Answer by Bruno Valle:
I was on a train in France in 2006 – the overnight train from Nice to Rome. Being young backpackers, my friend and I had paid for the cheapest fare possible, which meant sleeping in tight chairs in a packed car. At some point in the middle of the night, I get woken up by a rough hand shaking my shoulder.
I looked up to see a tall blonde man in a baseball cap looking down at me. “Someone just took something out of your bag!”, he said to me in an American accent, before waking up a few people next to us which had also been robbed.
Once we awakened, he explained “I just saw three guys rummaging through your bags and taking out cash and valuables. When they saw me they went straight to back of the train, we need to get them!”
I didn’t think it was safe to confront 3 train robbers in the middle of the night in the last car of a speeding train, so I said “Shouldn’t we tell the conductor first?”
The baseball cap guy was seething and clearly didn’t want to wait for the conductor. He said “Ok, you go to the front and tell the conductor, and…” he looked around, trying to find someone or something. His gaze landed on a hulking curled up figure, sleeping under a blanket and cap. This sleeping guy was at least 6’6’’. Baseball cap guy walked towards him shook him roughly “You, hey, wake up, I need your help. Three guys just ran down the train car stealing from bags, we need to get them.”
The sleeping guy pulled off his blanket and stood up. He was gigantic, and was wearing an “Australia Rugby” shirt.
The baseball guy was clearly satisfied with his new recruit, and they marched to the back of the train followed by the excited group of victims and onlookers.
I made my way to the front of the train and alerted the conductor of what was happening – he said he couldn’t do anything until we reached Marseille, when he would ask the “railroad police” to board the train and investigate the thefts.
Dejected, I went back to my seat to tell the other travelers about this, but no one was there. I could hear yelling coming from the back of the train so I walked past the next few cars and got there. There was a commotion in front of the last door, as baseball cap guy, Australian rugby guy and 10 other people jostled and yelled at the last door. The 3 suspects had been chased down by the baseball/rugby duo and had barricaded themselves in the last car. They were clearly scared, but were screaming back at the crowd in broken English “We have knife! We have knife!”.
Soon, baseball/rugby duo decided they had enough. The massive Australian rugby player started to kick the door repeatedly, putting his full weight behind each kick. The cutpurses stared at the door after each kick, trying to see how long it could take them. They talked among themselves and made a decision. The trio pulled out thousands of Euros in cash, jewelry and other valuables and dropped them on the ground, saying “Ok! Ok! What you want!” and ran to the back of the last car.
Soon team baseball/rugby had gotten the door open, but the 3 hoodlums were gone – they had jumped out of the moving train in fear.
But baseball cap guy and rugby guy were celebrated as heroes for the rest of the ride. If they hadn’t intervened, the robbers would have escaped with the money when the train slowed down.
The baseball cap guy was a retired cop from New York, and the rugby guy just played rugby in university. I think they both deserve “nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”