Pickpocket heaven in Paris

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					  Passengers (and
  pickpockets) wait at the
  Metro’s Stalingrad station.

                                               travElin’
                                                rav         WITH THE CHRONICLE
                                                 B18 Lexington County Chronicle & The Dispatch-News               Thursday, August 20, 2009




                                Pickpocket heaven in Paris
MacLeod and Jerry Bellune traveled to France                                                                                                  someone bump against him.
in September 2002 for MacLeod’s high school                                                                                                      He immediately stepped
reunion in Verdun.                                                                                                                            back from the train and onto
                                                                                                                                              the foot of a sulky-looking
                                PARIS, France                                                                                                 teenager with long, dark hair.
   What if pickpockets and other crimi-                                                                                                       The young man reeled back-
nals preyed on tourists in Charleston?                                                                                                        ward.
   How long to do think Mayor Joe Riley                                                                                                          Jerry then stepped onto the train and
and Charleston’s finest would let that                                                                                                        stood against the door on the other side
continue? Are you kidding. Criminals                                                                                                          of the train car, watching the young man.
could kill Charleston’s tourist business.                                                                                                        No uniformed police were around.
   You would see cops in blue every-                                                                                                             He climbed onto the train but would
where.                                                                                                                                        not make eye contact with Jerry.
   Not in Paris. There’s little security in                                                                                                      Jerry checked his wallet in his back
the Paris Metro. We saw exactly two cops                                                                                                      pocket. With relief he found his wallet
in the Metro in the time we were in Paris                                                                                                     still there but the young pickpocket had
and that was less than the pickpockets                                                                                                        managed to unbutton his pant’s pocket in
we encountered.                                                                                                                               that split second encounter.
   If you ride subways in any American                                                                                                           Then we both spotted the Fagin of the
city, you will see police on the platforms                                                                                                    Metro, the pickpockets master, a heavy-
and, at night, a few uniformed officers in A Metro train crosses the Seine at the                                                             set man seated at the end of the car,
the cars.                                     Pont de Bir Hakeim bridge.                       The Paris Metro’s Bastille station, like       watching his young charges move
   As a journalist, Jerry has accompanied                                                      most of the stations we saw, are mod-          through the car, relieving other people of
plainclothes officers on subways at night                                                      ern and spacious, all the better for the       their valuables.
to write about crime underground.              more impact on tourism than pickpock-           pickpockets to ply their trade.                   Like Fagin, Charles Dickens’ unscrupu-
   In Paris, we rode the underground           ets It has clobbered the revenue at Paris                                                      lous villain in “Öliver Twist”, this charac-
trains days and nights because they are        two airports.                                   raising his hands defensively in front of      ter seemed to have found a way to profit
the fastest and least expensive way to get       Passenger traffic is down 8.1%.               him.                                           by turning children into criminals.
around.                                          If the French continue to let the pick-         “Non, non,” he said, turned and ran.            Where were the cops? With Gallic prac-
   Why the city’s gendarmes don’t have a       pockets work unobstructed, as they were                                                        ticality, perhaps Fagin gave them a cut.
field day down there is a large question.      doing in 2002, those numbers could drop                Fagin oF thE mEtro                         But who were we, materialistic Ameri-
   They could literally run the pickpock-      even more.                                                                                     cans who pride ourselves on living pros-
ets out of the Metro if they wanted to.          This was the one real downside of our           The next day we were waiting at the          perous lives, to condemn a poor man
                                               visit. We have told our friends to be sure      station for a train. A gang of teenagers,      who has found his own lucrative business
  Economy, not pickpockEts                     and wear money belts inside their cloth-        some as young as 13 or 14, were horsing        niche?
                                               ing.                                            around on the platform.
   Pickpockets don’t seem to have blunted        We were riding the escalator up from            Our train stopped and                                    Next: Criminals invade our
Paris’s tourist business. It’s still the most  the Metro station near our hotel. We            the doors slid open. As                                             hotel.
popular tourist destination in the world.      were near the top when MacLeod felt a           Jerry stepped onto
   More than 16 million tourists visit ev-     tug on her purse. A man standing right          the train, he felt
ery year and spend more than $13 bil-          behind her was trying to pull her purse
lion a year in hotels and restaurants          from under her arm.
alone.                                           She whirled on him and began to be-
   The shaky world economy has had             rate him in a loud voice. He backed off,




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                                                                                                               711 E. Main St. • Lexington
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