Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Pickpocket almost got away with it on Paris subway
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   07/12/2002)

I had buried my wallet deep in the left front pocket of my trousers the day we left for Europe and returned it there during all our forays to great wonders of the Old World. The strategy had worked for 20 of our 21-day vacation in England and France, so that as our last day in Paris waned, my wallet was the last thing on my mind.

We had just left The Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral--inspiring monuments to fabulous art and lofty ideas--and now were sitting on fold-down plastic chairs on a concrete platform in a subway station of Paris. I was consulting a map, making sure the train we were about to board would take us toward our hotel, so that we could collect our bags and leave. As the train squealed to a halt, my wife, Jeanne, and two teenaged boys, Travis and Justin, headed for the nearest door to board. A young man with an accordion playing for tips blocked our way, however, so we changed directions to board through the door to our left in the seconds allotted before the train would close us in and move on.

A man crowded on behind us just as the doors hissed shut, but I paid him no mind, as I grasped the bar before me and braced for the train's acceleration. Standing there, I felt the slightest, feather-light touch on my thigh, a common enough sensation in subways.

Maybe the touch alerted some part of my subconscious mind. When we reached cruising speed, my left hand dropped to my front pocket as if from habit. Then panic owned me. My wallet was missing! Catastrophic. Two days earlier, my sister had been mugged, her purse stolen, and she had spent hours canceling credit cards and verifying reservations before leaving Paris a day sooner than planned.

I had no time for such as that. This subway ride to collect our bags at the hotel was the first link in a tight schedule of timed connections that would include a taxi to the bus station, a bus ride to the ferry at Calais, a voyage across the English Channel to Dover, another bus ride to London's Victoria Station, a train ride to Gatwick Airport, a plane to Cincinnati for our connection to Nashville, ending in a van-ride home to East Tennessee where mountains of work waited. The wallet contained no money or passports, but it held schedules, verifications, phone numbers, identification, credit cards. None of those things went through my conscious mind, however. I remember a mental sensation, not quite rising to the level of words, but to the effect: WALLET GONE. CATASTROPHIC. Jeanne was sitting, looking up at me, and she saw the panic in my eyes.

"What's wrong?"

I answered with a question. "Do you have my wallet?"


Then I remembered that feather-light touch to my thigh and turned to the man standing slightly behind me to my left. He was about 30, with dark, neatly parted hair with a slight wave to it. He had a slightly bad complexion and wore glasses. Folded over his left arm was a leather jacket in which anything might be hidden. I knew immediately. He was the thief. He glanced away, and then I was in his face.

I must have looked scary. With three days growth of beard and bloodshot eyes from sleep deprivation, and with anger bringing the veins out in my neck, I roared at him from a foot away, "Give me back my wallet!"

For a week I had been using pigeon-French recalled from college days, gratified I could make my needs known and initiate simple conversations, but in my anger I was bellowing old-fashioned East Tennessee Amuri-can-ese. "Give me back my wallet!"

"I don' have your wal-let," he responded.

"Where is it then?"

"You drop' it--over there."

I glanced to where he pointed to my right--nothing there--and quickly back. He was jiggling the latch on the door, and I saw the train was rushing to another platform for its next stop. I would have grabbed him by the shoulders and shaken him, but miraculously, inexplicably, Jeanne was reaching up to hand me the thick black wallet.

"See, you drop' it," the man repeated. "She have it."

Confused, I checked the contents and began apologizing. "I'm sorry. Pardonnez-moi."

But I needn't have. He was the thief all right. Travis said, as the doors slid open, "It was behind him on the floor. I saw him drop it." Travis had put his foot on it then, and Jeanne had picked it up.

"Thief!" I yelled, as he jumped off the train and ran from view, "I have a witness!" I added a few choice words not permitted in family papers, but he was lost on the crowded platform. Doors hissed shut behind him. One woman expressed regret, but mostly the Parisians looked curiously, guardedly, at the angry American. I didn't care. We had the wallet back, our connection to so many connections that would take us home.