At the end of 2011 we quit our jobs and set off in our 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon, "Nacho". Our plan? To circumnavigate the globe, slowly, while discovering culture, food, recreation, and emergency roadside Volkswagen maintenance. We are Brad and Sheena. Just wingin' it.
We can’t just stand by and let people get away with stuff!
Not long after Remy was born, and being late for one of his routine doctor’s appointments, we ran to the garage to get the car and on the way noticed that in the space where our beloved mountain bikes had once been locked, there existed only emptiness.
“Where in the hell are our bikes?” I half yelled, staggering, Remy under one arm as I fumbled for my keys. “Dammit, blah! Let’s deal with this later!” Remy was due for vaccinations, and the fact that several thousand dollars’ worth of bikes had been stolen by a nefarious-looking man with calloused knuckles and cauliflower ears was too much to consider. Calloused knuckles? Cauliflower ears? Well now, I’m getting ahead of myself.
When we returned from the appointment—Remy now one step closer to avoiding a life plagued by preventable diseases—I phoned the police. On the way up to our apartment I ran into our neighbor, Aaron, who informed me that his storage locker had also been broken into, and the assailants had made away with all of his climbing gear. The scoundrels!
An officer stopped by and we had a nice chat, and while sympathetic, he assured us that by now our bikes were probably in a different state, or else stowed away in a homeless camp, never to be seen again. We filed a claim on our renters’ insurance, whereupon the value of our bikes was investigated, and shortly thereafter we received a check in the mail for a great sum of money.
“Look at all this money, Sheena! Can you believe it?” A few weeks later our insurance company dropped us for “recent claim activity,” which we thought was rude, since that is the purpose of having insurance.
But despite our agreeable payout by the insurance company, our bikes were still in the hands of some dirty rat bastard who had broken into our safe haven and forcefully stolen our property for his own undeserved benefit. The police certainly weren’t going to do anything about it. It was at this point that I decided to try rogue justice.
“Sheena, I’ve decided to try rogue justice.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Remember, you have a son now.”
“I have to, my sweet, on principle. There has been an injustice, and we can’t just stand by and let people get away with stuff!”
But how does one pursue rogue justice when the security cameras in the garage were inexplicably “frozen” during the burglary, and one doesn’t know where to begin? I decided to start with Craigslist, setting up an email alert to inform me whenever a bike having the same brand name as mine went up for sale. That was my only idea.
“Can I be blunt with you, Brad?” a police officer named Brett said at a dinner party several weeks later. “What you did was really stupid. I mean, it’s awesome, but that’s a great way to get yourself killed. You should have just called the police.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself again. And besides, when have I ever exercised good judgment in police-related matters, anyway?
Lo and behold, only three weeks later my mountain bike showed up on Craigslist, and the seller was not more than five miles away. In an effort to disguise my bike so as not to be recognizable, the perp swapped out my pedals, hand grips, and my seat. It bears mentioning that I built this bike from the ground up, hand-picking every custom part right down to the shielded Gore-Tex cables, and whose fork had recently been rebuilt by a shop in New York, and which still bore the sticker applied to it by that shop. It was a slam dunk. All I had to do was retrieve it.
Justice would be done, if it was the last thing I’d do! And it was beginning to feel like it might actually be the last thing I’d do.
Not seeing any other obvious next steps, I called the seller and pretended to be an interested party. On the phone he was creepy, slimy. Knowing that every word that he spoke was a lie, it made my skin crawl to hear the quick casualness with which he made up answers to my questions about my own property. I told him I would like to take it for a test ride, so he told me to meet him. At a park. Behind the community center. Near the basketball courts. I hung up the phone and shuddered.
“Sheena, you should drive me there, and then take pictures of him from the car like the paparazzi. We could bag this sucker for the cops.”
“Yeah, I can do that! I can duck down and use the zoom lens! I guess I’ll have to bring Remy along though.”
We both looked at Remy, sitting there with a bored expression on his face, a little drool seeping from the corner of his mouth, and having very little control over his neck muscles. He seemed kind of vulnerable.
“Maybe it isn’t such a good idea, actually,” she said. I agreed, patted Remy on the head, and began my mental preparations.
When I drove to the park I left the car a half mile away from our meeting spot, right on the corner of a main street so as to make a quick escape if need be. I walked to the basketball courts, situated behind the community center, and began pacing back and forth to cool my nerves. I was sweating and trembling. How would I be able to feign enthusiasm and naïveté in this state? At first the thief didn’t show up and I thought he must be onto me, but then, thirty minutes late, he rode up on my bike.
Any casual observer would have known that he was riding a stolen bike, as this bike was built for someone who is 6’3”; this man was no more than 5’6”, but solid, thick, work-hardened. I put on the smile of a schoolboy and waved at him from a distance, and he rode over. He was incapable of smiling, and looked permanently pissed off. He dismounted and shook my hand.
I immediately realized that I was in grave danger; his handshake nearly crushed my bones. It felt like shaking hands with a rock—his fingers were each one giant callous. His swollen knuckles looked to have been broken and healed numerous times, his neck seemed to be thicker than his square head, and his cauliflower ears bore the marks of a fighter. He had tattoos. This dude had done time, and he had been in a lot of fights. I, in contrast, have never punched anyone, nor have I ever been punched. I use words like “indeed” and I listen to NPR.
“Wow, what a cool looking bike! What can you tell me about it?” I surprised myself with my chipper tone and seemingly calm nerve.
“It’s a good bike. It’s made of all carbon fiber. Look, everything on it is carbon fiber. It’s lighter than a road bike.”
Yeah, 20.2 pounds to be exact, ass hat.
“Wow, cool. Sure is pretty.” (Squeeze brake levers a few times) “How long have you had it?”
“Not long, a few months. I don’t ride it that much, so I’m selling it. I was just getting it ready, and that’s why I’m late. I couldn’t find a seat bolt for it, so that’s why the seat is like that.” The seatpost was slammed all the way into the frame and the seat spun freely in circles. I thought about asking why he’d decided to swap out the seatpost clamp after it already had one in the picture, but decided against it so as not to cast doubt on his story.
“Wow, look at that fork. Do you know how to unlock it so that the suspension works?”
“No man, I just ride it like this. I only ride it on the street, so I’ve never needed the suspension.”
A travesty! I turned the knob on the top of the fork and it immediately bottomed out, the air having been let out by someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but I pretended not to notice. I also noticed that the rear disc brake was slathered in brake fluid and one brake lever didn’t work. Somehow in the three weeks since it had been stolen, he had managed to render it practically un-rideable.
“Mind if I take it for a quick spin?”
“Sure,” he said, and plunked his scary ass self down on a brick wall while I began slowly riding around in tight circles on the basketball court. The gears skipped and popped, and the chainrings creaked like a pirate ship.
“Wow, really great! This fork design is trippy—you sure it’s safe?”
“Yeah, everything is carbon fiber. It’s lighter than a road bike.”
I continued riding in circles, slowly migrating to the edge of the basketball court, and then looked back to see if I had roused any suspicion. I coolly dropped off of the pavement and coasted around the side of the community center, naively looking down at the gears and pushing on the fork, and once I was out of sight I snapped into full-on, do-or-die, slap leather race mode in the direction of the car. I sprinted between walkers and runners on a lakeside path and the taste of ammonia filled my mouth, a side effect of prolonged anaerobic sprinting. It was all a blur—I darted across the grass, ducked under tree branches, sprinted across the street and found the car. I fumbled with the roof rack while quickly panning around in all directions, high on endorphins, wheezing, and scared shitless, expecting a human rhinoceros to bolt across the street to pummel me at any second. I found my keys and shakily unlocked the door, put it in gear, and gunned it.
What’s that taste? Sweet justice!
I calmed myself, called Sheena to reassure her of my bravery and intelligence (and mentioned in passing that I was safe), and then turned on NPR to resume my old way of life. After 15 minutes had elapsed, my phone buzzed. A text message.
Where you at?
I didn’t respond. Five more minutes elapsed. He kept trying to call me, then another text.
For some reason, I decided that it would be smarter to respond than to just disappear into oblivion, so I pulled over and concocted the most reasonable story I could come up with—that is, that someone had seen me riding their bike in the park and had chased me down, beat me up, and stole the bike. I then told him that I wished to be left alone, as if he cared. Several more SMS exchanges ensued after my explanation had done little to placate the thief—and he vowed to make my life a living hell. Opening my big mouth, in hindsight, could be considered a weakness in my strategy.
In the end, my foray into the world of justice-seeking can only be described as a runaway success; the criminal was stripped of his bounty, the insurance company kindly let me keep the bike, and—although the assailant issued a pretty specific threat—my life has thus far failed to resemble a living hell. We will just assume that the garage break-in attempt the following week was completely unrelated.