A year ago this month on a sunny afternoon in an attractive Oakland neighborhood, I was walking back to my car after a medical appointment at Kaiser. I turned the corner with thoughts of dinner that night, when a man I was passing on a narrow sidewalk swiftly grabbed my arm, showed me a gun and demanded my handbag.
He didn’t physically harm me but he did get my bag, hopped back into the waiting car (stolen as it turns out) and sped off with my phone, wallet, car keys … In just a flash I had no way to get home, no way to contact anyone. My car sat just a few blocks away but I couldn’t unlock it. It’s something, let me tell you, standing in the middle of a big city feeling completely stripped. It is that sudden and unexpected sense of helplessness I felt at the time and so many emotions since then that have inspired me to mark the one year anniversary with a post about what I have learned from getting mugged.
For weeks afterwards, out of nowhere I’d flash on something and think, “I must have lost that in the mugging.” Not just drivers license, credit cards, and keys but a surprising number of items that were of value only to me. One of the nothings that was everything was a slip of paper with a poem my stepfather had written 30 years ago about our family cat. I had recently discovered it tucked inside a book and I was intending to show it to my mother. I obsessed on the stupidity of that little piece of paper to have lasted all these years and now it was gone, sitting in a gutter somewhere along with other personal possessions like my notebook, a leather cosmetic bag from Italy, and a lovely handwoven scarf that was a gift. I felt exposed and irrationally responsible for these lost things.
I came to realize that I was carrying far too much in my handbag:
We all do it, I think. Stuff things into our handbag not really giving it a second thought but soon the handbag becomes a receptacle for too much, most of which is just taking up space. Now I carry only what I need for the day. Things like postage stamps, gift cards, library card and Clipper Card stay home unless I need them that day. In in my wallet is one credit card, AAA card, and drivers license – that’s it! Anything personal and sentimental like letters, photos, notebook are also left at home.
Something else I thought about was the way I carried my things:
On that day I was sporting a shoulder bag – an easy grab for a thief. Currently when I’m out and about I use a cross-body bag, which isn’t as easy a mark. Bad guys look for quick opportunities to steal and a cross-body bag takes too long. The guy who mugged me was sitting in his stolen car waiting for someone to come along at just the right moment when no one else was around on an otherwise busy street. He must have cased the area and knew he only had seconds. The fact that I was carrying a shoulder bag made it faster and easier to grab and go.
Hide the good stuff:
For quite some time after the mugging I was not myself but rather, a paranoid wreck who seriously believed that every time I ventured out I would get targeted again. The only place I felt safe was at my job and at home. But I made myself get back out into the world. Something that helped me do it was a little pouch around my neck in which I kept my cell phone, keys, and cash. It gave me confidence, thinking that if I got mugged again the thief might get the big bag but I’d have the important things hidden away. I still use a pouch when I’m headed to certain places and I’m currently designing a slim stylish bag that can be worn underneath clothing.
Getting mugged was a shocking experience and it took some time to get past it but I am grateful that I wasn’t hurt. I tip my hat to the Oakland Police Department who responded right away and kept up the investigation, trying to catch this guy. I also had quite a lot of personal support for which I’m also grateful.
I hope OverDressed for Life readers will consider my tips. I know most of us think (I did) this cannot happen to me. But it’s a crazy world and it can happen to anyone, sadly, in pretty much any neighborhood at any time.
Please feel free to pass this post along and hey, stay safe out there.