I left my office in the early evening, just as the light was leeching from the sky. There weren’t a lot of people on the sidewalk, and the streets were quiet. I don’t walk with headphones in my ears — it’s important to be alert in the city — which may be why the man in the bike helmet, with crossed arms and a thoughtful expression on this face, decided to speak to me out of the blue. “That’s my bike,” he said, nodding to a white-framed bicycle locked tightly to a parking meter. Since I’m a city person, and a bike owner, I understood immediately what he meant. This was his stolen bike and he, out of sheer luck, had stumbled upon it while riding by on his replacement.
The bike had been swiped from his house on the other side of town, he explained, but he worked in this neighborhood. We both stood quietly for a moment, marveling at the sudden karmic rightness of the world.
I’ve never had a bike stolen. This may be because I went through a phase when I watched online videos about bike locks, and practiced the tips obsessively. But more likely it’s because my bikes have always been rickety affairs, beaten down by Burning Man, bad maintenance, and the passing years. To understand how unseemly my bikes are in this bike obsessed city, consider that the last time I took mine to be serviced and pondered a new set of shifters, the bike mechanic scratched his goatee and told me it wasn’t worth the expense. I then upgraded: to my mother’s old bike. (In my defense my mother is so serious about her biking that she practices a hiccuping breathing technique on strenuous uphill climbs that she assures me she saw on a Lance Armstrong video. Yes, she’s 77, but she’s a young 77.)
When we’d adjusted to this new idea that there was justice in the world after all, I turned to practical matters.
“What are you going to do? Wait here for the perp?” I asked. I would wait too, of course, as backup. It’s what city people do for each other. I may not have had a bike stolen, but I understood the pain.
“I’m going to write him a note, I think,’ the man answered.
A note? For a moment I worried that our newfound faith in Good triumphing over Evil had addled his mind.
“I don’t think this guy stole the bike,” the man added. “I’ll explain the situation and whoever it is will get in touch.”
“Whoa,” I said, hardened by my years of city living. “Even if he didn’t steal it, he may not want to give it back. I suggest a note asking him to contact you. Make it mysterious.”
Good may conquer evil but what’s the harm in a missive that suggests a startup is interested in this person’s genius?
He considered this a moment, but clearly he was just a much nicer person than I was.
“Do you have the serial number?” I persisted. “That way you have some proof when the guy contacts you.”
He did have the serial number. But it was at home. Wait! He had placed a Craigslist ad and included it. I was impressed. I made a mental note to write down the serial number of my mother’s bike, in case it was suddenly deemed “retro” enough to steal.
But then his face fell. “But the ad has expired.”
“But Craigslist keeps a list of your ads!” I cried. Sometimes it was good to be a suspicious jerk. My mind kept sharp. I wasn’t going to be completely taken in by the sudden beauty of a world where stolen bikes are found.
The man smiled broadly. He reached for his phone. “Thank you, so much,” he said. I had done my duty. I wished him luck, and continued on my way. I glanced left and right as I walked, as is my wont when it’s dark. I wasn’t going to let down my guard, after all. “Bikes are stolen,” I whispered under my breath. But then, I couldn’t help myself. “Bikes are found too,” I added and let that magic wash over me.