“Estación Chacao” says the pre-recorded voice. The brakes screech to a halt, the doors sigh open, and I depart. Those former lovers with whom I had been lying in bed are again strangers. They will mug me in the street and they will help me when I ask for directions. They will give me the bird when I cut them off on the highway and I will do the same when they cut me off.
When HP and I had our last romantic, candle-lit dinner before I left San Diego he asked me:
“Damn dawg, you’re gonna take your laptop and camera and iPod down with you? Whatchu gonna do if some thugs jump you?”
I hadn’t really thought about it. By this point, I had sold off or given away just about all of my possessions. Everything I could now call my own – pictures, music, movies, writings – were all 1’s and 0’s and they were all in my laptop.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to fight,” I said.
“Crazy-ass-Oso, dawg,” HP responded with his signature smile and we started talking about something else.
Unlike in Peru five years ago, this time I knew immediately what was happening as soon as I felt the weight of his body on my back, his forearms crushing into my throat; I knew I was being mugged. The entire incident is a bit blurred in my memory – more like a slideshow out of order than a flowing movie.
I ended up on the ground. At least two people were kicking my stomach and back while I heard the voice of the guy with his arms around my neck yell, “suéltalo o te voy a matar.” I held onto my bag with dear life and tried to peel his arms away so I could breathe. Then I heard women’s voices and I realized that the two people kicking me were both women. One had stopped kicking me and took my wallet, then started pulling my pants down until my ass was showing.
I could feel blows to the back of my head with a hard fist. “En serio marico, te voy a matar,” was like a chant that echoed over and over. Somewhere in the subconscious of my brain, the calculus of self-preservation told me this was no longer worth it.
“Ok, ok, ok.” And I let go of my bag. The constriction loosened around my neck and the kicks to my stomach and back ceased. I pulled up my pants, stood up, and was amazed by what I saw. Just ten feet away was a group of 15 to 20 people staring at me blankly as if I were a daytime game show.
“¡Cómo que no me van a ayudar!” I pleaded, but no one moved. I saw the shadows of the three who had attacked me running up the alley. I started chasing after them and realized I was barefoot. One guy, two girls, street kids, all early 20’s.
For the first time, my brain started to work and I realized that if the kid had a gun or knife I would have felt it like I did in Peru. When he saw me chasing after him he put his hand in his pocket and made the shape of a gun. Again he said he would kill me and I hesitated. But then – in excitement and stupidity – he pulled his hand out with his index finger and thumb sticking out like a five-year-old boy playing cowboys and Indians.
I told him I’d give him my money if he gave me my bag. He said he’d kill me. Buying time I said, “at least give me my passport.” The girls pleaded with him, but the only thing he knew how to say was “te voy a matar, te voy a matar.” And it was obvious that he was as scared as I was.
Then we started to fight.
Real-life fights are nothing like the movies. They’re sloppy. The majority of punches thrown don’t find skin. And when they do, it’s a grazed cheek or shoulder. Real fights are much more homo-erotic than heroic.
A rock crashed into the wall where we were fighting and the kid started running away. And then a few seconds later a small stone tagged me in the thigh. And another. He was throwing them like baseballs and all I could do was retreat and dodge, trying not to let him out of my sight.
Let me stop here to say (as I later emphasized to the police sergeant) that by now the robbery had lasted more than five minutes. And, by now, there were more than 30 onlookers. But no one helped me out. Their inaction felt like a wave of hatred directed at me.
“No, no, aquí nadie se mete,” the sergeant would later respond, “here no one butts in.”
“But it was obvious that he wasn’t armed,” I stammered. “If just one other person would have helped me out, I’d still have my computer.”
Well, I shouldn’t say that nothing was done. The kid kept running up the alley, turning back occasionally to throw a rock at me. Finally, I saw a miracle. Ahead of the kid – at the far end of the alley was a patrol of four police officers with muscular arms and shoulders sticking out of their bulletproof vests. The kid didn’t even try to run. I shouted at the officers to stop him and, by the time I caught up, he was pinned against the brick wall with his hands behind his back. One of the two girls was there also with her head bowed down.
My bag was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t have cared less about the kid or the girl. They both looked homeless and dirty, their eyes vacant and mean. Even though I was bleeding through my shirt and my head was pounding, a streak of sympathy still flashed by when I saw how young and how old my attacker’s face looked. I just wanted my computer back.
They both told the officers that they had no idea who I was or what had happened while I ran around frantically and desperately asking every heartless onlooker where the third girl went but no one said anything. Somehow I felt more rage towards them than the kid who attacked me.
I gave up and went back to the police officers. They had let the girl go (“no tenia nada”), but were threatening the kid and smacking him hard with closed fists on the back of his head.
The next morning I was in the American embassy, accompanied by a Venezuelan security guard as I waited in the marble-floored lobby. The US embassy, high up in the luxurious neighborhood of Valle Arriba looks like it was built to withstand nuclear warfare, not to process visas and passports. I explained to the security guard what happened.
“Sí, agarraron el tipo, pero … Yeah, they got him, but they let the girl go. Then we tried to strike a deal. He left his cédula (national ID card) with us and said he’d get my laptop back to me if I gave him cash and my iPod. If not, he’d have an arrest warrant on his record for the rest of his life.”
It may sound strange to you that I was negotiating with the person who just mugged me in front of the police. But in Venezuela, it seemed normal. In fact, I trusted the police as little as I trusted the crook. I was furious that the officers let the girl go. If we had both of them, we could have kept one in custody while the other got my computer.
In the end, I was left with a national ID card and nothing else, not even enough money to take a taxi to the embassy. I waited with the police sergeant for two hours, first with optimism, then with resigned realism. Of course, the kid wouldn’t come back. How did he know the police wouldn’t arrest him after he handed over the laptop. How did I know that he didn’t strike a deal with the cops? I clenched my teeth in anger and defeat as the sergeant told me his favorite cops-and-robbers stories and assured me I was lucky that I didn’t get stabbed. He handed me a card with his number written on it. “When you come back to Venezuela, you call me up and I can be your personal bodyguard. It’s the only way for foreigners in this city.”
I have no idea how late I stayed up that night, staring at the ceiling while the techno of the clubs below reverberated through the walls. I had no way of telling the time. I had no one to talk to. Nothing to email with. No pictures to look at, movies to watch, or music to listen to. All I had was incessant bass rattling the window panes while I tried to take mental stock of what I lost.
It was an interesting exercise. How do we measure our losses? In money? In time? Frustration? Sentimental value? My laptop, old-school 30 GB iPod, my iPod shuffle, my electronic translator, and a few iPod accessories. Then there was my wallet, the $100 or so in cash, the credit cards I’d need to cancel and replace. The hours waiting in line at the DMV. But most frustrating was the data I lost. It had been two weeks since my last backup. Two weeks of working nearly eight hours a day. 80 hours of work at least. The email drafts were erased. The long essay I had been working on every day, was gone.
I rolled over, trying not to think about it and trying not to let my bloodied back stick to the sheets. Eventually, I woke, my room flooded with light, my bottom lip swollen, my head pounding, and my back and my stomach cramped and sore. I gathered a couple of dollars of change from around my room and started asking strangers how to get to the US embassy. At an airline office, some young guy about my age overheard me tell the clerk that I didn’t have enough money for a taxi and that I’d have to walk the 5+ miles. He chased after me in the street and handed me enough money for the taxi fare.
When I told my Chinese-Venezuelan taxi driver what had happened he waved off the money. “This is a dangerous city,” he told me, “but Venezuelans are good people.” At the embassy, they fed me, helped me get money wired, and called my banks to cancel my credit cards.
There is a scene in the highly-recommended movie Secuestro Express when the rich girl explains to one of her kidnappers that she has sympathy for the poor, that she’s a volunteer at a free medical clinic, and that she’s always done everything she can for the poor.
— Yeah, but you’re rich
— Is it a crime to be born rich?
— And rub it in everyone’s face? You live in a city knee-deep in shit and you drive around in daddy’s new Jeep and you wear this fucking dress? You know how many people you can feed with the price of this dress? You walk around this city rubbing your money in the faces of everyone and how the fuck do you expect that you’re not going to get kidnapped?
There’s no question that Caracas is one of the most dangerous cities in the western hemisphere. Crime, or “inseguridad,” has been the central issue throughout this fall’s ongoing campaigning. It’s the one issue Chavistas know they can’t deny. Crime has gone from bad to worse. Every day the newspapers have some opinion piece regretting the fact that no one walks at night anymore, that everyone wears a constant expression of fear.
The main opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, says he will crack down on crime and criminals. But already the police force has nearly doubled. Police are everywhere in Caracas. Helicopters have been purchased. And yet the murder rate keeps climbing and I’m sure that most robberies and kidnappings are never even reported.
On the taxi ride to the airport, we left the multinational-owned skyscrapers downtown and headed down the long grade to the airport. Crawling up the valley’s steep hillsides like a skin disease were impoverished spreads of brick and tin shacks. The same impoverished, hill-hugging shacks that spread throughout Latin America from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego. The cola, or line of traffic, to the airport was at a standstill from all the Cariqueños heading to the beach for the weekend. Walking up and down the smog-clogged corridors between the cars were teenagers, mothers, and dark young men selling soft drinks, pirated CDs, beach toys, and ice cream cones.
“How much do you think these guys make in a day?” I asked my taxi driver.
“They don’t do bad at all,” he said, “probably about 20,000 or 30,000 in a day.”
Ten to 15 dollars after standing out in the sun, breathing in the fumes of cars, and hawking goods all day long. Less money than most people reading this make in an hour. In front of the taxi was a brand new Range Rover. The windows were heavily tinted but I could make out the silhouettes of three kids jumping up and down and dancing excitedly in the back seat.
I can’t help but think of the scene in Secuestro Express. I can’t help but think that more equality is the only thing that will diminish Venezuela’s crime problem. And, of course, more opportunities. Whether you believe those opportunities should come in the form of government-run programs like Barrio Adentro or more minimum wage jobs at a new Wal-Mart probably depends on your politics and how you grew up. Personally, I’d like to see a lot more of both – more government programs to get kids off the street and into school and more jobs at Wal-Mart or anywhere else to give poor kids a wage other than what they’re able to rob and steal.
I have no idea what to expect from the future. Five years down the road is hard enough to imagine; 60 years, impossible. Maybe Southern California will be blown off the map by a North Korean nuclear missile. Maybe national governments will cease to exist and all we’ll have left is the UN and state governments. Maybe there will be more crime, maybe less.
60 years down the road I’ll be 86 and Hector Enrique Calderon Contreras will be 83. Who knows what the Internet will be like at that point. Who knows if this blog will still be online and if it is, who knows how significant or insignificant it will be in the sea of searchable information.
But maybe, just maybe, sometime in the next 60 years Hector Enrique Calderon Contreras will come across this post and he’ll remember the night he mugged a gringo tourist. Maybe that laptop he scored that night changed his life. Maybe he learned how to use a computer, was able to get a job, and found himself inside the global economy.
Or maybe he sold it for $500 and used the money to buy drugs. Maybe he kept stealing. Maybe he wound up in jail or dead.
I’ve written all this in my paper journal: a journal I hardly ever use because most of my entries were typed into my computer. The first page in here was written on my last day in San Diego. It’s full of happiness and optimism for the exploration and mystery that lay ahead. I can’t believe all that has happened in the two months since that entry. A friend of mine recently wrote me an email saying he missed this guy. I miss him too. I miss the guy playing drums on the steering wheel and singing out loud. I miss the guy doing the running man in a Hollywood club while wearing a dress. I have a feeling he’s just around the corner.
Revaz told me something bad happened…I”m sorry to hear about it. Its something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I asses my feelings of security here in Managua compared to Rio. While Managua is definately very chill in comparison to Rio, I’m almost more sketched here.
In Rio I never had anything with me, I never carried a bag, never walked around with my camera dangling from my shoulder, always andando bem vagabundo…I was never really worried about getting robbed because I had nothing to loose. Here in Managua, I’ve got my nice macbook and live in a house that is full of nice expensive macs, and it sketches me out because as easily as it is to forget in my little magazine bubble world I live in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere.
I’ve been trying to chill out some of the fears of one of my roommates as to the dangers of being here, telling him what I learned walking in the favelas in Rio, don’t believe the hype (or at least all of the hype…or maybe its learn which people’s hype to trust).
It hasn’t helped my argument that we’ve had three cars broken into in front of our house (well two cars, one of them twice), the construction site behind us got broken into, and supposedly the funeral parlor around the corner had some kids steal something form the outside. The only thing I’ve really been able to say is: its a lesson in the affects of income inequality. We live in a poor ass country and as much as we may not acknowledge it, we are the uber-privilaged here, we command a level of economic power that most only dream of. Of course there are going to be people that want to rob us, I prolly would too if I were them. Anyways not to sound like I’m trying to make light of your being mugged, just touched off something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
I hope your bruises heal soon, and I’m sorry about the computer…when I got my car stolen I couldn’t help but thinking of a scene from Harold and Maude where Harold asks Maude if she doesn’t feel bad about stealing other people’s cars and Maude replies with her giddy nature “I just like to remind people not to get too attached to physical objects.”
Damn dawg, I’m sorry que te eche la sal. 🙁 Fucken getting robbed and jumped sucks, I’ve had more than my fair share and everytime I felt disrespected, angry, helpless, even violated that someone can take my personal property without asking. If only this happened in California, we can do what we do in Compton when this happens – get one or two close homies together and drive around for hours until we find the motherfuckers that did it!
Let me know when you’re in SD and we’ll meet up, Pho is on me!
OMG! Oso – I am so sorry.
Primero, que fatal lo sucedido. Segundo, eres un buenazo para relatar historias como esta, insisto en que deberias publicar un libro, aunque sea electronico. Y tercero, llama mi atencion que en cada circunstancia como esta, siempre podemos ver dos caras de la gente; una con falta de solidaridad hacia el projimo (toda esa gente que hizo nada por ayudarte) y la otra con lo opuesto (el muchacho que te ayudo con los medios para llegar a la embajada gringa). Dudo que las cosas cambien drasticamente en el futuro, al menos no hasta que los imperialistas dejen de serlo, jejeje.
Animo Oso!! Como dice la cancion: “siempre vendran tiempos mejores.”
Sorry to hear about your unfortunate incident. I can’t even imagine how you must feel. I mean, I start freaking out when someone jacked my first digital camera in baja. It wasn’t so much the money that it was worth but rather the memories that I had captured on the memory card inside. Hope you’re well.
I hope you are doing alright – let us know if there is anything we can do for you.
I called it coincidence and you called it fate. After reading this, I don’t think either word applies. Now that I know why you’re back, I feel selfish for being happy.
After my sister Lori got mugged last year, Adrian wondered aloud, “I wonder if she fought them or if she just let them take her stuff like a weenie.” When we found out that she had struggled with her muggers, Adrian was proud of her. My dad was upset.
“You should have just let them take your purse. That’s all just material stuff, it can be replaced. What if they would have pulled you in to the car…?”
I’m glad you weren’t a weenie, but like my dad, I was also scared for you as I read this. I’m glad you’re back, but I hope the Oso who vomited on my car doesn’t return.
Oso, un abrazo enorme. En serio. Gigante.
Wow. Even though we aren’t supposed to get too attached to our material objects, it’s very hard not to. I’m amazed you were able to hold out as long as you did.
Glad you came out okay. . .
Sorry to hear about this , Oso. Much love.
Ouch, but glad to hear you are alive. Please let me know if I can do anything to help.
Revaz had just mentioned to me the other night that you had been visciously mugged, and I wanted to call but wasn’t sure if you were in the States again. I’m glad you’re writing homie, and truly glad you’re safe now.
I’ve had my fair share of scars, both emotional and physical, caused by traveling. The most notorious was Paris 2004. I had a fist fight on the Champs-Elysees Jan 1 2004 that put my face straight into a TImbaland boots rough sole. After a raucous group of French youngsters blatantly molested my cousin’s girlfriend, I stepped in and managed to get one punch in. Unfortunately, there were 8 of them and 3 of us.
Long story short, I awoke later that New Year’s morning with all the festive pep kicked out of me. My eye was scarred from the boot kick to my face, and my head a little banged up, but I remember walking out to snow-covered streets and thinking that since I had survived, I was in good hands. Later I saw my friends and they called me a hero. My cousin gave me a bear hug.
I remember for a moment I lapsed into anger’s nasty domain and thought, “how the fuck could they touch her like that and then kick my ass for defending her?” I only asked once and never bothered to indulge in the question. I simply confided in the fact that it’s the world we live in. Those kids that kicked my ass probably weren’t “bad people”, but they made some serious mistakes. I vouch for that because my idealism tells me that people are innately good, and people just make some seriously fucked up decisions.
We’ll be chattin friend. adios..
oso – much love. i am sending you reinforcements in the ether.
omg. You need to translate this into Spanish so this thing will be more accessible in Caracas. I think I have the same kind of optimism about the world, and have always felt safer in public places… wtf world. I mean really.
gracias por compartirlo
Bienvenido siempre a Venezuela, algunos, la mayoría, no somos tan malos.
glad to hear you’re ok, oso. and welcome home. 🙂
I’m glad you’re doing well. I remember seeing Secuestro Express earlier this year and canceling my trip to Guatemala partly because of that movie. Kind of freaked me out.
I’m with Nathan, I think you should translate this into Spanish as well.
The first step to solving crime is find a way to get the 30 or so people who stood around and did nothing to act.
Apathy and resignation are at the core of bigger problems.
What a messed up thing to happen! I was just in Caracas visiting a friend who is a reporter there. It was hard to enjoy myself too much with all the warnings he was giving about our safety. Every time I needed to get a taxi I was nervous about whether it was a legit deal. Leaving his apartment one night he took us to the taxi and kept telling the driver, “Van a llamarme cuando llegan.” His boss had actually been kicked out of a cab after the driver pointed a gun at him, his wife, and daughter, leaving all their baggage (They were returning from the airport).
As a middle class American it’s definitely hard to comprehend a place with so much desperation and violence. I’m glad that you were able to get away relatively ok and with such a positive attitude. I look forward to reading more about your experiences there.
I can help but feeling kind of guilty because I did not warn you enough. I knew you were aware that crime is rampant in Caracas, but maybe a warning could have persuaded you of taking precautions. I know first-hand how it feels when somebody take your computer away. It’s not just stuff.
I’m not willing to lock myself inside my home, and I won’t recommend that to anyone. However, caution is necessary when living in a disheartened society.
That is our case. Crime is just a consequence of the dismaying social crisis we face. We suffer from poverty, truly. However, after just two months of moving back to Venezuela, I’m sure that we are suffering more from anomie. That people in the Metro watching the show of you being robbed. That is anomie. In just two months I experienced several episodes in which the breakdown of values among Venezuelans is unmistakable. I’m used to poverty, and I’m not used to living an anomic society.
It’s truly disheartened.
I plan to translate some excerpts from your post. It’s poignant story.
qué puedo decir sino que te llevaste toda una full venezuelan’s experience…es nuestro dia a dia pero nunca te acostumbras. Efectivamente hay demasiada injusticia..ya no me puedo imaginar cómo será dentro de 60 años, todavía espero que mejore.
reitero lo dicho por Luis Carlos, bienvenido cuando quieras… no todo es tan malo
Hey man, I feel your pain. What a story. Life’s a bitch like that. It really forces us back to center square when it feels like it. She’s like….Deal with it.
And yeah…more equality and fairness and empathy for others is a solution that can, i think, be applied to caste problems, border problems, jihad problems. It’s all over. Nature demands a balance. Sooner or later.
man, osito, I’m so glad you’re ok. i’m really sorry this happened to you. i’m so angry after reading this post that i can’t even find the right words…but let me just say that you got some balls for running after those kids the way you did. like cindy, i was scared reading you pulled a stunt like that! but proud to know you’re the kind of person who’ll bounce back from this experience in no time. cuidate amigo.
Cómo lamento saber lo que te ocurrió y no puedo más que ratificarte lo que varios de nosotros te han dicho. Que eso no nuble lo bueno que viste y lo bueno que hay. persiste una suerte de desasosiego y es maravilloso poder seguir leyéndote acá.
Un gran abrazo
Oso, I am so sorry some stupid fool would do such a thing to you..WELL Fools! I hope you feel better physically and those physical memories go away! I don’t like when people hurt ..and I hope you take a lot of time for yourself to relax and clear your mind..you’ve been through alot!
Very sorry to hear about this violent run-in. Whenever something like this has happened to me I’ve always chosen to believe that the experience would likely arm me with the insight to avoid a similar but worse situation. Should one go for too long unscathed he or she can often completely let their guard down and become all the more vulnerable.
I’m glad that the worst thing out of this is going to be a painful memory and the best thing is that you can clearly tell a lot of people care for you.
Dude… I am sorry you got mug… but, I am happy you are alive! Other than that, been there, done that 😉 Peace out from Maracaibo, Zulia State
oso, i just read your post. i am really sorry to hear that you were mugged and robbed. i agree with xolo on the the apathy and resignation of the bystanders that just stood and watched. and i can’t believe you went after them. no matter how fancy or sentimental the laptop and ipod were, its not worth as much as your life. and yeah, pinche hp te hecho la sal. i think candle-lit dinners should be on him from now until the end of the year. hope your feeling better.
i send my sympathies as well, man. what a terrible way to end your time down there. and hey, what happened to the vaunted promises of hugo chavez to improve the standards as champion of the poor masses??? is he not the panacea to the problems of the poor that he proclaims to be???
Ay Oso lo siento mucho. Me ENPUTA que te haya pasado esto chingao! Lo bueno es que no paso a mayores y estas vivito y coleando. Listo para dar mas guerra!
Y hasta tiene cara de malo el cabron hijo de puta.
Oso, you were in my dream last night, looking skinny and tired. I didn’t even read this post until today, and we’ve only had fleeting encounters in the blogosphere. Really weird. I somehow sensed something. I hope you’re doing okay.
Siento mucho saber que te hayan lastimado emocional y fisicamente , espero que pronto te recuperes para seguir disfrutando de tu talento innato.
Asidua lectora de tu pagina.
Llegue aqui x mi tia Alma, ahhhhhhhhh t juro no tengo palabras!! me ENCABRONA EMPUTA!! como es posible!!!! ahhh lo q mas me kgo fue q los dejaron libres!! o sea como!!?!?! ahhhhhhhhh yo si t hubiese ayudado si hubiera estado ahi!! de veras q si!! kbrones de mierda!! si si se q el pais esta del nabo, pero no no esta bien la situacion ni ahi ni en MX!!! ahhhhhh q podemos hacer???pinche gente mierda!!
sorry es q me enoje mucho!!
bueno espero q ya estes bien!!