By Lynn Ashby 3 January 2011
Something cheap in plastic. No point in springing for a $400 Gucci. All I need is a make-do wallet, complete with heavy chain and lock. The reason I am looking for a new wallet is that somebody picked my pocket, and the act has caused me no end of time, confusion, a few laughs and an insight into why the Chinese are winning.
It began in Reliant Stadium where the Houston Texans play. Team motto: “You are never more than four downs from professional football.” I am in the stadium, creeping up the ramp to enter Section 105. Later, in my seat, I discover my wallet is missing. After the game, I go home to check. No wallet. I could have dropped it, left it in the car, who knows? Soon, I know.
I immediately call my credit card company, PlasticParasite, which tells me I have been running around the stadium buying stuff, then to a Fiesta across the street, a couple of gas fill-ups, and an unsuccessful attempt to purchase several hundred dollars worth of items at a Target. So my pocket really was picked, and by pros. PlasticParasite tells me the exact amount of the purchases, the exact time (it uses Eastern Standard Time on a 24-hour clock). The Reliant security folks say with this info the stadium concessions company, Overpriced, Stale & Messy, can check its security cameras.
Looking back, my wife remembers that, when we were entering our section, a large guy in front of us suddenly turns, holds up the line for an instant, then wheels back to enter the seating section. No one bumps me, no one spills beer on my shoe to distract me from ogling the cheerleaders.
Sidebar: My aunt once was standing in the lobby of Love Field when a nice-looking fellow walked by, turned and said, “Excuse me, ma’m, but you’ve got something on your coat.” She glanced down and there, on her shoulder, was white goo that looked like toothpaste. The nice-looking guy handed her Kleneex, and went on. My aunt put down her carry-on and dabbed away the goo. As you suspect, when she looked down, her carry-on was gone.
But I experienced no distraction. So I am out my driver’s license, credit cards, and $320 in cash. Ah, you ask, “Why would you carry $320 in cash there?” Have you ever tried to buy a hotdog and beer at a pro sports function? $320 is only a down payment. No, actually, I had held up a couple of liquor stores on the way to the game.
It gets worse. The next day I go to my bank to see if anyone has tampered with my accounts, although my secret password (“password”) was not in my wallet, nor my PIN number (1). “I assure you sir,” says the officer, “we here at the West Bank of the Bayou are most careful about security.” He sits at a computer. “It shows here that your account has not been touched, except for a $2,000 withdrawal from your checking account today.” Another banker peers at the screen. “Holy (fill in the blank), and another $8,000 from your savings account.” They look at each other. “Code Red!” My annual income disappears in one hour.
The bank discovers that the thieves, as an ID, put a new face on my driver’s license. At the Texas Driver’s License office I apply for a replacement. The clerk says, “Do you have a photo ID, like a driver’s license?” Indeed, under the list of “Acceptable Identification Documents” to get a Texas driver’s license, the primary ID is a Texas driver’s license. But you can use “Texas inmate ID card issued by TDCJ.” At my boutique tobacconist, Sam’s, things go smoothly, but I lose a fair amount on a gift card at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
Dealing with American businesses today, one thing is clear: no one deals with American businesses. “Touch 1 for English, 2 for Croatian. Touch 3 for bounced checks, 4 for past-due house payments, 5 for brazen daylight robberies.” None of the options is what I want. “This call may be monitored so we can hand out our Curt Employee of the Month Award. All of our agents are busy with other customers, but your call is very important to us. The approximate waiting time is (pause) this is 2011, right?”
Do you have automatic withdrawals from your bank account, and/or regular expenses put on your credit card? I have a bunch — electric bill, phone bill, bail bond payment. Some automatic charges are easy to change, others want forms filled out, notarized, DNA sample and retina check.
At the police station I am interviewed — rubber hose optional — where I explain that Reliant had video of the pocketeers, no doubt so did Fiesta, and not too many people are trying unsuccessfully to buy $300 items at Target three times at 11:30 p.m. I suggest they all compare tapes. No one seems interested. OK, pickpockets are at the low end of the criminal food chain, and don’t get much attention. Also, I notice banks, chain stores, sports facilities and gasoline companies really don’t want people to know how easy it is to rip them off. It’s bad publicity, so they basically ignore the problem.
How to prevent your pocket from being picked? Put your wallet in your front pants pocket so only the airport security checkers know for sure. But I have been told this makes no difference. At gambling casinos you see those middle-aged women with their tummy pack tied tightly to their stomachs to keep their $20 bill safe. My advice to all you men, and some women: before you go to a crowded place, like a demolition derby, get a cheap plastic wallet, complete with heavy chain and lock. Or, better yet, simply leave your wallet at home, and borrow one from the guy in front of you. No one seems to care.
Ashby picks pockets at email@example.com