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Somebody stole my bike.

It could have been prevented. We'd fallen into the bad habit of leaving the garage door open during the day when one or both of us were at home, which has been a lot lately. Since the covid lockdown I've been working at home. Some days Karen stays home too, but usually she rides her bike into town and works at the newspaper office.

Our routine involves early morning comings and goings. Theoretically we close the garage door whenever we're not actually in the garage. But in practice, well, we're in and out a lot. So it has been left open a lot.

But then, last Tuesday morning, Karen came back from her recreational morning ride, showered and dressed and prepared to make her practical bike trip across the bridge into Little Rock to our office. I walked out with her to say goodbye and my bike was gone. It had been there a few minutes before when she'd returned from her ride. She would have noticed it gone when she parked her bike in the rack beside mine.

The window for the theft was pretty narrow--maybe half an hour. I ran out and looked down the street, thinking I might see the bike thief riding away.

It hurt more than you might think. I wasn't angry exactly, or if I was, I was angry with myself. Maybe I felt hollowed out, somehow slighted. I felt like I wanted to cry.

I had that feeling a few times in the last few months. I know it's about more than a stolen bicycle.

Still, I loved my bicycle. It was a gift. Karen bought it for my birthday a couple of years ago, after we'd decided to build a house near the river and the Arkansas River Trail. A lot of thought went into picking out the bike, and Karen knows bikes. (She made the cover of a national cycling publication in the '80s.) She's always had a nice bike, though she didn't ride it much when we lived in hilly Hillcrest, at the crest of one of the city's steepest inclines.

I hadn't ridden a bike much since I got my driver's license. Once in the '90s, Karen and I borrowed bikes and we rode around Austin, Texas; I think I exasperated her with my dubious shifting. (It feels counter-intuitive to me--I know better but still want to believe the large sprockets should be the climbing gears.)

As bicycles go, it wasn't expensive. I have golf clubs that retail for more; heck, I have shafts in my drivers that retail for more--but it was by anyone's measure a nice hybrid, something between a road bike and a mountain bike. And perfect for what I use it for, which is to ride on paved trails and roads and over the Big Dam Bridge and out around the airport. Since the covid lockdown I'd put a lot more miles on that bike than on my car. I've been taking it out most days, usually heading out in the early afternoon to ride for an hour or so, to clear my head. I'd gotten familiar with it; I could climb up to Fort Roots.

I'd only crashed it once, and we'd both survived.

I am a gear guy. I understand the romance of metal sliding silkily and close tolerances. I can bore you with all sorts of specs of all sorts of things. I know the reference numbers of my watches and what sort of bracing my acoustic guitars have and the degree of loft on my six iron. I'm the guy people ask for advice on computers and cars. I know more than I probably should about guns. I like technical things; one of the most satisfying jobs I ever had was stringing tennis racquets. (I once did a racquet for Bjorn Borg. The cross strings were done at a different tension than the vertical strings.)

I know a few of the high-dollar brand names of bicycles, but only the names, and like it this way. I imagine myself a cyclist more in the mode of Murray Kempton than Lance Armstrong.

Curiously, I don't want to fight whoever stole my bike last week.

They could rationalize the theft, whether they intended to use the bike as transportation, pawn it or sell it. It was something valuable left unguarded. Something replaceable, that has already been replaced. A friend has loaned me a bike. If, after a reasonable interval, my bike hasn't been recovered, we will buy a new one. (Right now, bike shop inventory is low; people have been buying bikes during the time of covid.)

One of my favorite movies is Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief (or Bicycle Thieves, as the title is more often translated these days) from 1948. It is invariably described as a neorealistic drama, which means it is tuned to the subtler frequencies of what we perceive as "real life," rather than the heightened emotions of Hollywood convention. It is a simple story about Antonio, who gets a job plastering movie posters, contingent on his having his own transportation. When his bike is stolen, his job is jeopardized.

So Antonio takes his young son Bruno go to look for the bike. They eventually find it, but are thwarted by the thief's neighbors and the police who, while sympathetic, tell him he has no case. The neighbors are sure to provide the thief an alibi. Dejectedly they walk home.

On the way they spot an unattended bike leaning near a doorway. Antonio gives Bruno money for a streetcar, then he walks back and eyes the bike. He jumps on it and begins to pedal away but a crowd chases him and pulls him from the bicycle in front of Bruno, still waiting for the trolley.

They start to drag him to the police.

But the owner of the bike notices the defeat in Antonio's face as Bruno comes to him tearfully. "Let him go," he says, "this man has enough trouble." As he guides his bike away, he says: "A fine example you set for your son."

The rightful owner of the bike's decision not to press charges might have more to do with not wanting to put up with the bother of complaint filing than compassion for Antonio, but I always thought he was using the bureaucratic burden as an excuse to be kind.

Which is all right. We should all look for excuses to be kind.

I cannot at this point muster any sympathy for my bike thief. But then, I haven't seen the sorrow in his eyes.



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