In the summer of 2002, on a vacation in Spain, Ann and I were in Sevilla, walking back to our lodging after a typically late dinner. It was midnight, but the twisty, cobbled lanes were not entirely deserted. As we entered a three-way street junction, lit only by a few faraway home lights, two young men on a motor scooter drove up behind Ann and snatched her purse. It was hooked over her shoulder, so the scooter’s acceleration yanked her off her feet before snapping the purse strap. I had been about 15 feet ahead and had not seen the approach, but I heard her cry out and saw her fall.
Ann’s weight almost toppled the scooter. It wobbled badly, and I, with no conscious thought, bolted after it. I was within two strides of the men when the driver regained control and sped away. I sprinted, chasing the two-wheeler as it weaved around cars and between other pedestrians. No more than 30 feet behind them, I kept up the pursuit and saw the one in the back, the highwayman holding the purse, look at me and shout something in Spanish to his partner. After a block, the thieves were no further ahead. All I needed was some sort of obstruction to slow them, and I would….
After two blocks, the small street teed into a larger one. The scooter made a sharp right turn, and in dodging a double-parked car, lost all momentum. As the driver accelerated again, I grabbed the rider around the neck and jerked him off the bike. He hit the cobbles hard, dazing him. His accomplice started to stop, but onlookers spooked him, and he rode off.
I took the purse, grunted bolsa mi esposa to explain my actions to the small crowd, and walked back, finally aware that I was entirely out of breath.
Ann, her ankle badly scraped, was being tended to by locals. She had not seen me sprint away and was more concerned by my absence than by the theft or her injury. We left Sevilla the next morning.
* * * * *
That’s the way the incident plays out in my mind. That’s the way I’d like to remember it. But it didn’t happen that way.
What actually happened was that I chased the miscreants for two blocks, the distance separating us slowly widening, until they turned that corner and sped away. Only after the adrenaline metabolized…and I regained normal breathing…and Ann and I sat for two hours in a nearly deserted police station, completing meaningless forms for an officer who expressed shock—shock, I tell you!—over such an incident, unheard of in his town, did it occur to me that had I actually caught the two strapping young snatchers, they probably would have ripped my arm off and beat me to death with it.
It was a scene I played without forethought in a film about a breathless man on 58-year-old legs who had not fought in anger since high school versus two young louts on a Lambretta.
The title of that very short film would have been “Stupid.”