The Bicycle Thief

By shmnyc

May 4, 2010

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Category: Reminiscences

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It’s not just your favorite movie, it’s real.

It was August 20, 1988, the day after my 29th birthday. I rode my bicycle downtown. Along the way I had the idea to go into the Barnes & Nobel’s used bookstore, across from what was then their sole location at Fifth Avenue and 18th Street. I was looking for a copy of Sartre’s collection of short stories, The Wall. If they had it I knew exactly where it would be. I locked up my bike, a Ross Mt. St. Helens, to a parking meter with a Kryptonite U-lock. I went through the store to the back where the fiction section was. I looked at the shelf where the book would be if it were there. It was not there. I walked back outside.

The bike was gone. Absolutely gone. I hadn’t been inside for even two minutes and now my bike was completely gone. I walked over to the parking meter where it had been. Pieces of broken Kryponite lock lay on the sidewalk. I looked around at the people on the sidewalk, wondering who had seen it happen? Who had stood there watching while it happened and did nothing, like they did when Kitty Genovese got murdered? A woman came up to me and told me she saw the person who had done it. It had just happened, and he went down Fifth Avenue.

I knew that bicycle thieves oftentimes sold their stolen wares in Cooper Square so I headed in that direction. I was at about 10th Street and Broadway when I saw the guy riding it! I ran as fast as I could without calling attention to myself. He turned left at 8th Street and just then a cop car came down Broadway. I signaled them and told the passenger cop I was chasing a guy who had just stolen my bike. “Get in,” he said.

I told them my story. “New York is the asshole of the world,” he said. Then he told me they might not try to sell it now, but the guy might have loaded it into a van full of other stolen bikes.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, two tourists signaled them, and they stopped!

“How do you get to West Broadway?” they asked. He started to tell them.

“Anyone call tell them how to get to West Broadway!” I shouted. “This guy is getting away with my bike!”

It didn’t matter. They kept on giving their instructions. I couldn’t see the guy anywhere now. He didn’t vanish into thin air, he just sauntered off into the middle of the day.

I told them I was getting out of the car. I started looking around the area for someone trying to sell my bike. I probably circled the place for an hour, eventually making my way over to Washington Square Park. It was to no avail. My bike was gone. I vowed to keep looking though. There were very few Mt. St. Helens bikes, and only one with black plastic pedals. (For some reason my bike was outfitted with non-standard black plastic pedals instead of the standard aluminum pedals.) I kept my eyes peeled for that bike for years but I never saw it again.

Three or four years later I saw someone riding one in Washington Square Park, but it had aluminum pedals.

Today it’s unlikely that the bike even still exists. The parking meter that I locked it to is gone; nothing remains to mark it except an itinerant food cart like this one. The used bookstore is now a Gap Kids. I don’t even think about the bike when I pass by here. I haven’t for years.

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