The journey has taken many serendipitous turns since the traveler arrived in San Francisco, more than a month ago.
Did I proclaim that I didn't lock my bike once going across country, and nothing happened? Well, three weeks into the city life, the bike was promptly stolen, while locked. It didn't end there: two days later, the bike, the beloved KR White Dragon Horse, was returned. Here is the heartwarming story.
On Wednesday, September 11th, I stopped at a grocery store for some fruit. Quick trip, I thought, so I used a soft cable lock to lock the bike to a parking meter.
Five minutes later, when I came out of the store, the bike was gone. The thief nowhere to be seen.
The next day, I obtained a copy of the theft scene video from the grocery store. A homeless guy stole my bike, 20 seconds before I came out of the store. At least two persons witness the theft right in front of their eyes, within 5 feet, and did nothing.
I was quite upset, for many reasons. First, I was sad to lose the bike that went across the country with me. We are like old friends. We had so much pain and fun together. The bike is also the graduation gift from a dear friend, and the labor of love of the people who helped to build it up. What was lost was the emotional connections, friendship, and memories. Second, I blamed myself for not taking extra caution. The trust and safety of the summer bike journey disarmed my vigilance against the dark side. Third, upon seeing the video, I was shocked that people on the side walk just watched the theft happen right in front of their eyes, and did nothing.
As I ran around the block, trying to find any trace of the bike, I realized that I would never be able to see the city in the same light again. I would always be scanning the streets for my lost bike, thinking of every homeless person on the street as the potential bike thief, and not being able to enjoy the beauty of the city. In some ways, the lost sense of safety and peace of mind were even worse than the lost material.
To get back the beloved bike, and recover the peace of mind, I was determined to track down the bike thief, no matter what it takes. The workers at the grocery store, recognizing the thief from the security camera, told me that the thief is a "crazy, homeless person who steals stuff and begs for money around the neighborhood." He has stolen bikes before. I called the police on Wednesday, but they had other priorities. I called the police again on Thursday, and waited for 1.5 hours for them to come to the store to identify the thief on the security camera tape. But they didn't come.
So, I decided to take justice into my own hand. On Thursday evening, I went around the neighborhood, talked to a dozen homeless people, pretending that I want to buy a stolen bike, and eventually found my way to Civic Center -- the unofficial "stolen bike exchange" of San Francisco.
(To one homeless person, I asked if he knew the middle-aged, bearded, homeless guy who hangs around in the neighborhood and begs for money. He replied, who doesn’t beg for money? How true. Don’t we, or most of us, “beg” for money one way or another? Humbled by this “homeless philosopher.”)
After a few more leads, I finally met Cory, the "clearinghouse" of stolen bikes. Cory buys stolen bikes from the numerous bike thieves in the city, and resell them. I saw a transaction happen right in front of me. A young man, in his 20s, tried to sell a beautiful aluminum bike with carbon fork for $100 to Cory. When the young man opened his backpack, I saw a big pliers which he probably used to cut the locks. I chatted with the young man, and he shamelessly said he "is in the business of finding things, and sees Cory on a daily basis." I felt sad for this able-bodied, white young man, who has nothing better to do with his life than stealing bikes.
I approached Cory, and pretended that I was looking to buy a road/touring bike. He didn't have one on hand, but promised he would contact me if he sees one. I left the belly of the beast before it got pitch dark.
As I continued to monitor Craigslist and other potential location of my lost bike, I got an email from the police on Friday noon. They said they got my bike. I was overjoyed.
It turned out, that about half an hour after my bike was stolen, Vanessa, who works at TimBuk2, saw the homeless guy walking away with my bike. The homeless guy was too short for the bike, and he is dirty, messy, and wearing oversized winter slipper, while walking away with a fully-outfitted touring bike. That picture raised an alarm in Vanessa, and she courageously confronted the thief. Upon inquiry, the thief clearly didn't own the bike. Vanessa threatened to call the police, and cornered the thief so that he couldn't get away with the bike. Eventually, the thief fled, and Vanessa recaptured the bike!
Then, Vanessa reached out to SFPD through Twitter. Offier Friedman, who manages SFPD's anti-bike-theft Twitter account, matched the bike with my police report. So, after less than 48 hours, the KR White Dragon Horse was reunited with his old buddy.
I was so grateful for Vanessa. Her courage and sense of citizenship/responsibility helped to create a miracle of the city. What was restored was not just the bike, but also the "faith in humanity." It made me realize that for every one bad guy out there to hurt you, there are ten good people out there to help you. So many people offered assistance and support -- the owner and workers at the grocery store, my host family, my colleagues, and the police. It's a heartwarming experience. And, once again, I am able to appreciate the beauty of the city, instead of watching out for the stolen bike.
There are those who steal bikes; there are those who witness the theft and did nothing; there are those who had the courage and citizenship to act upon their conscience. We choose who we want to be.
Vanessa and Officer Friedman -- thank you!