Robin Hood has returned to help the poor and steal from the rich. But what if you are the rich and he breaks into your overlanding vehicle? An essay about action movies, perspective, and losing your toolbox in Mexico.
Robin Hood, the legendary English outlaw, is back. With his Merry Men, he has returned to help the poor, to steal from the self-righteous rich, and even out the stakes. Instead of a bow and arrow, he now carries an automatic rifle and a fancy collection of throwing knives. The old Lincoln-green dress has been replaced by a dark green layer of body armor. Robin Hood no longer plunders horse-drawn carriages, this new incarnation robs the Rolex-wielding, champagne-drinking, upper class at gunpoint or breaks into their cars.
As far as I know, this isn’t a movie or TV show yet (But maybe soon
?), but it would fit perfectly into the line of recent years’ action blockbusters (has anyone seen Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters
?). Robin Hood steals and robs his way through the modern-day world, but he’s a hero. Even if his actions are against the so-called “law”, he helps to make the world a little fairer. The needle of our moral compass points deep into the “righteous” side, the fact that Robin’s actions are illegal is merely a sign of how screwed up the world he lives in is.
A dark hero in a darker world
Since we’ve already developed a hypothetical plot, we might as well spin it a little further. In the movie’s opening scene, we see Robin Hood walking through a city at night. Similar to a James Bond movie, the plot spans over several continents, and to introduce Robin and his mission, we’re presented with a scene in Mexico. It’s late, the streets are empty, the last drunkard has gone to sleep. The wind blows dust across the street, a street light flickers. Robin walks past a row of parked cars when something catches his attention. A van with US-American license plates, obviously equipped to travel long distances. Rich Americans spending their surplus money on travel, while many of the locals don’t even have enough money to leave the city. A perfect opportunity for our hero.
The scene of the crime, in daylight, a few days before the break-in.
He takes a closer look and opens a small vent window on the driver side with a screwdriver. He reaches inside the to roll down the window, while his armor shimmers in the faint moonlight. He pulls up the knob to unlock the door and tries to open it. The lock clicks, but the door doesn’t open. What is going on? He has a brief look around but cannot find the reason why the door won’t open. Okay, through the window then. Our hero elegantly climbs in and begins to inspect the rich gringos‘ belongings. A few minutes later, he walks away with his booty: a propane tank, a toolbox filled to the brim with tools, two pairs of shoes, a fan, and an extension cord.
Falling prey to the Prince of Thieves
You might have guessed it, this is not a poor attempt to write a script for a superhero movie. You also probably realized that the “van” our hero has entered so elegantly is Big Emma, while we are cast for the role of the “rich gringos“. Why am I telling you all this? You’ll see. First, let’s dive back in and see how we – the rich gringos – find out what has happened.
A few hours after Robin’s grand opening scene, Emma wakes up from a bad dream. Something was wrong in the dream, something dreadful had happened, but she can’t remember what it was. She gets up and walks outside to check on the Bus, just to reassure herself. Within a split second, she notices the rolled-down window and the half-open door. Her pulse begins to race and there’s this prickling feeling of adrenaline flushing her veins, like sparkling water running through her body.
We didn’t leave that open…
She runs inside to wake me and a minute later we have the doors of the Bus open to investigate what had happened. We quickly realize both the tools and the propane tank are gone. I curse myself for leaving the toolbox not packed away where it belongs. Instead, it was sitting out in the front, easy to grab. I had used it days ago and had simply been too lazy to put it back. Damnit!
We fling swearwords into the air, hoping they would somehow reach the thief and hurt his pride. We even drive around the block in search of some lonely creature carrying a propane tank and a toolbox in the dead of night. But of course, Robin is long gone, the bounty is long split between those who needed it most, and the world a little fairer.
A hole in our budget, but nothing else
So, again, why am I telling you this story? Of course, no elegant, sexy body armor-wearing Robin Hood broke into our Bus (But since I’ll never meet the person who did, I might as well imagine Robin Hood. As a side note, if this ever should become a movie, can I suggest Ryan Reynolds for the leading role?). Our stuff is gone. Buying a new propane tank isn’t cheap, and replacing all the tools in our toolbox is even worse. They were a growing collection of everything we needed to keep Big Emma alive. Besides the fact that some tools were quite expensive, it’s hard to remember what exactly was in the box until the day I need a tool I don’t have anymore. And taking my shoes is just a big dick move. Their material value is low ($5 Dollars at Goodwill), but all I’m left with now is flip flops. So: dick move.
Reinforced vent windows. Open that, Robin!
But – and that’s the important point – all these items are replaceable. Not only because they weren’t the only adjustable wrench or propane tank on earth, but also because we have the money to replace them. Buying new tools will rip a significant hole into our budget, but we can do it.
Wealth is expensive in Mexico
In Mexico, a waitress or a waiter can earn as little as 120 pesos a day. That is only slightly more than $6.50 US Dollars. There is, of course, a wide range of jobs that pay different and much higher wages, but still, this number should give you an idea of how little money many Mexicans have. At the same time, many products aren’t necessarily cheaper than in the US. Electronics like phones or TVs cost roughly the same. Gasoline is even more expensive than in most places in the States (a liter is priced at around 16 pesos at the time of writing, which places the gallon of gas slightly over $3.60 US Dollars).
I never considered myself wealthy. If anything, I am of very average wealth. I worked during college, I sold my car when I moved to a city with decent public transport, I never had significant financial reserves. Still, I was able to save up enough money to quit my job and head off into this Panamerican adventure. When I work, I get paid an hourly wage that most Mexicans don’t even dream of. So, yes, seen from Mexican eyes (and Latin American eyes in general), I’m pretty loaded.
This gap in wealth, this crevasse of opportunity in life made obvious by the simple fact that we are here, makes us prime targets for thieves. And if you think back to the justification that Robin Hood uses to rob people, it’s not even that bad to steal from us. If you allow Robin Hood to hold a top ranking in your moral high score, why don’t you do the same with the Mexican thief who stole our stuff? Because he presumably took our toolbox for his own benefit and not to help others? Well yes, but what he did was essentially to cut out the middle man. He doesn’t need Robin Hood as a surrogate, he can even out the wealth gap by himself. Does that make him less righteous?
A traveler’s duty
What am I doing here? Am I trying to encourage people to steal from us? Or at least justify it? No. I’m still furious at the asshole who broke into Big Emma, both because he stole our stuff and because he violated the privacy of our home. I’m still angry at myself for leaving the toolbox just sitting in the front. But I understand that a coin is more than a two-dimensional disk. I know that there’s an underside with a different image, and I even know that there are engravings around the edge as well.
Ramped-up security. Let’s at least make it a challenge next time.
Of course I was angry, and, of course, I will do everything to prevent break-ins in the future. That’s what every car- or homeowner would do. The day after the break-in, we went to the hardware store and installed a plethora of additional locks in the Bus. Not only are the vent windows now blocked from just being pushed open, we also installed padlocks on almost every cabinet in the Bus, as well as on our spare tire. This way, even if a thief manages to enter the car, he will have significant trouble getting to our stuff.
But on this trip, I’m not only a car owner. Being a traveler abroad adds additional responsibility. As a traveler, it’s also my job to understand the culture I’m in and the impact I’m having on this culture or certain members of it. I can’t just sit in my chair, drink beer, and complain about the world. That doesn’t mean I should accept or defend characteristics I don’t approve of. But it means that as a guest in a foreign country, it is my duty to make an effort to understand what is happening, even if I don’t like what I see. I need to see behind the rage and anger of having been screwed over and realize that this is not about me.
A red-and-yellow sunrise
Meanwhile, Robin Hood is back in Mexico and has defeated his adversaries in an epic final battle. Your popcorn bucket is empty, except for the unpopped kernels on the bottom. Massive explosions have left the street in ruins. Smoke and dust are everywhere and the tortilla plate has somehow tipped over and spread the cheese salsa all over your shoes. Ripped out paving stones are lying on the street. A car is on fire, the flames painting ghostly shapes onto the bullet hole-ridden facades in the night.
From the smoke rise three figures, it’s Robin Hood and his two most loyal Merry Men. Their faces are dirty from the fight, but they are alive and they have won. The bad guys are dead and Robin’s slinky body armor has nothing but a few scratches on it. As they walk past the camera, a building crumbles in the background, releasing another cloud of dust onto the street behind the victorious trio. They walk around a corner in their march of victory, when Robin Hood notices a car across the street. It’s a red and yellow VW bus, and there’s a hint of recognition on Robin’s face. He stops and considers the bus, and for a second we wonder if he will loot it again. Then his expression changes into a smile. “Cool car,” he says and walks away into the sunrise.
Nice sunrise bus
Sven–I remain angry at the thief as well. Such a violation on many levels. Your writing brings perspective. Hang in there & buy some shoes!