Where’s my wallet?
I pat myself down. Did I put it in a different pocket? But of course not. Those dudes in the Panama kits who were jumping and pushing and singing, “Olé Panama.” They weren’t celebrating. They were picking my pockets.
My passport. $300 in local currency. My iPhone.
Carolyn and I are leaving the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and Panama at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. Carolyn finds someone who speaks English—Juan, one of the stadium vendors. He guides us to the police substation. I explain in broken Spanish that I’ve been robbed, and Juan fills in the gaps. The police sympathize, but can’t do anything. I hadn’t expected they could. I only want to file a police report so I can take it with me to the American embassy in the morning to replace my passport.
Then Juan has a brainstorm. Holds up his iPhone. “Can we track your phone?”
Of course! I log into “Find my iPhone” on his device. My phone is still in the Parque Metropolitano, on the other side of the stadium.
The policeman’s eyes light up. “Vamonos!” he says, and points to a four-seat pickup truck. He and his partner jump in the front. Carolyn and I in squeeze into the back with Juan, who holds his iPhone over the front seat for the cop in the passenger’s seat to navigate.
My phone doesn’t move as we careen around the stadium. Can we get there in time?
We halt in front of a set of moveable, metal barriers with about two feet of space between them. The cop orders a security guard standing nearby to move them.
He refuses. I don’t understand what he says, except for a name.
“They won’t let us through,” Juan says. “Keylor Navas is coming out soon.”
We can’t get through because the Costa Rican keeper dawdled in the shower?
The cop isn’t any more impressed with this obstruction than I am, but the guard won’t relent.
“Donde esta su supervisor?” the cop demands.
The feckless guard calls over to a woman wearing a yellow security shirt. Then he looks at the cop, and drags one of the barriers to narrow that two-foot gap.
Supervisor saunters over. The cop explains the situation. She shakes her head.
“Keylor Navas,” she says.
The police officer shouts at her. The only words I understand are, “panameños,” “robaron,” and “gringo,” but I get the gist. Some Panamanians robbed this American. Let us through.
“No. Keylor Navas,” she repeats, and walks away.
We have to find another route.
The cop throws the shifter into reverse, whips the steering wheel to the right, and stomps on the gas.
Did we just… hit something? The cop doesn’t care. He shifts into first, starts to pull away. Supervisor and Señor Barricade run over, waving their hands and shouting.
We’d backed into Supervisor’s parked car.
We have to get out. “Another car is coming,” Juan tells us. It arrives, lights flashing. We pile into it. Away we go. My phone is moving. It’s leaving the park. Slowly. Are the thieves on foot?
Maybe, but traffic is horrendous, creeping along slower than a walk. We’ll never get there, I think. There’s no way the cops can get through.
Wrong. They hit the sirens and the horn, and drive as though a murder scene awaits. We straddle the center line between two rows of cars doing their best to pull over to either side. We pass cars with inches to spare. I white-knuckle the chicken handle above the door. Carolyn refuses to look up.
Juan is grinning ear to ear. He’s having the time of his life.
“Aquí! Aquí!” he shouts. The driver pulls onto the curb. There’s a man walking by, talking on his phone. He’s wearing a Costa Rica jersey. Definitely not one of the dudes who mugged me.
I say, “That isn’t the dude!”
The cops jump out of the car, anyway. Stop the man on the phone. Demand he hand it over. Behind him by about ten feet are three other men, apparently not with him, also not the dudes, but the cops stop them, too.
What have you done with this gringo’s wallet and phone?
“That’s not my phone,” I shout. “Those aren’t the dudes! Esos no estan los hombres!”
The cops say something to Juan. “Call his phone,” he tells Carolyn. She does. Nothing. Because that isn’t my phone, and those aren’t the dudes.
Juan zooms in on the Find my iPhone map. My phone is on the other side of the street, maybe half a block up.
The cops jump back into the truck. We can’t get across the street, because a low, concrete wall separates two directions of gridlocked traffic. Sirens wailing, off we go again. I’m certain we’re going to ram someone. We find a gap, make a turn. Make another. At one point, I think we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. But we reach the spot on the map. We park on the sidewalk, and everyone gets out.
Traffic creeps by, but the locator for my phone doesn’t move. Carolyn calls and it goes right to voice mail. The thieves have turned the phone off. But maybe it’s still here. Maybe they saw the police coming, and threw it away. We start looking around.
We’re in the parking lot of some other Costa Rican law enforcement agency, and the agent on duty is not happy to see a gringo crawling around, looking under the cars. He and the driver cop exchange a terse conversation. From the tone, I gather that cooperation between the two agencies is not exactly strong.
We have to leave.
I’m not getting my stuff back. The cops feel almost as bad about it as I do. They really wanted to catch those Panamanian thieves for me. The least they can do, they say, is take us back to our hotel.
Back into the police car we go. In this traffic, it will be at least an hour.
But the cops aren’t waiting for traffic. Lights. Siren. Make way, make way. We have to get these gringos back to their hotel. Once we get out of the traffic jam, we race down side streets as if lives hang in the balance.
At the hotel, everyone gets out. The driver cop shakes my hand.
“Lo siento mucho, señor.”
Juan translates the rest: “We feel bad. We tried everything we could. If we could have gotten around the stadium, but…” The cop sighs.
“Keylor Navas,” he says, and shrugs. “Keylor Navas.”