“I want you to have this.”
These were the words of my good friend Nate Smith on the fall afternoon of September 18, 2014. Smith, a 2014 alumnus, had moved back to northern Virginia to pursue his passion for tattoos. He began apprenticing at a local shop.
In his time at JMU he was a very recognizable guy, from his swift fashion to his girthy beard and God-centered smile. He rode around on a Bianchi Axis from the late ’80s or early ’90s. It was a beautiful bike. Multiple shades of turquoise accessorized with a spray-painted turquoise rear fender and bottle cage. He got the paint from Michael’s Crafts.
It had bar end shifters, the best shifters in the world if you ask me. It even had a turquoise Bianchi saddle to match the dominant monochromatic theme.
I always lusted over this bike in the most platonic way possible. I wanted it. A manufacturer-intended cyclocross bike had become the best commuter in town. I always joked Nate about buying it even after he left school, but in the nicest way possible he had no interest. Good, he had no reason to. His bike was beautiful.
We would go through phases of communication here and there, until early that September week. He texted me, and in the most subtle way possible said he needed to see me on Thursday when he visited. He had something he wanted to talk about. He was, and is, in a relationship with a girl, Amy. He loves her. For some reason, all I could think of was a wedding. But then again, I didn’t believe I was close enough to Nate for him to ask me to be one of his groomsmen or something.
Alas, we set a time to meet after my class let out of Anthony Seeger around 4:45 that Thursday afternoon. Right on the dot, he came rolling up donning sunglasses, a brand spanking new Timbuk2 messenger bag and the bike. He somewhat took me aside and nudged the bike over to me, telling me that it’s mine.
At this point I’m asking, “Well, what do I owe you?” It just seemed natural. There was no way Nate was actually going to just hand over his bike to me. He went on to explain that graduating from college put a lot into perspective for him and that he was happy living with less.
This bike in turn changed my outlook on a lot of things. It became my partner in crime. It were as if all of my other bikes, bikes in which I’d spent hours and hours tuning and detailing, meant almost nothing to me. There was an automatic spiritual connection I gained with this piece of steel. I made the necessary repairs, upgrading a shotty bottom bracket, accenting the bike with some pink cable housing and investing in panniers for the rear rack. We dubbed it, “The Professor Bike.” The name says it all. I resembled a ’70s professor biking to school everyday. Then there was that fateful January night.
‘I always lock my bikes up.’ This is a cognitive lie. On my quiet, but lively Old South High porch, I had deemed it a safe haven from theft. No one would dare trespass on a man’s yard, then encroach his porch to strip him of his pride and mode of transportation.
January 12, a Monday night, I was proved wrong. I had walked down to Clementine’s to quickly celebrate a friend’s birthday before returning home. I wasn’t gone for more than 45 minutes. I had actually forgotten I left the bike on the porch leaned against the living room window where my roommates gathered nightly for copious amounts of television and video games.
They neither heard nor saw anything. I returned to find the bike gone. Before outright panicking, I assumed the best, thinking one of them had brought it inside. They were dumbfounded by my cold, extra white face when they admitted no one had touched the bike. It was gone. I began running through my house, underneath the deck, through the basement, in the backyard. ’Twas useless. The fucking bike had been stolen because of my mental lapse and faulty trust in a shady Harrisonburg street.
I texted my girlfriend, who immediately called me when I began to cry. She said she would come to my house as soon as possible.
The only lead I had was that a friend had come to my house sometime around 8:20 p.m. and the bike was on the porch. He departed around 8:40 p.m., but doesn’t remember if it was still there or not. He left through the back door. I returned home at 9 p.m. sharp. There was a 40-minute time window in its theft.
I called the non-emergency police number and an officer met me on the street in under six minutes. Must’ve been a slow crime night in the ole’ ’Burg. I democratically filed the police report just to cover that area. They weren’t going to find my bike. What’s it to them? I doubt there’s some type of ‘Stolen bicycle quota’ officers need to meet.
I jumped in my car with two friends who were hanging around the house at the time. We slowly drove up the street, looking everywhere. Nothing. We drove into the lumber yard, Monger & Sons that lines the land behind my house. We used the headlights to check all the cracks and crevices, but it was to no avail.
We drove around town scoping bike racks while viciously blowing up social media from our phones to ‘find that bike.’ After about 90 minutes of this I returned home to find my girlfriend there to lovingly greet me. I had mixed emotions. By this point enough people, whether physically in my house or on social media, had rallied.
I kept hearing from everyone, “Don’t worry, Stephen, we’ll find it.”
Part of me was thankful for their optimism and support. The other part of me wanted to yell, “Shut the fuck up!” at the top of my lungs. Stolen bikes are rarely found.
Throughout Tuesday I refused to eat until I became lightheaded around 5 p.m. and yielded to some D-Hall. My bike was gone and it was my fault because I left it unlocked. By this point I had gone to the copy center and made flyers I intended to hand out around town, from street poles to downtown businesses. This bike was too unique not to be spotted.
But I had doubts. It was the depths of winter and anyone ballsy enough to steal my bike had no balls to ride in this weather. I was worried it would rot in some basement. Thus, I began checking Craigslist every five minutes for new posts about bicycles for sale. I checked every city in Virginia and beyond, on this time schedule all week in the hopes of finding some dumbass trying to sell it.
I called the pawn shops. They knew. I showed face at the bike shops where I had to begrudgingly admit it was not locked up. By Wednesday, there was no way this bike was making it out of town. Yet my hopes were diminishing. I realized that life still went on. I had to keep my sorrows to myself or slowly leak them out to my girlfriend. In the end, I was aware this was just a bike. But it meant so much.
Every day that week I would get on one of my other bikes and ride the town at dusk, looking for this bike. Porches, backyards, bus stops. I went to shady parts of town, trying to rationalize every possible scenario.
Sunday afternoon, it became evident I was out of luck. The bike was not coming back and I needed to move on.
I spent $10 to print up black and white fliers to save on copies. In turn, I took a highlighter marking the color descriptions within the text. I went door-to-door on Old South High seemingly bothering people on their day off with hopes they may have seen something.
I almost bypassed issuing a flier to my neighbor, John, who lives directly across the street from me. I was going to just mention it to him. I figured I had talked to him on my bike numerous times so it’d be a waste of a flier to give him one. Somehow, the powers above pushed me to his house before returning home.
He was dismayed to learn of my loss and his girlfriend pocketed the flier. She further explained that her laptop had been stolen from her van just outside their house, also on a Monday. She couldn’t recall if it was on the same Monday as my bike theft barring me from making a correlation.
It may need to be mentioned at this point in the narrative that another neighbor, adjacent to John, has surveillance cameras, which point out onto our street. The cameras to my knowledge do not see my front porch, but it would possibly give me a clue to see someone walking along the sidewalk with the bicycle.
Terry, the possessor of these cameras, an older man struggling with health issues was not very cooperative with my urgency to check his tapes. He held the potential key to my mystery: video evidence of the theft. Alas this possibility was useless. Terry was too sick to help. I had to drop it.
I felt absolutely lost and baffled by this six-day tragedy. I needed to move on, at least for the meantime. I had starved myself too much of food, sleep and hope to continue living this way.
It was now 6 p.m. on Sunday night as my roommates huddled around the television, witnessing one of the greatest AFC Championship game.
I made my first real meal in a handful of days only to realize I wasn’t hungry. John’s early 2000s Honda Odyssey with an aftermarket, off-color rear bumper pulled up in front of his house in the winter darkness.
Upon exit from his car he headed straight for my house. I watched him through our double-paneled front door with shitty, transparent curtains. Something came over me. I walked out from behind the chest-high breakfast bar in our kitchen and got to the door before he even had to knock.
“What’s up, John?”
“Come outside, Steve, I got something for you.”
John calls me Steve. I hate being called Steve, but that’s beside the point. I followed his orders outside. His woman and friend are holding Food Lion plastic bags, standing just outside the van indicating a grocery run.
John and I always joke about beer. We both have a great affinity toward a nice, refreshing can, not bottle, of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I figured he bought me a case to let me know he was thinking about my loss.
All eyes were looking at the Odyssey’s trunk as he approached the liftgate. The ungreased hydraulics slowly shot the trunk open. I was scared as to what was in the back. Everything about the situation felt uneasy. Even his little kid was giving me the creeps, like he was onto a murder.
In the darkness of Old South High St., lit by a crummy street light that only comes on some nights of the week, I saw a shaded turquoise piece of steel emerging from the trunk. It was my bike. He forcefully yanked it out of the trunk and presented me with it.
My knees gave out. As they hit asphalt I looked up at John, then over to his girlfriend, then to the random friend.
The girlfriend asked, “Is this your bike?”
All I could do was nod.