I WAS 21 AND I WAS LIVING IN BUENOS AIRES. One night, while staggering home drunk from a very, very long party, I was robbed. The robber pushed me into a doorway and took my wallet and phone before jumping into a car waiting for her just behind us on the street. The car sped away, and in my drunken haze, I couldn’t think much else other than, “Well, fuck.”
The robber, you see, happened to have been a prostitute. And there was so much money in my wallet — I’d gone to the ATM earlier that night — that I wouldn’t be able to get through my next two months in Argentina unless I called my parents and asked for help.
It’s safe to say that this was the most embarrassing event of my young life.
“How did you get robbed?” my mother said.
My dad chuckled. “Congratulations, Matt. You’ve been screwed by your first whore.”
I still haven’t totally lived it down. But it’s usually a good conversation starter. People will tell me their most embarrassing stories, we can all laugh about it, and then you feel a little less ridiculous. Look at us! We’re all human! We’re alive!
Ryan Lochte is a jackass.
It, of course, would have been very easy for me to lie about what happened on the corner of Avenidas Pueyrredon and General Las Heras that night. I could’ve told my parents that a big dude with a gun took my money, and not a lady-of-the-night who was about a foot shorter than me. That would have elicited a bit more sympathy and a few less snickers.
But that would’ve been shitty. First, it would’ve portrayed the city I was staying in as more dangerous than it actually was, and likely would’ve discouraged anyone who I told the story from going to Buenos Aires in the future. And second, I didn’t deserve sympathy in that situation. I was staggering around like a drunk idiot, and I got targeted. That doesn’t just happen in Argentina: that happens everywhere.
You’ve heard, by now, the story of Ryan Lochte getting “robbed” in Rio. The details are still murky, but the basics are this: Lochte and three other swimmers claimed that they were held up at gunpoint by men who were pretending to be police. Their money was stolen. And they were let go.
It turns out, though, that this was very likely a lie. video footage now shows the swimmers returning to the Olympic village with all of their belongings, and playing around, very much not like guys who are shaken up after being held up at gunpoint. There’s now footage that’s being released of Lochte drunkenly breaking a gas station bathroom door, and then arguing with a security guard.
What seems to have happened is this: Lochte was too embarrassed to tell his mother what really happened, so he lied about the hold-up. Then his mother reported the hold-up to the international press. And Lochte had to put some bullshit fib together to cover his ass.
Live up to your mistakes.
Look, we all make fools of ourselves at some point in our lives. Ryan Lochte makes a fool of himself even more frequently than most of us, but whatever — he’s relatively young, he’s good looking (hair aside), and he’s rich. I’d be an idiot if I was all of those things, too.
But you have to own the dumb things you do. Especially if it’s a choice between making yourself look like an asshole and making an entire country look dangerous. It’s especially frustrating that this story came out of Rio, which actually does have a serious crime problem, and where a lot of very real people have been legitimately victimized by both criminals and the police.
Those of us who travel frequently also know how skittish the general public is about travel to places that are perceived as “dangerous.” Just a week ago, a friend who I’ve always thought of as very worldly told me he wouldn’t travel to Europe until “things simmer down in the world.”
It’s an uphill battle to convince people that no, they’re actually very safe abroad, that there are ways to travel smart and safe that can drop your odds of being in a terrorist attack to basically zero, and can drop your odds of being robbed or mugged to reasonably low levels.
It’s hard enough to get people to explore the world they live in without the lies. So, to Ryan Lochte and his fellow swimmers: the next time you do something stupid, just own up to it. We kind of expect it from you, anyway.