I try to keep safety in mind everywhere I go. I lock doors, I use hotel safes wherever possible and try not to carry too much that anyone would want that could make me a target. I am not paranoid, and I go almost everywhere, but I use common street sense. One area where I do feel vulnerable is ATMs. Everyone knows what you are there for and if they are patient can sometimes find you alone.
That was what happened one night when I was getting cash in San Cristobal de las Casas. Because I pay my rent in cash, I needed money from the ATM for the next day. I went to the bank where I usually get cash from the machine and went into the vestibule with the ATM. While I was getting my money, I noticed a stocky guy in his mid-twenties, wearing a white sleeveless tee-shirt and tattoos covering his arms just hanging around outside. In my mind, I knew this guy was a menace, but I was halfway through the transaction, so I just tried to ignore him. I stood in front of the machine so he couldn’t how much cash I was getting out thinking that if he saw how much I had, he might want it even more. I was nervous. After the machine spit out my bills, I quickly folded them without counting and shoved them in my front pocket. I threw my shoulders back trying to look confident and left the area without making eye contact.
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About thirty seconds later as I was walking away on the sidewalk by the park I heard hurried footsteps behind me. I turned, and there this guy was clearly on a mission to get to me. I didn’t know what to do so I just froze and watched him approach. That was when I realized that he had something in his hand and a smile on his face. It took about half a second for fear to turn to embarrassment. I had left my ATM card in the machine, and he was returning it to me. Because I had jumped to conclusions about someone based on their appearance I had become careless and left my card in the machine.
I know not all situations turn out this way. I am still cautious at ATMs, and I know they are places where crime does happen. On this night I had, however, let my caution and poor judgment (going to a quiet ATM alone at night) turn into an irrational fear that left me careless and flustered. Lessons learned; continue to use caution at ATMs, don’t use ATMs in quiet places at night alone and don’t jump to conclusions about someone based on appearance.
Duh! Most Mexicans are about like most people everywhere – some are good folks, some are bad. In the last week I heard three stories of folks getting taken advantage of in MX: my friend stupidly left cash in his hotel room that was stolen, he then stupidly lost his attention after dropping coins in a taxi and lost his wallet while looking for the coins, and a nice couple bent down to find scattered coins an old women dropped while she took off with their backpack. You only have to live in New York city for a while to understand that you have to watch your stuff ALL THE TIME. If you don’t, someone will relieve you of it. Or maybe return it, if you’re lucky.
This kind of thing happened to me fairly often in MX where people are generally very civilized. I once thought a burly taxi driver was kidnapping me when he turned down a very dark street I didn’t recognize late at night. I screamed, he freaked out, and the problem was he’d only heard part of the address. I lived on Callejon Don Bosco, all he heard was Don Bosco, an entirely different street…..
It’s funny, I’ve never actually felt that nervous at an ATM before. I’m sure part of that is because I rarely withdraw any significant amount of cash, but I’m always more worried about being pick-pocketed than I am robbed at an ATM (or having someone try to steal my PIN or something).