It’s past midnight in the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) of Montevideo and I am stumbling home from another evening of debauched decadence. I only intended to have a glass of wine with dinner, but I ordered a jarra instead. I want to say I ordered a pitcher of wine because I didn’t understand the language and thought I was getting a glass, but probably at some subliminal level I really wanted more than one glass, and voila! It appeared like magic, and of course there’s no turning back once you’ve started down that rutted road to oblivion. Then I stopped to say hello to a senorita or two, and soon the moon was high over the palms, the ship’s horns were blowing their nightly lament in the harbor, and the revelry had died down to the point that it was time to think about an exit strategy, which in my case meant blundering around aimlessly until I found my hotel, or another saloon, whichever came first.
The old town is generally quite nice and borders the El Centro region of Plaza Independencia fame, but I wasn’t going that way, because that would be too easy and too safe. Instead, I am heading into a ghettoized barrio near the port where no gringo should really ever walk at night, or possibly at all, at least without a map and a Mastiff, and I had neither, nor any real idea of my direction of travel, since I was ignorant of the constellations of the Southern hemisphere, which were obscured by the buildings in any case, and I needed to concentrate all of my efforts on not tripping over street rubble and glass shards, which precluded any ideas about actual intelligible navigation.
So there I was, suffused with the confidence that can only come from the fruit of the vine consumed in bulk quantity, walking alone down a dark street in a city where I don’t know the roads and don’t speak the language, but at least I know that I will never be mistaken for a local, since I am the only person in the area who is not dressed in a wife-beater and oily jeans ensemble straight out of a Latino version of On The Waterfront. What could go wrong?
Well, I could have suffered a coordinated attack by a band of street urchins, which is exactly what happened.
Their plan was simple. One boy (maybe 12-15 years old) rides by on a bicycle to my left to distract me from the one who is running up behind me. The runner makes a stab at my wallet, which is jutting precariously out of my hip pocket. He gets his fingers down into my pocket, but, miraculously, I spin around fast enough to scare him off.
But there was a third boy, the Evil One. He has emerged from the shadows with a large concrete projectile, which he throws at me with all his meager might, I guess to keep me from grabbing the runner. He needn’t have bothered, because his two friends were halfway down the street by the time I could yell “crime victim”.
In any event, the rock hits me in the stomach and falls harmlessly to the ground, which, inexplicably, I think is kind of funny, but I’m still pissed at these kids, so I pick it up and heave it at them. Hard. It explodes against a building corner just shy of my target, and they are gone.
I spend the next 15 minutes wandering the blackened streets of Montevideo, looking for these “youths”, as the TV news always describe such hoodlums in the USA, so that I can administer to them a little bit of Alabama justice courtesy of the two large rocks I am carrying in each hand, though of course I never find them, and I am glad, because I would never forgive myself if I actually hurt one of the little bastards. But I DO manage to scare the crap out of a guy who is also riding around on a bike, and who, without any real justification whatsoever, I suspect of being the ringleader of the kids (kind of like Fagin in Oliver!), and he flees immediately and understandably when, a hundred yards away, I begin hurling at the top of my lungs the kind of invective that questions both his family lineage and sexual orientation.
Eventually, I wind down enough to realize that my search is futile and the night is old, as am I, and find my hotel, whose night manager is not surprised by my tale, though he assures me that there will soon be cameras on street corners to capture the culprits in action. Everyone knows that grainy video evidence taken in the dead of night will be enough to deter this kind of crime in the future, so of course I am completely satisfied by his answer, and will certainly give his hotel the review it deserves, which I do:
So there you have it. Not really a mugging at all, but I like the way “Mugging in Montevideo” sounds, sort of like…“The End.”