everything will work out fine.

The easiest way not to get mugged is to not put yourself in a spot where that is likely to happen. If you wouldn’t go to a place during the daytime, you certainly shouldn’t go there at night, especially alone. Exploring new neighborhoods is often exciting, but what might be intended as a night of edgy fun can quickly take a turn from hipsterrific-dream to manic-pixie-nightmare. If you’re going to an unfamiliar place, don’t make it even less familiar by over imbibing. Nothing screams “rob me” like a drunk person who won’t remember the street corner they’re on in the morning, let alone their mugger’s face.

The brutal reality is that if you live in a highly concentrated urban area, you have to deal with the dangers that come with it. There’s nothing I can impart in this article that will ensure you never get mugged. While the act itself does feel violating, the key is to remember it could be worse: if you manage to get out unscathed physically, it’s a win. Usually nothing in your wallet or purse is irreplaceable, and it certainly isn’t worth putting yourself in danger. For those of us who feel that inexplicable draw of the big city, a hefty dose of common sense and responsibility goes a long way. And if that fails, just avoid hanging out with me at night.

Photo by Meaghan Morrison

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