By Jeremy Patton
I was a bit of a risk-taker when I was young. That was how I got myself into the following predicament, along with not paying attention to my surroundings.
I lived in Segovia, Spain for a three-month study abroad program in 1998. During Semana Santa (Spain’s holy week), I decided to travel to France and England, alone, which was intimidating for an inexperienced 20-year-old. I probably would have completed the trip without incident, however, had I not made one crucial mistake.
I was finishing my third and final day in Paris, viewing the Eiffel Tower. I grew tired. I crossed a nearby street where a carnival with bright lights and small rides operated. Above it rose a series of stairs and landings that led to another street, and the nearest metro station. I wanted to get to my hotel early so I could rest for the long train-ride back to Spain.
Rather than ascend near the street lamps, I decided, for whatever reason, to walk through a dark corridor. It was lined with benches and a perimeter wall.
A thin man, perhaps my age or younger, stepped in the front of me. He jabbered in French and motioned as if bumming for a cigarette. My peripheral vision detected two more silhouettes emerging from the shadows. I knew then that I was in trouble and chided myself for making such a foolish mistake.
My backpack was slung over my shoulder; I had refused to leave it in the hotel and carried it everywhere. It contained my traveler’s checks, passport and other important documents. I was willing to do whatever it took to defend it.
Rage boiled away whatever fear I had initially felt. I cursed and threatened the man. His goal was to distract me while his cronies closed in, I knew, so I wheeled around and bolted downhill toward the carnival.
His accomplice tried to block my escape, but I punched his face and charged over him without looking back. My fist hurt for weeks.
I reached the carnival and glared uphill where the thugs still lingered. I taunted and yelled and tried to lure them down, but they remained hidden in the shadows. I was appalled that they had tried to assault me. I wondered how many innocent people they had robbed in the past?
I went to a food stand and asked the vendor to call the police (it might have been a tourist information booth, I cannot recall). He did so politely, but did not seem particularly interested. This scenario no doubt happened a thousand times a day in Paris.
I waited for thirty minutes, an hour, then two hours. I stormed away in frustration, the thugs having moved on long ago.
What I did wrong: 1. I traveled alone in a foreign country. 2. I blundered into a dark corridor, when I could have easily chosen one that was more populated and well-lit.
What I did right: 1. I accessed the situation and reacted without hesitation. 2. I ran. The thugs outnumbered me, and there could have been more than three. They could have been armed. Standing my ground probably would not have ended well. I am glad that I punched one of the scumbags, but I only did so to facilitate my main mission: escape.
Please do not let the previous account deter you from visiting Paris. It is no more dangerous than other big cities. If you use some common sense, you will probably enjoy your visit.