I’ll always remember the sick feeling that morning I went to open our garage door and found it locked. To most, especially fellow Torontonians, the idea of not locking a garage door will seem nothing short of insanity, but I’d never even considered it. At least not yet.
Our garage is detached and situated at the back our property like most downtowners. Our car and bikes access it through a regular garage door in a laneway, and our bodies access it through a regular door-door from our garden. For three years our garage was locked from the laneway only because, well, people will steal anything. The oddity of the locked door-door struck me instantly, and worse was the sight I encountered, through the small slit between the door and the jam, of our wagon in not-its-spot. I had to run around the block to get to the lane because I had no idea where the key was, because… you know. As the garage door opened and I saw what remained of the contents my heart sank. Two bikes, 2 pairs of roller blades, three squash rackets a tennis racket (and untold other, less obvious items we only discovered missing over the following months, always pausing in the midst of the fruitless search with the recognition that yes, that too had been stolen). Even a large paper Gap bag, full of clothes bound for Goodwill was seen, mistakenly I imagine, as bounty for the mighty thieves who hit the absolute mother lode of unlocked-garage-full-of-easily-sold stuff.
Thankfully what remained was our shockingly expensive double stroller and bike trailer, either of which likely fetching more on craigslist than the whole of what was taken. It’s a small mercy that petty thieves have no idea a moutain buggy duo has enormous secondary market value.
A $500 deductible and resigned acceptance that much of what was stolen we didn’t really need to replace made a house insurance claim a waste, so off to Duke’s we went to replace the only things wehadtohaverightnow – our bikes. Used bikes would have been a more affordable option, but I was so angry and violated, and Igor Kenk had only been in police custody for like three minutes, and I really felt any used bike was probably a stolen bike, that I just… I just couldn’t.
My new bike is prettier than my old bike. My new bike is has a nicer saddle than my old bike. My new bike has a deep step thru accommodating my hobbit-like inseam (both bikes are 14″ frames – yowsa) better than my old bike for on/off ease. I should have loved it, but it sucked. A lot. Some asshole came through my back garden, past our froggie sandbox, myriad bubble wands, dump trucks and sidewalk chalk, opened the door (no breaking needed) and cleaned. Us. Out. During the weeks that followed I woke up at every noise convinced someone was breaking into our house, our garage, our neighbour’s house, our neighbour’s garage. Marc regularly, sleepily, was forced to stumble downstairs to find the source of the noise, always reappearing with the assurance I’d simply heard the house, not the thief.
Eventually I stopped being upset, road my new, pretty, easy on/off bike, accepted that it could have been much, much worse (An unexpected, violent downpour meant Marc left his new bike at the office that fateful day in favour of the subway, otherwise making the bike loss total 3 instead of 2), and moved on. In autumn when we went hunting for the air conditioner cover, found it gone and deduced it had been used as a bag to help in the “carry-out”, I was only mildly irritated and pronounced myself healed, turning the unpleasantness into an anecdote about life in the city. And the merits of locking your garage door.
Let us fast forward a number of years from July 2008 to March 2011, and now there are four bikes- two grown up ones, two little kid ones, a DOUBLE locked garage and a healthy respect for the throbbing, but not always trustworthy city we live in and love. It’s a balmy day at the end of March Break and Kate and Simon atop their new spring bikes are practicing riding (Kate on two wheels Simon on four) along College street in pursuit of Manic Coffee, Jessica and baby Ada. As I busied myself steadying an unsteady Kate on her newly minted, training wheel-less bike, I nearly sent her flying when I stopped without warning dead in my tracks. I stopped because I saw my bike. My old one. The one stolen three years before out of my unlocked garage past my little kid sandbox and perennials. The 14″ frame. The kickstand. THE BELL.
What the picture doesn’t show is the rusted chain, flat front tire, wonky rear tire, or the crate filled with trash. Clearly this bike, a bike I believed to be my bike, had sat outside for months unloved and unwanted while I rode around on a new bike when clearly my old bike was not in use. Insert expletive.
I thought about it a lot, half hoping sheer mental force of will would dissolve the U-lock cementing my bike to the post-and-ring, dreaming of the sweetness of a getting back what I should never have lost. Marc found the 3-years-gone-but-found-down-the-street scenario compelling, but didn’t completely understand why I cared so much: Even if we could prove the bike is mine did I really want it? Didn’t I have a new bike, a better bike? Wasn’t I over it anyway? Um, yes, yes to all of that. And yes I still want it back. Badly.
I asked police officers chatting in a cruiser, I asked bike cops standing lazily in a park, I phoned the non-emergency number and asked a cop paid to talk to people like me, peppering each with the same burning question: “I found my stolen bike locked up on College street, what do I do?” They all said the same thing: “take it.” I said “but I’ll have to destroy the lock.” They all said “it’s your property ma’am, you can take the bike.” Um, okay.
Fast forward a bit further, a couple of months this time to mid-June. With two friends (Tanya and Louise) I helped organize a children’s bike event offering, among other things, free tune ups for little bikes. The time and tools were graciously donated by the owner of a local bike shop (who I have yet to ask permission to blog about, and who might, as will become clear, have an opinion about that. Let’s call him Nice-guy since he’s so much more than just a bike-guy). At the end of our event I asked Nice-guy about some random clicking on my front derailleur then quizzed him, with bikes on the brain and a possible expert on hand, if he knew how one might want to break into a new-ish U-lock to liberate their bike that was stolen maliciously out of their garage by terrible devil-people marching straight through their garden amidst children’s toys and other wholesome, victimless things. Without missing a beat Nice-guy looked me square in the eye and said “with my cordless grinder, I’ll get your bike for you.” I was taken aback completely. I stumbled, spluttered, was uncharacteristically lost for words, said “oh, um, but you wouldn’t want to do that.” His response was inflectionless and immediate: “yes I would.” Period. And there began the plan for bike liberation, ousting of the bee stuck in my bonnet, resolution of a 3-year-old wrong made right, promises of veggie poutine, beer and banter, all in exchange for a burnt out bike I don’t really need anyway and will have to invest money into to make right, and I didn’t even feel a little bit crazy.
In a final fast forward of just a week-and-a-half we’re all caught up with dates, and Nice-guy, Tanya (Louise was sailing) and I are standing together, looking at the bike. Then I’m lying on the sidewalk with Nice-guy trying to read the serial number, because it turns out nice guys who are also bike guys, really, really don’t want to be bike thieves. After Marc texted me the serial number (he’s a lawyer, fastidious, saves everything, including credit card statements from long-closed credit cards, transcripts from grade school and invoices from everything we’ve ever bought. Ever), we tried awkwardly to read upside down an unreadable number, looking terribly suspicious with a grinder on the ground, manhandling a dilapidated bike. The many passersby were curious but in true Canadian style said little, and were easily deflected. When the woman whose bike was locked opposite returned to fetch it, she looked alarmed and literally ran away from us. Her bike’s departure gave us all the room we needed to take a hard look and find out if it could really, actually be true. I mean, what are the chances? Three years. My neighbourhood. Lots of people have red bells and kickstands. I don’t know what the odds are, but that bike, the one parked sadly for ages and ages, the one abducted so long ago I don’t remember what it feels like to ride, the one that woke me up at night and made me feel violated and angry, the one that was sitting right there for longer than I know, had a dozen little numbers and letters matching right up to the ones on the bill of sale. Exhale. Nice-guy suggested locking new bike to old bike because wouldn’t it be “just the way” that while we ate, drank beer and chatted (we’re not animals, things need to be done in order) the “owner” of the bike came out and took it home. And that’s what I did. And that’s where it all still was when we emerged a few hours later. And here we are undoing what never should have been done.
And then I found something, in new bike’s crate (probably because old bike’s was full of garbage). A love letter. I think. Some nights are just perfect.
What did we do with the lock we broke?