It was my first time in New York City. I came for a work-related conference but was exploring the city by myself at night.
I come from a small Appalachian town where public transportation is nonexistent. We drive cars here. So I felt pretty good about having taken the subway, crowded at rush hour, down to the financial district to see the 9-11 memorial. It had closed by the time I got there.
With my cell phone battery dying and because I kept getting lost, I headed back to the side of town where my hotel was.
I was walking along 57th Street West around 10 p.m., probably with my eyes aimed at the tall buildings all around me. There’s a lot to take in in that city. Suddenly I was aware I wasn’t carrying my purse anymore.
I had been carrying a clutch purse with a cord that was around my wrist. And it was just gone. I didn’t feel anyone snatch it from me. I sure as heck did not lay it down anywhere. But it was still gone. I stopped on the sidewalk, felt my coat pockets again and again. Nope, not there.
So. Many. Curse words.
I was alone in the city, except for a few people I met at the conference. The cash could be replaced and my credit card could be canceled but my license was in there. How do you fly without an ID?
Great, I thought. My first time in the city and I can’t ever leave. I’m gonna end up with a sleeping bag and a cardboard sign that reads “Too ugly to strip,” begging for the kindness of strangers.
My cell phone and hotel key were in my coat pockets, thank God. I could call for help and I had somewhere to sleep, at least for a couple nights.
I stopped a random stranger on the street. “What do you do if your purse is stolen?” That’s a dumb question, I know. It must have been the shock. Plus I didn’t know how New York City’s police dispatch would feel about fielding a call about a lost purse when people were probably murdering people or stealing cars elsewhere in the city.
“There’s always a cop in Columbus Circle,” he said.
I headed there and found a police car sitting in traffic. The two officers were nice but didn’t seem to want to believe the purse had been taken. “Let’s just look for it first. Maybe we’ll find it. Miracles happen.”
Ok, officer, I thought. Let’s you and me retrace my steps while some criminal is off using my credit card to buy an X-box and stealing my identity. They eventually took me back to the police station for paperwork, then drove me to my hotel.
“Hey, those people are looking at you because they think you’re a criminal,” one of them joked. “You should get out and run.”
“Oh, can I do that?!”
“No, you’d get tackled,” he said. Fair enough.
I thanked the officers as I got out of the car at my hotel. I shared an elevator with two women on my way to my room.
“How’d you get a police escort?” one of the them asked, grinning.
“My purse was stolen,” I said.
It’s kind of funny, when you think about it. A girl from the sticks goes to the big city for the first time in her life and, while exploring, all wide-eyed, and innocent, has her purse stolen. I’m a cliche, I keep telling people. I’m pretty sure this was an episode of Beverly Hillbillies.
But you know who wasn’t a cliche? Some of the New Yorkers that I met while I was there. People say New Yorkers are rude and unkind, but I met people who bucked that stereotype. One of the conference staff members gave me cash from her own pocket when she found out my money was gone. Another acquaintance bought me dinner one night.
I found out you can’t wire a person money if they don’t have an ID. Well, my mom found that out when she tried. I think she was even more panicked than me about what happened. And a little miffed. “What were you doing walking around New York City by yourself after dark?!” she asked.
Turns out you can fly without an ID. Someone at the airport did a background check on me and then asked me questions about myself to make sure I was who I said I was. When they told me about the process, I was briefly concerned they’d come back with some creepy NSA questions about stuff they shouldn’t know anyway.
“OK, what color are your bedsheets?” I imagined the man asking.
Nope, the questions were about my birthday, car and previous address. Good, I know these answers, I thought.
I made it into the security area of the airport and was “randomly” selected for a full pat down. As if standing with my arms above my head while a strange man sees through my clothes during a full body scan wasn’t enough, they also had to subject me to more touching than I’m used to on most dates.
And they didn’t even buy me dinner.
“I bet you’re so ready to leave New York,” another airline security guard had said to me me while I waited for my background check.
Yes, I was. But I hope I can go back. Next time I hope I don’t have to involve the cops.