In July of 2000, I was back in Europe looking for parts for my 2001 spacesuit project. Once again, like previous trips, I had decided to combine some vacation with the task of looking for suit parts. This trip, I decided to take a trip through Europe via the Euro Rail. I departed London on the Eurostar and headed to France via the Chunnel. The train ride through the Chunnel and into in the French countryside was great. I thought I could really get used to this type of traveling. However, the only down side is that you have to carry all of your luggage with you, and must keep an eye on it so it doesn't get stolen. I was carrying a leather bag type briefcase which was stuffed to the maximum extent possible so that it kinda looked like a fat little pig. I also had a camera case with my SLR camera, and a very large suit case. In fact the suit case was too large, and way too heavy since it was also packed with all my clothing for the entire trip to Europe.
One thing I quickly learned is that unlike things here in the US, the trains in Europe run on time. and wait for no one. So you really need to be ready to scramble off the train and head for your connecting train without delay. After a couple of days in Paris, I headed north. One particular train I was on stopped in Brussels where I had to meet my connecting train. I wasn't quite ready when the train stopped, so I just shoved my passport and camera into my leather bag/briefcase. I didn't have time to put my passport back into a secure place on myself, so I just tossed it into my briefcase. When I got off the train, I realized I could not decipher any of the signs to any of the other trains, so I had to go down into the train station from the train platform. "Down" is the key word here, as there were a couple of flights of very long stairs and no automatic escellator. I tried carrying the large bag down the stairs, but since it was so heavy, and I was trying to rush, my arm quickly got tired from trying to keep the bag from banging into my leg as I hurriedly carried it. About halfway down the stairs I gave up and just started dragging it down the stairs thump thump thump . When I got to the bottom I ran around the station until I found the Train Board, and managed to determine which platform my connecting train was on. I found that the departing train was on the same platform as the one I had just gotten off of. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, and looking up, I could barely see the top of the stairs in the distance. Ugh! it was back up the stairs thump thump thump I finally made it to the top, and when I approached my train, I could not find anyone to ask which car I was to be in. I finally found a car near the front of the train (which later found out, that unlike an airplane, is not first class) I saw it had leather seats so I thought "well this looks like it must be the right place, so I took a seat and set my bags down. At that time a young man dressed in a suit came through the car carrying a hand communication radio. I asked him if this was the right car and he shook his head and said the attendant is in the next car and to go and ask her. So I ran to the next car and no one was there. So I ran outside and finally found an attendant. She pointed me to a different car and said I should be in that car, pointing toward the middle of the train. So I ran back to get my bags, and found my briefcase was gone. The camera bag and my large suitcase was still there but the briefcase was no where around. I asked some of the other people in the car what happened to my bag, not sure if any of them would understand English, and one man said "Oh that man in the suit came back and took it." So I angrily said "well thanks a helluva lot for stopping him!" I grabbed my other bags and ran out of the car back to the train attendant.
I explained to her what had happened and she said its too late, he has already left the station. She said "Oh they operate very fast" like it was a common occurrence. I then proceeded to tell her what I thought of their poor security and lack of train attendants which was a contributing cause. She said there was nothing she could do, at which I told her exactly what she could do, and how they should run their train. She said she would take me to the police station in the train station where I could file a report. For a second I thought she was hopping I would be satisfied with that, but reality was setting in as to what I had lost with the theft of my bag. Not only was some money (a few hundred) gone but also was my 35mm camera, my passport, but most of all, the hose from the 2001 helmet. I could get by with out the money and the camera, the passport would be difficult, but the hose?? I know it was just a hose, but it was from the movie and it was part of Bowman's red helmet, and it can't be replaced. I was devastated, I was depressed......I was hosed. Then I became very angry. So, since I wasn't sure what to do next, and by this time my train had left, so I let her take me to the police station. She pointed out the travel office and said after I make a report, come back and make arrangements to get on the next train. I didn't know if I was going to continue on or turn around and go home. The hose was gone .. all was lost.
So there I stood, in the middle of the train station, pondering what I should do ..no need to rush now. The train station was a huge curved domed roof building and the police station was a small temporary looking building inside it. Kinda looked like a trailer parked in an aircraft hangar. I slowly walked over to the station, frustrated and cursing all the way about what had happened. There were a few steps leading up to the door of the police station, so I set my big boat anchor of a suitcase down and stepped up the few stairs and pushed open the door. Inside was an empty room, apparently a waiting room. There was no sign of any police officers inside. So I let the door close and stepped back down the steps thinking this was utterly useless. I stood at the bottom of the steps pondering what to do. Then reality started setting in that I had lost my passport...I was really hosed.
I decided I should file a report, since it was the proper thing to do. As I reached down to pick up the suitcase, out the corner of my eye, I saw someone across the station walking carrying a leather bag and dressed in a suit. Instantly I said to my self THAT'S MY BAG! and dropped everything, including my half empty camera bag. There was my briefcase,,....there was the hose,.....nothing else mattered. I started running toward the man, while thinking he would starting running when he saw me coming. I was running at a right angle to the direction he was walking. I took a flying leap at him....... At that point, somewhere in mid air, hurtling toward a man in a dark suit,.....a new thought flashed through my mind. At this point things seemed to go into slow motion. I thought, what if this is just some business man carrying a bag that looks like mine. After all., I couldn't really remember exactly what the guy on the train looked like. Oh great! I'll get arrested for assault, with no passport and will get put in jail in a foreign country ..Do we even have an Embassy here? At that instant I slammed into him. He fell back to one side and I grabbed his arm. He was caught by surprise and was startled. He didn't run (was this a business man or the thief?) Then he turned his head towards me and I saw his eyes. They had this really startled look. Oops, was this the wrong person? But them I looked at the bag and saw it was bulging like my bag. At that point I knew he was the thief. I looked back up at his face, and now he had a frightened look in his eyes . To my surprise he dropped the bag. He was squirming, trying to slip out of his coat. Apparently he thought that if he gave up the bag, I would forget about him. But I was too mad. The adrenalin was pumping now.
I was wrestling with him, slinging him around trying to drop him to the ground. At the same time I was trying to keep an eye on my bag that he dropped and I also remembered about my other bags I had dropped back at the entrance to the Police Station. So there we were, dancing in the middle of the train station. I was slinging him around trying to get my arm around his neck to get a better grip on him while at the same time trying to watch all my bags, and he was trying to sling me off of his arm. It must have been a comical sight to anyone who was watching. I finally got my arm around his neck. Now he was mine.....now he was hosed. I was dragging him back toward the station when finally a police officer hurried over. I blurted out (wondering if he would understand me, or believe me since I was just in jeans and the man was in a suit) that I was an American, and that he had stolen my bag off the train, and that I could prove it because my passport was in the bag. At that point I let go of his neck, but still held on to his other arm. I grabbed my bag and pulled my passport from the bag. The police officer said "YOU!" and grabbed the man by the arm. The officer spoke fair English, and said we went over to the station. Feeling victorious, and also feeling that the officer didn't seem to have a very good hold on the thief, I took the opportunity to put a choke-hold on the thief as we walked over to the station. And I took every advantage of that grip ..Did I say I was mad?
Once inside the station, the thief was trying to say he had found my bag and was trying to return it to me. The officer said to me as he shuffled through papers trying to find the appropriate form to fill out, "You have made my day". After looking at several different forms, he put one into a typewriter and started to type. Peck.....peck.....peck. I had finally found someone who types as poorly as myself. Long ago, I had claimed the title (actually it was bestowed on me by my colleagues) of World's Worst Typist. How could there be another? I had a sinking feeling this was going to take the rest of the day. Again, he said "You have made my day". Thinking he was somewhat upset because of all the paperwork he would have to do, and of all the typing he would have to do, I apologized, saying I was just trying to get my bag back. The officer replied, "No, no, . really, ..we are very happy. You have made our day. We seldom are able to catch them". Then one of the other officers called him over the radio. After they exchanged a few words he chuckled. "It seems", he said, "that one of our officers has a very good memory. He remembers arresting this one before". Then as we filled out the report, he got another call on the radio. He chuckled some more, and said they did a check, and found he had gotten out of prison in May. A few minutes later, there was another call on the radio. He talked for quite a while, and he chuckled a few more times. He asked me if I was in the armed forces or a police officer. I replied " no, I'm just a rocket scientist on vacation". He said "too bad, you would get big promotion for this. You have made us very happy. We found some things on him that he stole from a lady that morning on another train. This is good.....this is very good".
The police officer and his colleagues were extremely nice. They offered to take me out on the town that evening. But I was too frazzled. I just wanted to get going. In hindsight I wish I had taken them up on their offer. What better way to see Brussels, than with than with police officers. It would have been like having my own bodyguards. Oh -well. As I was leaving, there was a lot of yelling and pounding coming from the back room in the station. I glanced in the direction the sounds were coming, as they was getting very loud, and then looked back at the officer. He simply smiled, and said "Have a good trip".