I’m running out of That Time I _____ posts, which is why this blog hasn’t had one since August. I don’t allow myself to make up any of these stories, so they’re in limited supply.
Since I settled last year in small-town Indiana, it has gradually dawned upon me that I probably won’t get mugged if I go out at night. Years of living in Ecuador conditioned me to be cautious. After dark, the streets in cities like Quito are not exactly the safest place.
I once fell prey to a band of thieves on the streets at night, and it was rather a dull business.
Honestly, I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or thankful the incident wasn’t more exciting. There were no knives, guns, blackjacks, nunchakus or venomous snakes. As I strolled along a sidewalk in Quito, three or four hoodlums descended upon me, ripped a silver chain off my neck and snatched some items out of my backpack.
With tremendous sagacity and presence of mind, I skedaddled.
I hailed a taxi once the thieves were out of sight. Now there’s something I need to make clear. Taxi drivers, known as taxistas in Ecuador, sometimes swindle their passengers by charging too high a fee—especially if their passengers are gringos. (There is a widespread and decidedly false notion in parts of Ecuador that all gringos are wealthy.) The best way to avoid being swindled is to keep an eye on the taximetro, or taximeter, making sure the taxista turns it on and charges not a cent more than it indicates.
Well, I was too flustered after being robbed to check the taximetro. I hopped blithely into the taxi, gave the taxista directions and sat in stunned silence. When the taxi stopped just a few minutes later, the taxista demanded five dollars.
This was ridiculous. Taxis are pretty inexpensive in Ecuador—they’re used mostly by people too poor to buy cars—and we hadn’t spent even five minutes driving.
I objected. The taxista repeated his demand. I played my trump card and threatened to summon a policeman. The taxista made a reply I’ve forgotten, but the gist was something like “Bring it!”
Tired, angry and desperate to get home, I paid the taxista. I was twice a victim of robbery that night, but it didn’t matter. I was home.
Looking back, I have to admire that taxista. Any petty criminal can snatch a necklace or a bag. It takes an artist to persuade the victim to surrender his money.
These days, I don’t worry much about getting robbed on the streets. My town seems to be populated mostly by Amish, squirrels and senior citizens, so muggings are rare.