Mugged in the city of love
Have you ever been mugged?
I was almost mugged, but by a combination of stupidity, drunkenness and luck I somehow managed to evade my would-be muggers.
My almost-mugging occurred on my first trip to Paris roughly thirteen years ago. I have returned to Paris several times since and have had plenty of incident-free sojourns, usually to film skateboarding and go skateboarding - and that seems to be the difference between confrontation on the streets and not.
Here’s how the incident went down in the summer of 2001.
Myself and three friends from my small Irish town of Bray had planned to go ‘Inter-railing’ for the first time around Europe. We had all just completed our first year of college and seeing as we were students we were eligible for cheap train tickets to take us across the continent. So we bought some multi-zone tickets and very loosely (and drunkenly) planned a retarded journey of haphazard stops across a few countries.
Our itinerary looked like this: Paris (one of the guys could speak a little French), Zurich (it sounded funny), Innsbruck (no idea), Bergamo (it sounded romantic, small, and traditionally Italian like something from a book called ‘I am David’ that we’d all read about an escaped concentration camp boy. It was none of the above) ,and Wurzburg (two of us had been on a school exchange there and we were hoping to relive past glories. We didn’t.)
So our route that was mainly chartered by our drunken teenage willies was set and we arrived at our first port of call, Paris.
Fish out of water. Pre-GPS, pre-smartphone. The one dude who could speak French was too shy to speak it. The airport bus dropped us somewhere in the business district on a humid and sticky summers evening, leaving us to traipse aimlessly around for quite some time until we could find where the hell on our Lonely Planet maps we were. Someone finally took the reigns and the four very pasty Bray boys descended into our first trip on an underground rail network.
We all kept eyes to the floor and hands clutched to our precious cargo (of clothes in rucksacks) as we were being eye-balled and jeered by some uncouth gentlemen at the other end of the carriage (or maybe they were just saying hello, we couldn’t understand anyway).
When we finally arrived at our destination’s Metro stop we were greeted by more hostility, ladies of the night and general confusion. We must have been in a bad part of town as upon seeing the lost brigaders one local old gent hasted us to our hostel from his high rise apartment window (it must have been 4 stories up, the likes of which we’d never seen in Bray!)
We finally got to our youth hostel and upon seeing a happy hour in the hostel’s bar we proceeded to take full advantage of the plastic cup booze offers as we were joined by approximately none of the other guests. Eventually hunger got the best of us and we decided a local Mc-Ds would be the prime spot to soak up the evening’s suds. So I grabbed my hi-8 camera and we made the short journey up the boulevard the get our first sample of fine French cuisine. We giggled and shoved our way up the street as we took in the flavor of a real big city. Prostitutes! Homeless People! A Young Man! A Young Man repeatedly hitting me in the face with his elbow and not his fist. Another Young Man! He’s doing the same thing to my friend. My other two friends! Watching from twenty metres away and being too cowardly to intervene! Yippy, big city life!
“Donnay” (donner = give) That’s all I remember the dude saying as he struck with one arm and beckoned with the other to hand my shitty hi-8 camera over. As I was drunk and had just been sneak-attacked it took me a few seconds to grasp the variables of the street transaction.
“No!” I said. So the two dudes cornered me and gestured that they were pulling out knives. (note: my other two ‘friends’ were still a good safe distance away)
Wow! A real mugging! “Donnnaaay! Donnay! Donnay!” Fuck this! “Nooooo. No! No! Noooooo!” My reflex actions took flight as I dodged the two shankers and sprinted full speed into an awaiting bench.
I was at my most vulnerable stage but for some reason they didn’t pursue me.
We returned to the hostel, in a panic three of us bought pen-knives from a vending machine. We got out of Paris the next evening and high-tailed it to Zurich. We were young, we were green and we were retarded. And I was the only skater.
My first trip to Paris was the last trip abroad I’d take with these guys. Soon after I went on my first foreign skate trip and that was the end of all non-skate foreign sojourns for me. On our entire Interrail trip we didn’t make one lasting friend. We stuck in our insecure little group and didn’t interact.
Skaters are by no means immune to mugging, but when I street skate I feel a lot safer. Dealers, junkies, prostitutes and their associates seem to regard you as part of the furniture, so when they see you skating down their street with confidence (in a group or solo) they often make the assumption that you're local. Had I been skating the same street in Paris with some locals I doubt the same chain of events would have occurred.
I owe a lot to the tradition of skate travel (skravel?). Skate trips have given me something very genuine and a lot of things I could never get on these regular trips. Local guides, local knowledge, cheap eats, lasting friendships, adventure, a place to crash and an authentic slice of somewhere new that you just can’t get through any pre-packaged tourist guide (or badly planned cross-continental pub crawl).
Thanks to Joseph and Bastien for shredding on this trip and to David “Daniel Craig” Turakiewicz and his lovely wife Ursela for giving my bag of bones a place to rest and making this another non-regrettable “skravel” adventure!
photography by David Turakiewicz
words. Phil Evans /