The Case of The Metro Hooligans

Villeurbanne, France

This blog entry corresponds to ROL Special: The Case of The Metro Hooligans.

Today was one of my lucky days.  I didn’t have classes with one of the teachers, allowing me the chance to go back to the dorm, cook lunch and have a nap.  That is, until the hooligans entered the Metro.

(Clarification:  This is hooligans in the American “roughnecks/hoodlums/ruffians” sense, not the British soccer fan sense.)

After my morning class, I went to the metro to head back.  At the same station that I got on, a large group of teenage boys, around 7-10 of them, came on the metro as well, shouting, then dispersing through the car.  I was honestly frightened, as they began sticking their hands through the train’s ceiling grates to turn off the fluorescents.  I could picture this as the first stage in a great Metro holdup.  I started putting away my iPod and computer and grabbed my Nalgene for protection.  The turning off of the lights caused some of fluorescents to explode, sprinkling glass chunks on the floor.

Along with me on the train were an old couple and a woman in her 30’s.  As the group gleefully wreaked havoc, they smiled at the old couple and the old couple smiled back as if this were a normal occurrence.  No yelling.  No fear that I saw, neither on the part of the kids thinking any trouble might befall them, nor by the old couple, that their safety (and) were in any danger.

At one point, one of the boys turned to the old couple and said:


Excuse us, in polite form.  The most genteel vandalism that I’ve ever seen.

As the boys left the train, I recorded them with my camera.

I got off at the next Metro stop.  No security, so I went back to the opposite direction to go to one of the TCL (transportation agency) offices.

I went to a ticket window.

Hello.  I’m American.  Sorry in advance for my bad French.

I told them what I had seen and what evidence I had of the crime.  The woman told me that she couldn’t help me, but that I should go to one of the main offices of TCL which was a few Metro stops away.  I asked if this was something important that I should do.  She said yes.

I go to a bus depot, seeing nothing that seemed remotely like it was somewhere where I belonged.  I went to the nearest door with people inside and went through the same story.  They seemed surprised, but extremely grateful that I had come in.  The man I told the story to told me to wait as he called someone.  The person at the other end told the man to take my number so they could give it to the police to call me

At this point, I had flashbacks of Chile, with a never-ending wait for someone to call about a case.  At this least time, I didn’t get scammed, just scared, so if they didn’t call back, oh well, their loss.  Instead, the police called me immediately and said to come in to the Commissariat speak to someone at 2:00 PM.

Walking into the police station, I am surprised to see another cute uniformed police officer at the front desk.  (With Chile being the first place.)

I tell her who I’m looking for.  She calls up and the guy seems confused at first, then says to send me up to the 2nd floor.

2nd floor, I’m greeted by said plain-clothes guy:

C’est vous, le Caméraman?

(“It’s you, “The Cameraman”?” in formal French.)  This greatly amuses me, as I enjoy my international nicknames.

The reporter in Chile called me American Detective.  Moroccans called me ‘Ali Baba’.

The man has me sit down, assuring me that it won’t be a long wait.  It isn’t.  I get passed off  to his also plain-clothes female colleague, who brings me into a room with a drum kit, a computer and a pack of American Legend cigarettes.

She asks me questions about what happened, typing it up.  This is a key difference from my experience in Chile, as the cop there wrote it all up by hand.  She speaks quickly, using different verbs than I am accustomed to, throwing me off.

All-in-all, I make out all right, as evidenced by her reading the whole report and me understanding and agreeing with it.  The original detective (?) comes in to watch my video.  He is positively gleeful that the faces were clear.  I try to get a pat on the back, saying that I came in because I didn’t think other people did and it seemed important to me.  He says yes, and in English, regarding the rest of the populace:

They look the other way.

I ask if the video was good.  He confirms as much, then leaves the room.

I ask if I could get a copy of my report, but this is against procedure, so no.  The woman has me sign my declaration, then escorts me into the elevator, taking it down to the bottom floor with me, thanks me.

I head off to school.

Metro to bus.

On the bus, I heard a ruckus.  Two guys are getting into a physical fight in the back.  I tell myself, “Not every situation requires the police or your interference.”  I get off the bus, record my after-credits line of “Who says I work in a bad neighborhood?” then head to class.


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