I was at a happy hour downtown, eating chicken wings and drinking beer, when I tumbled out the door and found my stolen bike. I lived 16 miles away, but my bike was right there, locked to a parking meter.
When I saw my bike, the reptilian portion of my brain flickered to life. My girlfriend looked from me to the bike to the bar and back again. She knew that something was going to happen and that it probably wasn’t going to be good. She tried to convince me it wasn’t my bike.
I have been cycling to work for nine years. I’m a physical therapist. A few years ago, I treated a patient who injured his neck when a couch landed on his head. When he told me that, I couldn’t help but laugh. It just seemed so random. He worked at a furniture warehouse. The couch fell off a shelf above him.
That weekend, I helped a friend move. While we were trying to lift her king-size mattress onto the roof of the van, she dropped her end and the mattress landed on my head. Karma.
I herniated four discs in my neck and was out of work for two weeks. The first patient I saw when I got back was the guy with the couch injury. I explained my absence: “I, too, had a furniture accident.”
After that, it was hard to find a bike that didn’t set off my injury. That is, until I bought my Surly Cross-Check. I could ride that bike for hours, and I was devastated when it was stolen.
I couldn’t afford to buy another new Surly, so I ordered a frame online, found used parts on Craigslist and tried to rebuild it myself. I ended up with a franken-bike. It rode okay, but it wasn’t the same.
I kept searching for my old bike, though. I haunted pawn shops and bike stores. I downloaded a phone app that scanned Craigslist and alerted me if “black road bike,” “Surly,” “cross-check” or “steel frame” appeared in an ad. Now, two train rides and a long walk from my house in the suburbs, I recognized my bike immediately.
Coincidentally there was a bike store nearby, and I ran to borrow a lock. I put it on my bike and called the police. Three police cars came, and the bar emptied. The new owner of the bike was there. And me. And about 20 other people.
I was at the bar that night because I have a book coming out this month. The happy hour is a big annual schmooze-fest organized by my book agency. My agent thought it would be a good place for me to talk up my book. Except the only person I ended up talking to was the guy who stole my bike.
He stood there looking defiant (and slightly freaked out) and told me to take my lock off. Then someone with him accused me of trying to steal his bike.
No one knows what I’ve been through these past seven months. The long nights alone in my basement with an Allen wrench, a pile of bicycle parts and a chain tool. I was practically hopping from foot to foot. My girlfriend told me to calm down because I was supposed to be promoting my book and not acting like a lunatic.
The cops didn’t know whom to believe. Luckily, I had a picture on my phone of the police report from when the bike was stolen. I read them the serial number. The numbers matched. And that was it.
The guy unlocked his lock.
The police said they had to take the bicycle to the station but that I could get it in the morning. The crowd left. The guy went back into the bar. And I walked to the Metro station for the trip home.
The next morning I went to pick up my bike. As I signed it out, I saw the new police report. Under “finder” were the guy’s name, address and phone number. I memorized his number.
When I get home, I gave him a call. When he answered, I asked for him by name.
“Who is this?” he asked
“This is the person whose bike you stole.”
He laughed for a second before demanding, “How did you get my number?”
“How did you get my bike?”
He gave me some lame story. According to him, some guy walked up to him at Home Depot and offered him a free bicycle. I was not impressed.
He laughed again. Nervously. Which is exactly what I do when I feel anxious. I was glad he felt uncomfortable.
The next morning I called him again. I don’t know why I called. I should have been doing something more ethical than harassing my bike thief. This time he picked up immediately.
“Hey!” He said real friendly, catching me off guard. “How are you?”
“I’m okay,” I said. “How are you?”
What I wanted was an apology, but instead we ended up talking about the bike. We both rode it to work, six miles each way. I figured that out because I know where he lives. And I know where he works — at the restaurant next door to the bar. And he knows where I live, because he stole my bike. And he knows where I work, because he asked me.
I decided I am not going to press charges. I told him that. Even though, I pointed out, he completely destroyed my bike. It was in terrible shape. So I was back in my basement, with the Allen wrenches and chain tool. He told me he thinks he might change his phone number. I guess he doesn’t trust me.