Athens, Greece: I hope the people who stole our stuff enjoy Eli’s math homework and Kyle’s completed chemistry labs

Us at the Munich, Germany International Airport

FADE IN:

Flight from Munich, Germany to Chicago, Illinois

I noticed my phone was almost dead and my adapter was gone. Dave was sleeping. I woke him so I could scold him for taking our one remaining charger.  It is mine.

He looked at me groggy-eyed and said,

“You insisted I use it.”

Immediately, I stopped myself. I wanted to bite his head off (literally). Instead, I bit my tongue (again, literally), and apologized for jumping to conclusions.  Then Dave sweetly apologized for not giving my charger back. I am angry. I am angry at Dave. That is my uncomfortable truth. I am struggling to forgive. For that I am sorry.

FADE OUT.

Almond Milk, Athens, Greece

After twenty-five hours in transit, we arrived in Athens, Greece,  I was excited and surprisingly awake. We made our way to baggage claim, picked up our luggage, which included one case of Costco Brand Almond milk. Because Almond milk is not always easy to find, that our experiment worked, which was to check a case of almond milk and have it safely travel across the world.  With luggage in hand, we walked to the car rentals,  stopping to buy two overpriced bottles of water. Across the way we noted the pharmacy we visited the last time we were in Greece.  We were all confidant as we heartedly proclaimed,

“Knock on wood. No one had a strange allergic reaction on the plane. This is going to be a good trip.”

Then we rented our unusually nice car and were on our way. As we drove there was a light rain and sunny skies in the distance.

Our Athens, Greece Rental Car

Driving into Athens, Greece

That is when Dave happily proclaimed,

“Look at that exceptional rainbow.”

He was correct. The rainbow was exquisite. It was a beautiful day and we were finally on our adventure. Our Thanksgiving trips have become a lovely tradition. It is Kyle’s senior year of high school, and this may be our last. Consequently, to say I was excited for our time together, is a complete understatement.

Our ferry to Crete was leaving at 9PM. The boys and I would have been ok sleeping, but Dave was determined that we do something purposeful. I suggested some loose alternatives. Nope. Dave needed solid specifics (not like ambling jet-lagged around Athens is a solid play, by the way).  Dave won and we drove into Athens. Athens is actually pretty cool and very gritty.  It has some of the best graffiti and street art I have ever seen.  The food is not bad either. We were there last March 2016. And as cool as the street art is, the boys and I did not want to go back. So again I suggested we do something else. Dave emphatically shot back,

“Like what?”
“How about we find something on our drive to the ferry?” I responded.
“Like what? (He said several more times.)

The warning signs were screaming. I firmly and repeatedly suggested we pull over and look at TripAdviser and Google Maps. It did not matter.  I know Dave and knew he would not yield, unless, that is I presented him with say a business plan, a plan that included a Powerpoint presentation with accompanying handouts.  I was very tired and finally gave in.

We made our way into the city and was completely relieved a few minutes later when we were unable to find parking. I hoped Dave  would follow his typical behavior in these situations, which is to get frustrated and eventually give up. Alas, I completely underestimated Dave’s resolve. The lack of parking only served to fuel his determination. We kept driving. I stopped looking for parking. I mean pulled out my phone and searched for alternatives. Dave’s frustration mounted and I saw an opportunity. For a split second I felt like I might have a chance. I began saying things such as,

“Hey, why don’t we just go for a drive, go to the grocery store and enjoy our day,” and “hey, we are so tired. Athens is crowded and dirty, why don’t we do something more relaxing?”

My words only served to solidify his will. We were now in an unfamiliar neighborhood, a mile from the center of town. That is when Dave found a spot. As he parked I plainly said,

“We should do something else. I do not think this is safe. I think someone will break into our car. This does not feel right. Please. Dave. Please, let’s push pause and just go. Really, Dave let’s not park here.”

In response to my words Dave blurted,

“Well, what else are we going to do?”

Here is there deal. I know whom I married. I am annoyingly flexible and paralyzing considerate to Dave’s steadfast vision.  I am truly the Ernie to Dave’s Bert. In truth, we are a great match. And most days my ability to bob and weave is the perfect complement to Dave’s clear focus.  Yet I still wonder if Dave knows or has considered why he is unable to easily shift his expectations. Sometimes I fight his fixed determination. Because Dave has great ideas, most days I happily go with it. Ultimately, it was Dave’s clear resolve that built a beautiful home and has spent the last few weeks tirelessly building our addition. Steadfastness is just what he does and a strong resolve serves him well. It serves us all well.

I firmly believe that his steadfastness is an inherited trait. Dave’s mom is a force. She is single-minded and often unflinchingly fixates on an idea or a perception. As a result, when she gets an idea in her head, there is very little, if anything, anyone can do to knock her off course. Because we know this, when we traveled with her a few years ago, for instance, we repeatedly asked her with the kind of directness that seems unkind,

“No. Please do not buy the London pass. We will not use it. It will go to waste.”

Nevertheless and undeterred, she bought the London pass. Of course she was surprised and also very sad when we did not use it. Kyle also shares this same single-mindedness. In fact, I would argue that their relentless is what makes the three of them such a success.

…As we pulled up to the parking spot, my heart sank. Ok. I think I have made the point that Dave is a force. And a jet-lagged me did not have the energy to fight that force. Nevertheless, the neighborhood seemed sketchy so I pleaded,

“I am not sure, but this does not feel right. I do not think we should park here.”

Parking our rental car in Athens, Greece

Parking our rental car in Athens, Greece

Dave did not respond. As he pulled into the spot, a dude on a beaten up motorcycle pulled up next to Dave’s car door. It was weird. We all said it was weird. Then Dave finished parking the car. That is when I grabbed our passports and shoved them in my purse. Then I covered my backpack with my black jacket and shoved it as far out of sight as I could. As I got out of the car, I said,

“Is there anywhere we can hide the kids’ backpacks? How can we get them safely out of sight?”

Dave snapped,

“Like where?”

I took a deep breath and asked the boys to hide their packs as best they could.

A screenshot of the Google Map where I marked our fateful parking spot, Athens, Greece

A zoomed out view of the screenshot I took of the Google Map marking where we parked, Athens, Greece

I should have done more. I should have screamed like a crazy person and demanded that we get back in the car. I should have been more kind and willing to deal with Dave’s lack-of-a-solid-plan disappointment. I was tired so was he. Instead, I caved.

Dave shut the hatch or our hatchback our rental car. As I walked around our car, I noticed his backpack up against the back window.  Then I saw the bright orange priority labels on the Almond milk case.

“Hey, why don’t we pull those orange tags off,” I said followed by, “I just don’t think that is a good place for your backpack.”

Dave pulled the orange tags off. I should have put his backpack on the floor.  I regret that I did not try to shove all the backpacks under the seats. In fairness to Dave, we travel often and all over the world. Most of the time we rent cars. As a necessity and on travel days, we have left our luggage fully exposed. Consequently, logic and experience would dictate we were safe. Alas, it was never about not having a plan. I knew we should not park where we did. My gut feelings (and Dave’s, because later he would tell me he had a bad feeling too), could be dismissed as jet-lag, right? Wrong.

Life Imitating Signs, Athens, Greece

So I let go and  on a random Athens street we left our luggage exposed. Then we walked into town. I often walk with Kyle as Eli loves to walk with Dave. Kyle would probably like to walk with the guys, but is always kind and waits for me as I pause and take things in. I am grateful for the care and friendship Kyle gives me. It is often during these times where Kyle and I get real. We had a pretty long walk toward the Acropolis to the neighborhood known as Monastiraki that lies in its shadow. As we walked, I said the following:

“Kyle. I think someone is going to break into our car. As a precaution I put our passports in my purse. At least if all of our stuff is stolen, we will be able to get out of the country.”

He agreed. I continued,

“I hope Dad will listen and trust my witch sense. I hope this moment impacts him so in the future he will be willing to go off course. You know I don’t think we should leave our car. None of us do, but here we are.” Then I paused and said, “I really hope you and Eli do not have to pay for this lesson.”

In hindsight we should have at least paid for parking, Athens, Greece

Just a few blocks from the car, as we were passing a bus stop thronged with tired commuters, a gaunt young man that kind of looked like Charles Manson was bouncing erratically from one person to the next with a menacing air. As we approached, he fixed his gaze on Eli, and reached out to him with his hand, holding a lit cigarette. Dave tried to position himself between them, and hustled Eli along, looking back after they were out of his orbit, to see that the man make a similar aggressive gesture toward Kyle and me.

The antics of this street lunatic left us all a little rattled. Another warning sign?

Half way down the block, we noticed a group of heavily armed policemen on the corner, looking at the direction of the disruptive crazy man. As we walked toward them, we hoped they might intervene, but they just kind of stood around. As we passed them, we noticed a small bulletproof police kiosk on one side of the street, and a large schoolbus-sized riot van, with more cops milling around outside. They didn’t seem to be there for any particular reason, other than the fact that the area was a plaza and public park that seemed to be a decent place for locals to hang out on a Sunday afternoon.

Again it was clear that a neighborhood where 20 police officers just hang around in a group might imply that it would be a sketchy place to park your car.

 

Eli, Quick Pitta, Athens, Greece

Kyle, Quick Pitta, Athens, Greece

The rest of our walk to the Monastiraki was uneventful and Athens was better than I expected. We ate at Quick Pitta. I wanted to go back to the car. Dave wanted to keep walking up the hill so we could get an Acropolis view. I love the view and was happy to oblige. By then I figured if the damage was done at least I could enjoy this moment. We walked along tiny roads and paths covered in vivid graffiti. At the top we could see the Acropolis across the way. It was the time of day where the sun is a perfect sepia light. We were amazed with feral cats and tiny churches. We made our way back. I was looking forward to the ferry and seeing Crete the next day.

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

Kyle and I were walking side by side. As we neared the car, I cautioned,

“I will let Dad walk ahead so if the car was broken into, he can see it first.”

Dave and Eli approached the car. It is painfully comical to recall how many times the boys and I urged Dave not to go into Athens, yet no amount of humor can erase what I heard next:

“They got our backpacks! Mom. Everything is gone.” Eli screamed.

He kept screaming and his screams turned into painful tears.

 

Note the case of Almond Milk in the upper righthand corner, Athens, Greece

Theft in Athens, Greece

Kyle walked up —  stunned. I think he is still stunned. I watched as an eerie sadness enveloped both boys. In that exact second I knew the direction of our trip would change. They had been violated. The things that were most personal to them had been ripped away. I did not stop it. I did not protect them. I should have fought harder.

Eli was pacing and frantic. Kyle was stoic. I was shouting at Dave,

“Dave, I asked you not to park here. I pleaded with you. I demanded. You [insert advanced expletive here] refused. You [insert all caps advanced expletive here] REFUSED!”

“I know. I know. I know.” Dave cried out.

“Why don’t you listen? Why do you get so fixed?” I screamed again. “Why are you so rigid?”

I noticed people walking by and looking at me as I screamed. Our moment is dark and very sad. My boys watched me scream at their dad. They watched their dad comprehend his responsibility.

Eli pleaded.

“Mom! Dad! Everything is gone. Everything.” Eli reached into the car and cut his hand badly on the broken glass.

Dave was now more frantic. Eli was scared and sobbing. Kyle was numb. Then Dave cried out,

“I do not know what to do. I do not know what to do.”

I had no idea what to do either. One of us suggested he find the police. I figured the police would not be able to do anything, but I also understand the importance of a police report.

Dave remembered the police kiosk around the corner, and thought maybe we could ask them for help, so he ran off in that direction, leaving us at the car. As we were sitting there for a long time, Dave was having a frustrating, exhausting, and bizarre interaction with Greece’s criminal justice system.

The cops on the corner at the bulletproof kiosk had no interest in coming to the crime scene, despite having nothing in particular to do. They informed Dave he needed to go to the police station to report the crime. They helped him find it on the map. It was over in the other direction, about a ten-minute walk. Dave ran over, taking several wrong turns on his way, and finally found a darkened building with another kiosk out front, the cop on duty informed him that he should go to the third floor to make his report. Entering the building, there was no lobby: just closed doors and a dark staircase. At the landing of each dimly lit level, there was another closed door and small placards written in Greek. No markings identifying anything or looking particularly police-like. As he entered the door on the third floor, he was in a shabby, mostly empty room, with a hallway down one side and a heavy green door with an opening in it at chest-level. As Dave entered the room, a man’s face peered out of the opening, and he beckoned Dave over. As Dave approached, saying,

“Someone broke into our car,”

he got a better look a the man and saw through the opening that there were several men in the small room behind the green door, he realized that small room was a holding cell. He turned around and walked down the hall, and saw an office that looked just like the set of “Barney Miller” or some other 1970s police TV show, with a couple of hard-boiled middle aged guys in shirts and ties sitting at small desks, and a young woman with a holster on her hip. The woman stood up, and Dave explained why he was there. Like most younger people in Greece we’d met in our travels there, she spoke decent English. She explained that he needed to report the crime at the office of the “tourist police.” She typed the address into Google Maps on his iPhone. The tourist police office was another 12 minute walk in the opposite direction of our car.

When Dave arrived at the tourist police, the man at the desk was a fatherly type with salt and pepper hair. If you wanted to cast a Greek police officer in a movie, you’d end up with this guy for sure. As Dave explained the events of that afternoon, he listened with weary familiarity.

“Athens wasn’t always like this,” he said.

He and his younger colleague gave Dave a stack of forms to fill out. While Dave filled out the forms, he and I had been carrying on a sporadic conversation over text. Eventually, the policeman realized that Dave’s family wasn’t there, and asked where is your wife and the car? He was surprised that we hadn’t packed up the car and all come to the police station together. Dave explained that we had tried to get help nearby, but had been sent to progressively farther-away places. The man suggested that Dave go get his family and the car and return. They would need to take some time typing up the police report anyway. was feeling helpless and panicked, so he just obeyed each time and went to the next place.

In the meantime, the sun was setting, it was getting cold and Eli was calming down.

 

Kind Strangers Helping Eli, Athens, Greece

Two men walked by and then returned a few minutes later with medical supplies. They walked up, and to clean Eli’s bleeding hand, dumped an entire bottle of Betadine on, then dressed his wounds. Eli’s hand looked much worse than it was. The men did not speak English so they called someone who did. On their flip phone I tried to speak with another kind stranger.

His English was not great. I do not speak Arabic or Greek. I assured him we were ok.

They left and came back with two bottles of water.

Kyle asked if he could go for a walk. I said,

“I need you here.”

People walked by, stared. Some stopped and asked (mostly in Greek) what happened. One woman scolded me, pointed several times, and rolled her eyes. Another man admonished,

“You parked in the bad-est of the bad parts of Greece.”

He could not emphasize this fact strongly enough. We were like,
“Dude, we know.”

Regardlesss, no one seemed to understand that we were robbed. Instead their eyes were drawn to the pool of Betadine surrounded by discarded gauze pads. It did not help that the Betadine looked like a blood bath.  A few were kind. All of them were foreigners, that is to say, non-Greek. I know this because they wanted us to know that they were not Greek. I appreciated the respect the showed us as they walked up to Kyle, asked what happened and asked what they could do.

By now Dave had been gone for some time. I was at a loss. Kyle’s phone was dead and their chargers and charger cords were gone. I knew we would miss it so I tried to get online so I could cancel our ferry. It was 8:00 AM in Utah. Eli was calm and helpful. Kyle was still quiet. I decided to text my friend Beth to see if she could get online for me. I sent her the following stream of texts:

“I need help” [send]
“Are in Greece and we were robbed” [send]
“This is Beth Adams [send]

She did not respond so I texted my friend, Emily. I did not hear back from Emily either, and wondered if she was having the same reaction.

That is when I realized Beth would never answer the phone, but instead assume my phone had been stolen. I texted:

“I am going to call you now”

It took two calls for her to answer. And yes, she thought it was a scammer.

She texted me the information I needed. Then I made the calls. While making calls and talking to Beth and now Emily, Eli stood by my side deconstructing our situation.  I love Eli’s awareness. He processes quickly and feels profoundly. Because he does, is well adjusted and heals fast.

By now we were freezing. Dave was still gone. Kyle seemed more relaxed as he talked to passers by. The two men came back with more water and checked on Eli’s hand. One of them looked at me and said,

“No English.” Then he pointed at himself and said, “Algeria,” and pointed at his friend, “He too.” Then he pulled up his flip phone again and handed it to me. I told the man on the other line that we were ok. As the two men walked off they said, “Algeria! No Greece.”

After what seemed like forever, Dave came back.

The boys outside of the Athens, Greece Tourist Police Station

The boys at the Athens, Greece Tourist Police Station

Eli’s injurred arm, Athens, Greece

He told us that the police were making a report and we need to drive back to the station so they could see the rental car. Kyle and I spread hoodies over the broken glass and sat in the back. We parked illegally (as per the policeman’s request), and went inside. As we sat on the couch, the policeman kindly admonished,

“Greece is beautiful. Don’t let this ruin your trip. You get away from Athens and you are more safe.”

As he walked away, I looked at Dave and said,

“He does not speak for us. You know that, right? Of course Dave agreed.

The boys, and Harry the police officer, at the Athens, Greece Tourist Police Station

We were at the police station for a very long time. They had a computer and a phone that we could use. Dave quickly got online to cancel the stolen credit cards and try to deal with our reservations at the ferry and hotels. Kyle and I shared my phone  so he could talk to his girlfriend and I could text Emily. Emily and Eli have a great connection and her energy is what we needed. At one point Kyle escorted me to the scary bathroom in the basement. Eli passed out on a couch. Dave and I had several tear-filled heart-to-hearts. Both boys pleaded that we get out of Greece. They were afraid. Normally I push through or assure them things would be ok. Somehow, and even if there is a lot of discomfort, they always are.  This time I knew making them stay was wrong. I also knew that logistically and financially it would be hard to stay. Just to be sure we were doing the right thing, I suggested several options like making our way to Zurich to connect with our return flights. Sure, I thought that may be impossible, but maybe the airline would take pity on us. Then I suggested we drive out of Greece to another country. I realized with most of our things stolen how impractical either of these options would be. That is when I suggested we see if we could fly home a few days early.

Dave at the Tourist Police Station, Athens, Greece

Dave made the call. That is when adrenaline faded and pure, beautiful emotion took over. I cried as I watched him sob,

“We were robbed. What they took has made it impossible for us to stay.”

I assumed they would give us a few days (like I had planned). The call agent told him there was a flight at 6AM. It was now almost 10PM. Kindly, United Airlines waived all fees and told us,

“We need to get you home.”

Me at the Athens, Greece Tourist Police Station

Kyle outside of the Athens, Greece Tourist Police Station

We found a hotel, took showers for the first time in three days, and at 4AM this morning we left for home.

Now we are on our last flight traveling from Chicago to Salt Lake City.  It is about 9:45 PM. The lights just came on. Over the loudspeaker I hear,

“We have a medical emergency. Do we have any doctor’s, nurses, medical personal, EMTs, or first responders on board? If so, please ring your call light.”

The flight attendant just made the announcement again. Then I heard a call light from somewhere on the plane. I have no idea what is happening. We heard nothing more. For the remainder of the flight there is an unusual amount of turbulence.

And maybe flying through turbulence is a good place to end. Because life is filled with turbulent moments. When we checked into our Athens Hotel, we told Dimitri, the desk agent about our robbery. He looked at Kyle and I and said,

“You have like nine or ten of these hard (turbulent) moments in your life. The sooner you learn how to move through them, the better you will be.”

Dimitri has a point.

A little family therapy. Us, Salt Lake City, Utah

Now a week out we are ok. Dave and I are ok. The boys are ok. This week has been hard. Nevertheless, I think we are closer. What I like about us is we are both willing to stretch. That is why we have agreed to listen more, especially when someone pushes pause. I love him for that. I love Dave — always.