Throughout my travels over the years, I have been in many places where pickpockets are said to be operating. Some places even post signs along the sidewalk saying so. I have been known to carry my money in a small “boot wallet” clipped inside my trousers; sometimes even attached to a retracting steel cable! And yet, I have never encountered a pickpocket until yesterday.
I suppose living here and getting out of tourist mode has made me a bit lax. I generally tool around Reading with my wallet in my back pocket and don’t think much about it. Yesterday, coming back from a business appointment, I experienced a fine London subway tradition: the service interruption. Interruptions from fires, maintenance work, equipment failures, electrical problems, etc. are so common that stations have electronic and whiteboard signs that announce today’s failures as they occur. So it was that in mid-ride, finding one subway line suddenly without service, I and hundreds of other riders had to change to an adjacent line.
The platform and then the cars when we boarded them were jam-packed! So tightly packed were we that standees, like myself, had no need to hold onto an overhead or vertical bar for balance. We were immobilized against the packing peanuts of our fellow riders. So there I was, Sardine Man, train in motion, when I suddenly felt a quick pat of my back pants pocket where my wallet usually lives. It took me a moment to recognize the sensation and realize, by the time a second and then a third pat had occurred, that this was not a grope but an actual grab for my wallet. But I was stuck: I could not turn my body to see behind me nor raise my arms due to the press. It occurred to me to yell “Pickpocket” but what would that accomplish? It was already too late.
My wallet, with all its valuable cards and money, all its irreplaceable pictures and charms, and some really hard-to-replace stuff, like my Virginia driver’s license, remained safely in my front pants pocket with my hand shoved in on top of it. I don’t remember doing it, but I know as soon as I spied a crowd assembling on the subway platform, I relocated my wallet to the front pocket and place a guarding hand in over it. This is another one my automatic traveler’s habits and, in retrospect I’m really, really glad I developed it. How frustrating would it have been to feel someone take my wallet but be unable to even turn around to confront them?
I think I’ll inventory my wallet tonight and remove a few non-essential things, then be a little more careful around Reading in the future. Just in case.