They broke into our condominium’s underground garage, prying the impenetrable-looking outside door with a crowbar. Then they carried cutting tools to the bicycle storage area. As an extra security measure, when my wife and I bought our condominium, we had an extra storage cage built within the locked storage area. It sounds like overkill, right?
Then we locked our bikes to a steel bracket, bolted to the ground. In essence, we locked our bikes within a cage, which was locked inside a cage, which was locked inside the condominium’s underground parking garage. But thieves still broke in. They stole my wife’s bike and two others that night. They stole my own locked bike several months before.
Part of me was impressed. With so many people living in the building, this early morning operation took guts, ingenuity, patience and…a lot of desperation.
But my wife wasn’t impressed. Pele and I live in a city with a high homeless population. We walked up Ellice Street to the stream of ratty tents and trash that have become so common in urban tent-cities. We were looking for Pele’s bike. But it didn’t feel right, poking around these people’s homes–just looking at all their stuff (much of which I assumed was stolen). I felt a mix of bias, shame and vulnerability.
“What are you looking for?” one guy asked.
“My wife bought a grey Specialized Rockhopper one month ago. Somebody stole it from our condo last night.”
“So, you think one of us stole it?” he challenged. His teeth were rotten. He was living through a war that I would likely never see.
I decided to move on, noticing bicycles and bicycle parts inside tents, outside tents and concealed under tarps.
Another guy asked if he could help. His tone was friendlier. He held a bicycle frame as he slowly stripped off its paint. I told him what happened.
“Look,” he said. “A couple of new arrivals came in this morning at about 6:00 am. One was a grey Specialized Rockhopper. The other was a high-end purple Trek. The guy who brought it in is passed out. If you wait around the corner for about 10 minutes, I’ll steal it from him and bring it to you.”
Pele and I walked around the corner, sat down and waited. After about ten minutes she said, “He’s not coming, is he?” “I don’t think so,” I replied.
But, just as we were about to give up, he sailed around the corner on a grey Specialized Rockhopper. It wasn’t Pele’s bike. But it was the same make, model and color. My mind raced with thoughts of what to do. I figured it was likely somebody else’s stolen bike. Should we take it?
In the end, we did. I gave the guy some money for his trouble. Pele contacted the police to report the bike we found, and the next day one lucky guy had his stolen bike returned.
One lucky guy.
Bicycle thefts ramped up this year across North America. CBS News says it was simply a result of far more bikes. And they weren’t wrong. The pandemic closed gyms. More people bought bikes and people hit the streets for exercise. This increased inventory for regular bike thieves.
But there’s something else. Our society has cracks. That’s always been the case: people wrestling with mental issues, substance abuse and unemployment. COVID-19 pried fingers into those cracks. Then it began to rip. That’s why an increasing number of struggling people grew even more desperate this year.
And here’s what I know. Christmas is coming. That doesn’t mean I need to embrace the thieves who stole our bikes. I don’t condone what they did. But they had their reasons, however sad.
I often speak to people who are down on their luck. But I’ll do it more often, while social-distancing with a mask. Many struggling people feel ignored; they feel invisible. That makes sense, in part, because their circumstances often make others feel uncomfortable. We often fear what we don’t understand.
My city has plenty of free food kitchens. But if I can give someone a hot cup of coffee or a hot baked treat in an unexpected place, that might bring them a little joy near the end of a crappy year.
Perhaps this is something every one of us could try. This year has been tough for everyone…and some more so than others.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas