Chapter 3: The Snake Man

(Beethoven, “Symphony #5, 1st Movement”)

“The Snake Man” happened to me…

Sometimes the world is too much with me. I try to get away to a better place, to travel, discover, perhaps lose myself a little. This is what I planned when I went to Mexico by myself so many years ago.

The zócalo is a lovely spot in Mexico City’s bustling downtown area. Many streets are cut off to traffic and pedestrians can stroll leisurely in the large outdoor mall.

On my first morning, I explored the area for several hours and when tired, stopped at the Green to rest. How pleased I was to see in the Gazebo a group of string musicians preparing for a recital of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

I took my backpack, reclined on the grass, and placed my head on the bag.

I had taken my backpack with me so I could put my plane ticket and passport inside being that my hotel room didn’t have a safe. Lying on the ground, I remembered how disconcerted I had been when the manager told me that the hotel safe was just not safe. He proved his point by showing me the burglarized lock. I had no choice but to take the documents with me.

During the concert, the sun warmed my New York-winter skin and I was at peace, delighting myself with the pizzicatos that I love so much.

Afterwards the crowds dispersed, as I did, into the shops and serpentine paths of the zócalo. I stopped at a store window to admire a pair of cufflinks. A gift for Michel, gold and turquoise in an Aztec design.

But suddenly, in one second I felt my backpack was pulled from my hands. When I jumped to grab it back, I saw it fly through the air. It was in the hand of a strange semi-human-like figure. A half man with no legs, torso perched low on a slab of wood the width of two skateboards. He was rolling rapidly away with my bag.

I yelled, “Ayuda! Ayuda! Help!” and ran after the backpack and the man perched on the plank of wood. I kept yelling through the crowd, “Ayuda” when a man came to my rescue, “Puedo ayudar?” Can I help?

In my college Spanish I tried to explain, but by the time my words came out, the half-man existed no more. My passport, plane ticket, and wallet had become history.

The so-called gentleman suggested I report the crime to the Police Station and he led the way. He told me he was an off-duty policeman, and needing help, I believed him.

This began my descent into a web that was Mexico City’s Headquarters for Crime.

Many long hours later, I walked back to my hotel not knowing what to do. I had two days left before returning to New York. I was all alone with no money. No passport. No plane ticket. At this time in my life, I didn’t have a credit card. One thing I knew for sure – I was not going to call my husband for help.

The day passed and it was now a very late Friday evening. I had no solution how to save myself. I thought and thought and then came up with the idea to call the American Consulate. Their offices were closed for the weekend but they had an emergency telephone number. Most likely I was not the first person with such a story. And they eagerly helped by telling me how to proceed. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

I will never forget the image of the half-man on his wheeled slab of wood using his gloved hands to push his torso forward. Many times I wonder if the man who helped me was really a policeman or was he an accomplice, placed there to distract me and allow his legless friend to push his wheels through the crowd? I will never know.