I was walking out of my apartment building Saturday, golf clubs on my back, on my way to the driving range. There was a man fiddling with his bike, which was sitting upside down without a rear wheel. It’s not uncommon for local riders to remove their front wheel when they lock their bike to a rack. Some take the bike seat, too. You really can’t be too safe.
“Nice day for golfing,” he said. Just a simple pleasantry from a stranger. It’s the kind of interaction you get used to growing up in the Midwest.
“We’ll see if this rain holds off,” I said. “Have a good one.”
By the time I got to the street, I got the sinking feeling something wasn’t quite right. I’d never seen this man in or around our apartment complex, which is small enough to where you can sense who belongs and who doesn’t. I paused for a moment, then doubled back to the bike rack. On the way, the stranger passed me with his bike, which now had a black-rimmed rear wheel. My black-rimmed rear wheel.
This was confirmed when I got to the bike rack. There my pathetic mountain bike set, stripped of its rear wheel, the bike chain laying loose, a wheel with a flat tire propped next to it. The stranger had a flat, but rather than go and buy a new tire for $20 or so a block away, he helped himself to mine.
People steal in our neighborhood. In January, someone broke into my car and stole an iPod nano and a duffle bag full of socks. (Don’t ask.) Around here, someone’s always getting their car broke into. I’m sure bike theft isn’t unique. We live nearby downtown in a city stricken with poverty, homelessness and drug addiction. What do desperate people do? They take shortcuts. They cheat. They steal. They feast on goodwill and terrorize the well-to-do.
I decided to check out our neighborhood crime statistics on CrimeMapper, a tool the Portland Police Bureau uses to track crime patterns. In the past year in an area within one half-mile of our apartment, there were 345 reports of theft from vehicle; 254 reports of larceny and 105 reports of vehicle theft. And those are just crimes that were reported. I reported the theft from my vehicle in January (for insurance purposes) but I didn’t even bother with my stolen wheel.
Unfortunately, Portland police aren’t in the business of recovering stolen iPods and GPS units. Since violent crime is so minimal in our neighborhood, so is the police presence.
As soon as I pieced together what had happened, I ran down the block to my car with my golf bag bouncing on my back. I didn’t see which direction the thief went, but I threw my clubs in my trunk and took off in aimless pursuit. I started imagining several violent scenarios in my mind. Most desirable was the one where I walk out of my apartment and realize immediately the man is stealing my wheel. Calmly, I walk up on the man, put him in a sleeper hold and yell at passersby to call the police. I squeeze as hard as I can until the police arrive, and all the while, this man admits to stealing my saxophone in sixth grade and my brand new Trek mountain bike my sophomore year of college and my iPod nano and duffle bag last fall. I only squeeze harder.
Clearly, I’ve got some pent-up rage. I’m used to being the victim.
If I had realized what was going on, would I have reacted violently? Of course not. That’s not me. And even if the same thing were to take place again, I still wouldn’t catch on. It’s in my nature to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Call it naivete. My city smarts might still be lacking, but aren’t city smarts just a lowered expectation of the people around you?
There are things that can be done to avoid being the victim. My girlfriend and I already avoid parking on NW Glisan where my car was first broken into. (It’s a poorly lit area and cars are broken into on a nightly basis.) We leave absolutely nothing in my car, as to avoid drawing attention. As for my bike? That’ll find it’s way into our 400-some square-foot apartment. We’ve barely got room for our excess of hooded sweatshirts, but it’s only a matter of time before some punk comes and clips my bike lock.
This is why people move to the suburbs, isn’t it? We’re looking for our next apartment now, and each time something like this happens, I start to romanticize neighborhood watches, two-car private garages and diligent police. Someday, our biggest concerns will be remembering to run the sprinkler and turning the porch lights off.
For now, we have to be mindful of locking and securing everything we own and avoiding a neighborhood like this one when we eventually move. What a shame.