Stealing My Bike Back.
August 23, 2015. Toronto. 3:45pm
Just getting home. Was down at the Front Street Rehearsal Factory at about 12:20p to set up my kit in the band space and do the hour of double bass practice I’ve been doing this week. After practice I come out to the street where I’d locked my bike in one of the usual spots and it’s gone. It’s not there. Just the vacant lock post.
I go over in my mind if I’d locked it there and if I’d indeed locked it (I’ve forgotten to lock it in the hallway of the Richmond Street Studio once or twice, lately, which is pretty unheard of for me). I remember locking it, I remember which way it was facing. It’s gone. Not a trace. Just yesterday I finished my friend Yvonne Bambrick’s new book about biking in the city. Saw her ride past yesterday, actually, as she lives on my street. There’s a section on talking to the police about your stolen bike, how to note its serial number underneath, take photos of it. I’m pretty calm. Shit happens and I don’t get surprised very much by this sort of thing anymore at all. Total fools get surprised and hopeful. I’ve been considering the likelihood of it getting stolen this entire riding season. So I get to thinking, Well, there’s a chance it’s been stolen by one of the down and out types who operate in this neighbourhood.
I go for a walk north in the general vicinity of Queen and Sherbourne, keeping my eyes peeled. I look at riders and parked bikes on my street and scan across the street. It’s a beautiful, gorgeous blue sky summer day and I’m now feeling slightly distracted and challenged by this new situation. I get to Queen at the south east corner and walk east. I go about one hundred feet, no more bikes, not too many people, just the usual hurtin’ urchins. I cross the street and head back toward Sherbourne on the north side of Queen. Rougher types on that corner, but I walk through, no big deal. I hang a right on Sherbourne, heading north again, and I recognize the high seat and extremely familiar silhouette of my bike, the blazing sun stamping its shadow into the crappy sidewalk.
No one is really around on that side of the street. Which is great because it can be very busy there. It’s not at all my favourite corner and even though there are bike lanes through that area from King all the way up to Bloor, I still do my best to stay away. It’s the worst corner in Toronto, easily, which makes it one of the worst in the country. Used to live nearby for nine years (ten summers straight), went to grade school right in the heart of Dundas and Sherbourne during the entire 1980s.
I walk up to my bike and it’s cable locked to the bike post and the remains of some other crappy bike. It’s a very strong and new looking cable and it’s connected to a smaller cable lock as well which is very likely the one they just stole off me by snapping the padlock I’d used. I keep looking around and no one on this sidewalk seems to pay me any attention. No one is near. I cross the street and look back to see if anyone has materialized. Nothing. I call the police and they take my quick details and prioritize my needs and I wait on the agreed upon northwest corner of Queen and Sherbourne for at least half and hour, looking in every direction, and no police come. Not a comfortable half an hour.
A fight breaks out in the park off Queen, west of Sherbourne, about two hundred feet away. Of course a fight breaks out. This entire area is a fight. I don’t pay much attention to the fight. But two dozen of the urchin do. One of the guys excreted from the fight has the look of the street on him. Of heroin or crack, it’s in his demeanour, countenance, and terrible damage. His used and ill-fitting clothes and stuffed backpack fill in the rest. It’s in his haircut and complexion, the actual shape of his head, the hairline and his facial features tell me he comes from poverty in this country or from poverty in Europe. He’s alone in this world. He says loud to himself, ‘I’m gonna kill that fucking guy!’ Must be talking about the guy who started the fight. I keep watching him at arm’s length and not in any obvious way, as his mind seems to fill with another idea and he suddenly runs across the street and up and into the Salvation Army. Not long following I hustle quickly over to the only police who do happen by and they’re in a squad car in traffic at a red light and there’s a dude in the back and I tell them my stolen bike is right over there and they can’t help because they’ve got someone under arrest in the backseat and they drive off as the light goes green.
I keep waiting for the noshow police. I see drug deals go down and more verbal aggression and glance at the downandout seated nearest me. Dog chained to their own drama. There just aren’t any police at all passing through, I thought there would be. It’s a Sunday, if that makes a difference. I try to think while looking around. My mouth is bone dry. One option I’ve been considering is getting some kind of cutters and slicing the wire and taking my bike back. Seems bold and chancy but how long would it take? And there doesn’t seem to be anyone over where my bike is. Where are they and what does that mean and who are they?
I go into the Salvation Army outside of which my bike lays stolen. I go up a few flights of stairs and tell my story to the five people behind the glass and they’re sympathetic, I know my clothes and my manner apportion credence on their own beyond my actual words and I’m told the right thing is to wait for the cops and then tomorrow they’ll be able to source the Salvation Army video and I can go from there. I thank them and waste no more time and exit and walk to the Dollarama nextdoor, intent on buying garden shears or something to cut through wire. I’m moving quickly and I’m trying to stay calm and even-headed.
I find some okay scissors and then find a more heavy duty set and ask the south Asian security man who keeps showing up with eyes on me if they have garden shears and he directs me to their Summer section, aisles five or six. I check out aisle six and there’s nothing so I quickly split with the tough looking scissors which say they can cut through wire and bone! Despite trying to stay as calm as possible the Security man follows me around the store, probably picking up on the familiar tenor of crisis I’m in.
I decelerate into the checkout lane and put my phone in my bag and with nothing loose in my pockets for what’s to maybe come I line up behind one customer who appears to be finishing up. There are two cashiers. Not a busy day in there. The cashier by the window has been alone and she calls me over and I give her the scissors to scan. I’ve got my debit card, I’m very, very ready to go but am trying to keep as calm as possible. And man my mouth is dry. I’d downed half a litre of water after practise about an hour before but no, this is adrenaline dry.
The debit machine won’t engage. It’s taking its time. Five seconds, almost ten. This delay would factor very much, I like to think, in the events that play out about forty-five seconds later. The cashier has a very thick Scottish brogue and, Oh, those are a nice brand, aren’t they? Very good name, eh?
Yes, I say, Should be good.
Ach, this machine has been acting up lately, I’m sure it’ll be back up in just a moment, dear. Very thick accent. I find myself wondering about this woman who works in this horrifying part of town.
That’s fine, I say, this stuff happens regularly, it’s alright.
Then the machine is ready and it takes my card and I enter my PIN and pay the under four bucks and thank her and in my bag goes my plastic and I walk over to the area under the window, before the security exit, and tear through the plastic encasing of the scissors and put them in my right pocket and walk out. I’ve also got my phone close and ready, probably in my bag, to either photo the thief if he shows up again or to try to snap a pic or video of my bike again. I’d been trying earlier to do either but my phone was malfunctioning. No pics, no video.
I’m on the sidewalk now and my plan is to take out the scissors secretly enough and if no one is really around, forget about the ten curbside fucks looking my way across the street, to try to cut through the moderately thick cable and reclaim my bike. This plan is instantly shelved for in the middle distance I recognize two down and out types wearing too many raggedy ass and long sleeved clothes for this heat, no doubt for hiding their street tools, and more bikes have materialized amongst my own. I realize as I write this that they were most likely off stealing other bikes while I was waiting for the cops and deciding what to do and buying the shears and talking to the Salvation Army.
But my bike is off on its own. Their body language betrays some happiness and satisfaction as I rather casually near faster and faster with heartbeat accelerating and one of them fondly pats the seat of my bike one time and they seem very much ensconced in their thieving little world and are so very, very close to pulling off this latest enterprise. They’re facing northwest and they’re First Nations guys, and my bike is behind them now on its own, facing south, resting against a low bench that’s bolted to the concrete. I feel a little bit sorry for them because I know their life to be extremely rough. I can smell the damage from far away. The dark and raggedy clothes, their posture and vibe, the backpack on one of them. But because they’re First Nations on this corner I know they’re most likely too out of it physically and just plain never expecting in a trillion years that me, the healthy looking dude with a purposeful but non-threatening vibe who they don’t even glance to see coming, hurries his pace the quicker he comes and hurries it faster and faster and faster the closer he gets now and as they continue to bend to their newly assembled quarry steps on the low bench and with that downhill momentum of his quickening steps looks left and right while now astraddle his bike and blasts out of there across the street through the surreal quiet and shifts all gears and leans into the southwest turn without detecting a single sound of protest from behind.
Adrenaline surging as I max out the gears and regret not having more and I look behind and no one follows as I keep flying west with the driest mouth of all time and my thoughts on those two. Feeling sorry for them as a veritable Tornado of Justice issues from between my legs.
Took me quite some time to calm down and appreciate the experience and the danger. My god, I laughed so hard after a while, when I was safe. Then I talked to the cops a lot. Wish there was something I could do in a simple way to improve the lot of those fellows. Hopefully they had a moment of wide-eyed wonder, saying, Now, Who In The HELL WAS THAT ?
Talked to my good pal who was on the street for fifteen years and claims to have been in over one hundred fights, as such. I believe him. He said the only people he didn’t mess with were First Nations. He said they’re warriors and several among their number are very bad dudes.
Super scary episode, though there was something familiar about it, the adrenaline probably. And the neighbourhood and being alone in that neighbourhood. Felt like I was learning about pressure, big fear, making decisions, intelligence, instincts, calculated risk taking, timing, surprise, asking for help, taking matters into your own hands all over again, trying not to panic; knowing you’re transparent and don’t belong and stand out, having to outsmart a situation but accepting that you must leave if and when you are overmatched. I felt like that situation was for me alone. It felt like a really ancient situation, to be wronged like that, to reclaim what’s yours without creating further damage. Sometimes danger plus survival equals fun. Not this time. Not that I want to go through that again. Did I mention I was able to steal my fucking bike back? What an amazing experience it all was looking back across the city once free and well safe.