19 September 2011

Bike Thieves and Squeegee Men

Just before I got home, I stopped at Tony's Bicycle Shop in Astoria.  Even before I moved into the neighborhood, I used to go there whenever I happened to be riding that way because I liked the old proprietor and they had all sorts of then-unfashionable parts that would soon come to be known as "old school."

Anyway, I didn't have my camera with me, so you will be spared from one of the more hideous sights I've seen in Tony's shop.  A Pinarello racing bike was clamped into one of the repair stands.  It had one of those awful 1980's fade paint job.  Strangely, it was tricolore, but in (from the rear) blue, white and red.  

To tell you the truth, I've seen worse fade jobs, and, ironically, the addition of another color--yellow--in the saddle and the bands of the tire treads made it almost tolerable.  However, one of the mechanics was in the process of turning the bike into a real aesthetic monstrosity:  He was wrapping the handlebars with Cinelli "Italian flag" cork tape.  I know, the bike is Italian, and some guys just want to flaunt the Italian-ness of their bikes.  But, please, have some respect for a country that produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli and Titian!

However, I noticed something even more disturbing while at Tony's.  It had nothing to do with anything any of the shop employees did.  Rather, it echoed and confirmed an impression I've had lately:  Bicycle theft is on the rise.

Another customer came in looking for something she could use to keep her wheels and seat from being stolen.  Several of her friends had already lost those items on their bikes, one of them in the hallway of the building in which she lives.  She also mentioned that a friend of hers caught a thief in the act; when the friend confronted the thief, he cursed the guy out and went about his business.

I found the above image on "A Short Introduction to Cycling,"  a British cycling blog.  As the author points out, it's unusual to get such a good shot of the perps in action.  Most of the time, as he points out, we have only grainy images from security cameras.  And, the thieves in those images are usually of hooded young men, and the graininess of the images renders them even more non-descript.  

Lots of people would say something like, "Those guys don't look like bike thieves."  What I find even more remarkable, though,is that they did it in an open public area of London, not on some shady venue.  Seeing that photo reminded me that bike theft, and crime generally, is becoming more brazen as well as more frequent than they have been in a long time.

The image also brought to mind something from around 1990--around the time bike theft and all sorts of other crime were at their peak here in New York.  I had gone to the Paris Theatre, which is right across West 58th Street from the Plaza Hotel, to see a film--I forget which, exactly.  

I think I was upset about something or another that day.  That was when I was living in my previous identity:  I was, of course, Nick.  I was two decades younger and riding my bike much more than I do now, and I was lifting weights every day.  Plus, even if I weren't upset about something specific that day, I carried the sort of anger--Some people who knew me said they could see it in my shoulders--that caused complete strangers to cross the street when they saw me approaching.  

Anyway, I left the theatre and turned left on 58th Street.  In front of one of the buildings was a bicycle rack.  A guy who was built about the same way I was lifted a Motobecane and began twisting it, expecting to break the lock.  I approached him from behind and tapped my finger on his shoulder.  He turned, took one look at me and bolted.

He wasn't trying to steal my bike.  But the fact that he was trying to take anybody's bike--possibly someone's transportation or simply someone's pride and joy--did nothing to quell whatever rage I was feeling.  

I would love to have a photo of that, though I hope not to see anything like it again.  And I still hope that we won't have anything like the tide of theft we had in those days.  However, things haven't been looking good:  The squeegee men are back.


  1. "please, have some respect for a country that produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci..."

    And Benito Mussolini. No place is perfect!

  2. Justine,
    I liked this post, particularly because it was like reading a short story. Nice job!
    Peace :)

    PS. You are gutsy tappin' the thief on the shoulder :)