Walking through downtown Chrischurch, New Zealand at 6:30 am on a Saturday I heard some guy yell to me asking for $5. He looked like he had been out clubbing all night, rough and worn slick styled hair, collared shirt, tight stone washed jeans and bloodshot eyes. I had all my 20 Kgs of bags strapped in front and back of me as well as my guitar complicating the situation even more.
I shook my head and walked on by despite his pleas which sounded aggravated. Spending time in San Francisco taught me to ignore beggars. He kept talking and coming after a few moments, I realized he was following me. As I was walking away I kept hearing his voice. The next time I turned around he was coming at me swiftly as hebanged his open palms against his forearms like a big ape all the while muttering something about how I had that $5 dollars he needed.
He was a thick little muscular half pacific islander looking fellow. The kind of body one gets from lifting lots of weights but not running or an aerobic exercise.
Even though we were 2 blocks from city center Christchurch, there was no one else on the streets. I knew I could survive a scrap with the brute on even ground, but this ground wasn’t even. I was loaded down in a complex system of weights and straps and my precious spanish guitar would get destroyed if I dropped all my stuff and went about the path of scrap.
So I resolved to stop and turn to this ape and take it like I’d image Ghandi or Mandela would have. As he approached he had a face intended to intimidate, but I was suprisingly calm. Adrenelin was pumping but I had a relaxed nature. He asked me if I had $5.
“I don’t have $5” I said because I honestly thought I was broke at the time.
“Then whats that hanging out the back of your pocket?” he replied.
Whoops. I forgot about that $20 the guy had given me to play his friends a song in the Deny’s restaurant I had just left. I paid fro my breakfast, gave the watress the extra $3 in coins and lazily stuffed the $5 in my back pocket. So I was now, standing in front of some gorilla like half maori mugger, realizing that I had committed one of the most idiotic mistakes a traveler can make. I was walking through a big city early in the morning with money hanging out the back of my pocket.
He asked me: “You gonna give me that $5 or do I have to beat you up and take all your money?” he paused to think up some other creative threat “Or I could steal your little guitar and sell it for even more.”
Then he made a swift jerking motion like he was about to strike. A sort of clenched fist, shoulder turning start. Maybe he was expecting me to cringe…
I was busy thinking the situation over. Sure, I think I could take this guy, but at what cost? That $5 dollars isn’t too important and it defiantly is worth paying to avoid a battle with a drunken islander. But what about the moral implications of paying to avoid physical abuse. Martin Luther King Jr. would taken a punch to make a moral statement!
Also, I was thinking about how I would fall if he hit me in the face. I thought about how to escape my bags quickly w/o banging my guitar up. I thought about wrestling matches with my marine friends and all the scrums during intense rugby matches.
He seemed to be a bit taken back with my aloof reaction to aggression. Really, the gesture w/o the punch gave me the impression that he wasn’t a mugger but just some poor lost soul who spent all his money at the club and didn’t have bus money to get home.
“What happened to you? Why do you need $5?” I asked.
“I need $21 dollars to get home. My friends left me here and I’m just trying to get home. I need $15 and I have $8.” He explained in a less thug sort of way. He clumsily dug his coins from his pocket to show me the coins to back up his story.
I recounted my situation:
-First off, I deserve this after walking through the south islands biggest city with money HANGING OUT MY BACK POCKET
-The $5 defiantly isn’t worth a scrap… but a scrap would be adventurous…
-This poor guy really is in dire straights. Even his math is no good.
“Here you go,” I said as I reached for my back pocket. Sure enough, I could feel that $5 note hanging off my ass, a dim reminder of a foolish mistake. I handed it to him and stood looking at him with a “is that all” face on.
“You know what?” he asked as he took the note. “You just earned yourself $5.”
Strange… my thinking commenced again. Now I’m holding the $5 and standing there in bewilderment.
Is this some sort of test? The greedy fist test? Maybe he wants me to take it so he can tell the New Zealand police I mugged him! What on earth am I doing in this big city at 6:30 am in the morning, roughing it up with a big ass lock looking rugby murderer over $5?
“Here man, just take this and get home.” I said and handed him the bill again. He still wanted to know if I’d have given it to him if he hadn’t threatened to beat me up. I didn’t want to provoke him so I just reiterated that he should take the $ and go home.
“Ahh, thanks man, your a lifesaver,” he said. “Can you play us a song real quick.”
WTF? “No dude, I gotta catch a bus: get home and get some rest.” I turned and walked through the center of Christchurch to get the hell out of town.
Despite the outcome of my first mugging, I was considerably shaken up afterwards. I had a shakyness in my hands and my overall mood was depressed. No longer did I smile to people on the street and take interest in all around me. For the next few hours I went over the event in my head and though about that weird beast. I imagine he was doing the same. A strange sort of bond must exist between human conciseness after an encounter like that. On the other hand, he might be a real animal and may have forgotten about the situation all together.
Either way, he ruined my day. Luckily I made the bus (despite not booking it, someone else didn’t show up and they already paid their ticket the bus driver comped me on for a few coins) and was dropped off in an alpine wonderland of summer ski area tranquility. My hike to the legendary Castle Hill bouldering spot was like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. I finished reading Motorcycle Diaries and phoned home for the first time in 2010. Sleep came like a gift that night.
Here is an image of my hitch hiking and bus trips through New Zealand: