On a quiet Sunday morning we strolled down the main avenue unaware that we were under surveillance. It was a sunny day, perfect for a walk. As we made our way towards the street fair in Buenos Aires’ San Telmo neighborhood, Joe felt something liquid on his hand. He looked up. Pigeons? He looked down at his hand. No, it was definitely not from a bird – some kind of black slime was on his hand and sleeve. By now we were were totally confused. A woman raced over to help, pulling out a neat wad of paper napkins. She pointed Joe to a nearby public water trough.
As soon as those neat little napkins appeared, Beth thought to herself, “I know what you’re up to, lady, but if I can get you to help in the cleanup, why not?” On inspection, Joe had goo all over his pants, shirt, and pack. Beth positioned herself directly behind Joe, dabbing at his dripping pack and at the same time, making sure no hands got near his pack or his pockets.
Beth turned around and saw the accomplice, a middle-aged man, who was getting a little too close. Meanwhile, our woman “helper” was gesturing to Joe to take off his vest so she could clean it. With that, Joe figured out as well what she was up to.
Joe pulled away from the woman “helper,” and, with Beth in tow, started to walk away. He then turned around and called out to the pair, “I know what you’re up to. It’s not right!” We turned around to leave. Several people had gathered to see what was happening. It was then we saw a police car at the intersection and motioned it over. Bystanders came over to translate.
The police car raced off in pursuit, but the couple had disappeared. Too bad. We thanked everyone for their help, went back to the water trough and cleaned up as best we could, and then continued on our way.
We slowly walked the packed street, both people-watching and looking at all the items in the booths. The fair is a great place to come for purchases to take home. Were we tempted?
We stopped often to look more carefully at art and craft booths. Two booths, close together, had little sculptural pieces we liked (a lot). We contemplated, and then decided to keep looking. Who knew what else we might find?
At the end of the afternoon we circled back to the two booths. What to buy for our future home? We hate to say that size and weight matters in making this kind of decision – but they do.
The day wasn’t ruined. Nothing was stolen because we knew what was happening. The thieves were middle-aged and have probably been at this for years. But it’s an old scam, and even people like us know how it’s played. We also know where to keep our valuables so con artists like them won’t have an easy time getting anything of value. We abide by the dictum “opportunity makes the thief,” so we try never to give opportunity. Zipper and velcro pockets help.
We celebrated our victory over the pickpockets when, at the end of the day, we happily unpacked the little flute player and placed it on our table to enjoy for our remaining days in Buenos Aires.