Two months into our three month tour of French-speaking Europe, Turtle stepped out of the Marseille subway station near our theatre to discover her wallet had gone missing.
That day, groups of us had separated to explore the town until we had to be back at the theatre for our show in the evening. I don’t remember what everyone else had gotten up to that day. Me and the missus went around exploring local landmarks and feigning interest in buying a Nespresso machine in order to get free coffee (have I mentioned we’re cheap?)
A member of our French crew had made a special point of warning people to keep a close watch on their bags—pickpocketing was a major problem in Marseille. Having been warned, we all went about our adventures, sort of keeping an eye on our bags and pockets. But here’s the thing about professional pickpockets: they’re really really really good at it.
By the time me and the missus arrived back at the subway near our theatre, a group of my castmates had already gathered to try to figure out at what point the Turtle’s wallet could have gone missing. Turtle had used her wallet to buy metro tickets—so she had it when she got on the subway. There didn’t seem anything conspicuous about the ride itself—they were no strangers nearby on the uncrowded subway.
As she was leaving the subway, a group of teenagers appeared nearby, exiting through the turnstiles at the exact same time. In front of Turtle, a girl got her purse snagged in the turnstile and jolted to a stop—Turtle bumped into her, and another girl bumped into Turtle from behind. The whole exchange was so banal and rapid and naturally played, that Turtle didn’t think anything of it. The girls didn’t even apologize for bumping into her. In Canada an apology would be expected. In France it would be a dead giveaway that something was afoot. It wasn’t until Turtle got above ground that she reached into her bag and discovered her wallet was no longer there.
Groups of us scoured the trashcans around the subway, hopeful that the pickpocketers would have just taken the cash and dumped the rest of the wallet, which unfortunately included Turtle’s passport and any other form of identification she’d brought with her. The cash itself was a pretty devastating blow. That morning, we had just been given our 35 Euro per diem for the past two weeks. Those pickpocketers got away with 490 Euros—or close to $700 at the time. Losing your cash hurts financially—replacing your passport is time consuming, inconvenient, and hurts financially.
Our search of the nearby trashcans had failed to turn up any sign of her wallet, and we’d run out of time to search any further out. We were leaving Marseille immediately after the show, so we just had to resign ourselves that the wallet was gone for good. We got back to the theatre and reported the story to our road manager and set about getting ready for the show.
When we got our places call we put on our heads and got into positions in the wings. Turtle was devastated, but was taking it like a champ. There were a couple thousand kids out there who’d come to see her, so she had to leave her personal tragedy at the door. As the lights were dimming for the show, mere seconds before we were to run on stage to the screams of thousands of four to seven year olds, our road manager burst backstage waving the missing wallet in the air.
As soon as we left the production office to get suited up in our animal costumes, our road manager had set off on the Quixotic task of finding a single missing wallet in a city of 1.5 million people. We’d already searched all the trashcans in the immediate vicinity of the metro station. Our road manager expanded the search radius by a few blocks, which now included many trashcans on street corners and a number of large dumpsters in nearby alleys.
On his way back to the theatre, after a thoroughly unsuccessful search, he passed by a dumpster he’d already rummaged through previously. Something told him to take one final peek before giving up. He lifted the lid and poked in his head. His eye was caught by a mere centimetre of blue fabric poking out from underneath several bags of trash – way at the bottom of the nearly full dumpster. He climbed in, dug out the bags, and discovered the missing wallet, sans cash, but still containing the passport and other identification.
We all marvelled at the miraculousness of the find. What were the odds that he’d find it, in all the dumpsters in Marseille? What about the fact that he’d already searched that dumpster, but something told him to check again?
I don’t want to steal God’s thunder, but the fact is that the wallet wouldn’t have been “miraculously” found if our road manager hadn’t been willing to leap into dumpsters in a strange city to begin with. Miracles seem to be more frequent around people who are willing to get their hands dirty.
That day we were all stuck with the dilemma of taking our per diem with us and risking pickpocketers, or leaving it in the unsecured dressing rooms, where it could have just as easily been stolen. It could have been any of us who lost our money that day—so we all pitched in twenty Euros to cover some of her loss.
Me and the missus took our per diem with us as well. But she insisted I wear one of those uncomfortable money belts that make it feel like you’re wearing a diaper. I always resented having to wear that stupid thing. It made my crotch all sweaty. But after Marseille taught us that pickpocketing is a real thing that actually happens to real people I started shoving everything I could into that sweaty crotch pocket.