San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Joining the Expat Mugged Club

I keep thinkingabout the gun. Itwas pretty dark out,but I think it was anine-millimeter. Ikeep thinking aboutthat gun and replayingin my mind themoment when theguy walking nonchalantlytowardme pulled it out,snapped the slideback and forth andsaid, “Tranquilo.”It made a little metallic click, so sillysoundingwithout Hollywood amplification.As if that little clicking thing couldreally kill me! I never saw the gun againafter that little show. The man shoulderedme into a dark corner and started askingwhat was in my bag, opening my computercase and fumbling in my back pocket.It still hadn’t sunk in yet, the fact that Iwas being robbed at gunpoint. When it’sonly 6 p.m. and you’re walking homedown the same street you always take, youdon’t really believe it at first, like theremust be some mistake. “I’m sorry sir, youmust have the wrong man. I’m not the onewho’s supposed to get assaulted. I was justgoing home to eat pork chops.”When it finally did sink in, my heartstarted racing, my hands started shakingand my mouth went all cottony, and Ithought, “Damn this adrenaline! I can’tspeak Spanish with all this adrenaline!”THEY say adrenaline triggers yourfight-or-flight defense mechanism, but inmy case it made me do something else thatpossibly saved my laptop and my bag: Ifroze. Robbers are prepared for violence,tears and flight, but perhaps not for someonestanding stock still, clutching his laptoplike a moron and muttering somethingsounding vaguely like Spanish.Perhaps the few-second delay I inadvertentlycaused was just enough, becausesomething frightened the mugger and heran away, jumped in a car and drove off. Istood there in the dark for a second, stillclutching my laptop. I breathed in and out,kind of shakily, trembling while I zippedup my laptop bag.Am I anything special? Not in the least.Most of the expatriates I know in CostaRica have been robbed on the street, andafter a year here I figured my number wascoming up soon. Maybe we should make aclub and hand out T-shirts – sort of a solidarityproject.That is to say, robbery is a part of lifein San José, especially robbery involvingexpats. Complain about it if you like, butyou’re better off preparing for it than pretendingit’s not going to happen.LOOKING back, there were a fewhabits I’d developed that proved efficaciouswhen the assault actually took place.One: I always carry a wallet with a fewthousand colones in it. Meanwhile, mycredit and debit cards and any large amountof cash I’m carrying are somewhere else.Muggers who are in a hurry will just grabthe wallet, and they aren’t going to take thetime to strip search you (I hope).Two: I (almost) never carry anythingthat makes me an obvious target. If possible,I try to avoid walking with laptops andhuge backpacks, or with iPod cords danglingfrom my ears. The first time I evercarried my laptop down that street was thefirst time I’d ever been assaulted.Three: Quite simply, I don’t make ahabit of carrying things I will have difficultyreplacing. Sure, I have to sometimes,but if it’s a laptop, I back up the hard drive,and if it’s a phone list in my wallet, I writeit down somewhere else.If I have to break any of these rules, Itake a taxi, get a ride or, as on that fatefulFriday night, I roll the dice. Snake eyes.Life goes on.OF course, there are those who say wecan’t let the terrorists win and make uschange our way of life. Those people canfeel free to leave their doors unlocked andwalk around La Sabana Park at 2 a.m. with¢10,000 notes hanging out of their pockets.The rest of us should proceed with commonsense and a dose of realpolitik – itdoesn’t matter if where you live in Torontois perfectly safe; you’re not in Toronto, soact accordingly.In the end, my experience turned out allright. A very kind Tico shop owner calledthe police for me and, though there wasnothing they could do, the police camewithin five minutes and took down myreport. Miraculously, the next day I foundmy wallet in the computer bag. I guess themugger shoved it in there and was going totake both until he got scared off.Still, though, I keep thinking about thatgun. Life looks a little different after you’vecome face to face with someone who seemswilling to kill you. But, like I said, the incidentwon’t change the way I live.Although I might stop carrying my laptoparound on dark streets.

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