Anne Frank, Rick Steves, and Me

“He’s got it. He’s got my wallet…” I was half on the bus. Marilynn was behind me. I had taken our bus card from my wallet at the bus stop in front of the central train and bus station in Palma – one of the busiest streets in the city – people coming and going, busses coming and going, and the late afternoon crush beginning. I put the wallet back in the lower pocket of my cargo shorts, one with a Velcro closing, and joined the queue for the bus. I had the card in my hand ready to validate it as I stepped into the bus. I barely noticed a little push from behind. It was crowded, several people getting on the bus at the same time, but it felt odd. When I turned to see who was pushing, I instinctively felt for my wallet. It wasn’t there and the guy behind me had stepped off the bus and was walking away – blue T-shirt, jeans, curly hair and a bag of some sort over his shoulder.

I got off the bus and tried to follow, so did M but he was gone. We stood there speechless looking at each other. One of the lessons I learned is that surprise and speed are in his favor. I hesitated. I thought the wallet must be there. I checked my pockets again even though I knew where it should be. I was distracted just long enough for him to lose himself in the crowd getting on and off the busses. It was so smooth I couldn’t believe it had happened but there I was–relieved of 150 Euros, a debit card, four credit cards, driver’s license and my medical insurance cards.  All gone!

It was our next to last day in Palma. We had been on the road for two months, two nearly perfect months. September in Berlin, October in Mallorca.

I’ve been told there is a tribe in Africa that knocks a piece off a finished work of art, because nothing should be perfect. The pick pocket in Palma did that for me. He knocked a piece off my perfect European adventure. I’ve been traveling overseas for more than 50 years and I was over confident. I was savoring our two exceptional months in Europe and not paying attention. Great places. Great people. Great food. And… no domestic discord. We had such a good time together. No strife or stress – until the dude in the blue T-shirt slid his hand in and out of my cargo shorts.

Then there was a little stress. Marilynn, who hates my devotion to public transportation but goes along with it, told me it wouldn’t have happened if we had opted for a taxi. Guilt. Shame. Blame. Embarrassment. Stupidity, followed by two hours of calling banks, credit card companies, fraud alert agencies, and learning that within an hour the thief had tried to get cash from four different credit cards. My bad!

I’m still embarrassed, but I’m not alone. Earlier this summer Rick Steves, the author of Europe Through the Back Door and nine other travel guidebooks, was pickpocketed in a nearly identical situation in Paris. When I told him, he responded immediately with “It happens to the best of us.” And it does. You can read his cautionary tale at https://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/pickpocketed-paris

But, that isn’t the end of the story; it’s where the good stuff begins again. When all the grunt work of calling was over, we decided to go out to one of our favorite places, Bar Cuba, for a “life goes on” drink. Bar Cuba is in this stunningly restored 1904 building.

If you look closely at the picture you can see the edges of umbrellas on the rooftop bar. That’s where we headed and where we met Roberto, our wise-beyond-his-years Macedonian waiter. M told Roberto our tale. She’s like that. I wouldn’t have done it, but that’s who she is. She talks to everyone and thinks they’ll be interested. To my surprise, they almost always are.

Roberto is an old soul who listened patiently as M related the story of the heist, the upset, the uncertainty – the whole catastrophe, chapter and verse. How she hates the bus. How we had bussed back to town from Andratx. How crowded it was. How tired and anxious we were to get back to our apartment. How we almost got on the bus. How we tried to chase the thief, took a taxi home, and Skyped America on Sunday night to cancel the credit cards.

Roberto listened attentively then held his hands up and said, “Tonight you don’t pay. What do you want to drink?” An unexpected gift gratefully accepted. I ordered a martini, my first since leaving home, and M had her usual glass of “Rosado.”

With that, our luck reversed course and we were headed toward perfect again. Roberto has a nice face, a welcoming manner and speaks seven languages (because “he likes to learn”). In his soft spoken way he reminded us that when something bad happens it often turns out to be for the good. When his family’s restaurant failed he had to leave Macedonia to find work. After a couple of false starts he landed in Mallorca, where he found a job at Bar Cuba and Veronika, his Czech girlfriend, who also works at Cuba, and began their life together in an apartment overlooking the Palma harbor.

Roberto’s generosity and wisdom touched us both. That was on Sunday, two nights before our departure. We left him a 20 Euro tip but wanted him to remember us as friends, so we went back the next night to say goodbye and celebrate our last night in Palma. Meeting him was something good that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had my pocket picked. Good karma. Thanks, Roberto.

After saying goodbye to Roberto, we walked up Sant Magi to our other favorite place, Bar Ventuno, a small corner bar-restaurant with a tall two-top outside near the front door. Ventuno only serves drinks and individual four piece pizzettas. It’s our late night “don’t-want-dinner-but-want-wine-and-a-bite-to-eat” place. The owner, Yari, whose mother and brother run La Casa Mia, a real Italian restaurant, just across the street is a hard working charmer. Yari and his waitress, Martina, have adopted us and waved to us for a month as we walked down the street even if we’re not going to their place.

It was our last night in Palma and we told Yari and Martina that we would stop by for glasses of Rosado and Tinto and a couple of pizzettas. We did and after the pizza and two glasses of wine he suggested we try some of Mama’s tiramisu. It was delicious and when we asked for the “la cuenta” Yari told us it was his treat. Lots of hugs and smiles all around.
We’re so lucky. We’ve made friends everywhere we’ve gone. They seem to like us and we them. This is the true meaning of hands across the border. Crossing borders – cultural, linguistic, geographic, even culinary – to find common interests and values.

Robert was right; out of a bad thing good things can come. Being pick pocketed wasn’t all that bad, just inconvenient and embarrassing, but because of it we experienced the generosity and friendship of some new friends.

Often when I’m discouraged or disappointed I think of Anne Frank and her optimism in the face of true evil and real tragedy. “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.” I think Rick Steves would agree that when these disappointments interrupt our otherwise good lives we need to remember Anne Frank’s words:

“In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”

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