04 December 2016

No Fries With That Sandwich. But I'll Take A Bike, Please!

When I was careening thorugh the concrete canyons of Manhattan, making sometimes-questionable deliveries, it was common knowledge (or, at least, a widely-believed urban myth) that if your bike was stolen, you should head to St. Mark's Place.

In those days, before "Alphabet City" and the Lower East Side gentrified, it was common knowledge that you could "buy anything" on St. Mark's.  By "anything", we didn't mean T-shirts, keychains and other overpriced chotchkes made by Chinese prisoners and emblazoned with the "I Heart NY" logo, although you could get those.  Ditto for anything a hippie who might not have even been born when the real hippies were sauntering in their cannabis-addled haze through the neighborhood might want.  For that matter, we weren't even talking about the great pierogis you could get around the corner or the heavenly hammentashen and sumptuous strudels from Moishe's Bakery on Second Avenue.

What we meant was that, in addition to any substance or service someone might want on a Saturday night (or if one is new to town), you could buy all sorts of things that "fell off the truck" or that people "found".  Those items included, of course, bicycles.  

It was said that all of the bicycles used by restaurant delivery workers "came from" St. Mark's.  So, I suspect, did at least a few messengers' bikes.  I know for that bikes were indeed sold there, even though--to my knowledge--no bike shop (or any other kind of retail store that might sell bikes) has ever operated there.  In fact, as I rode there one night, someone crossed into my path with a bike he wanted to sell me. 

Alas, I never found any of my stolen bikes there.  But I knew other messengers, delivery people, commuters and recreational cyclists who did.  In every instance, someone tried to sell their bike back to them--not knowing, of course, that the would-be customer was the person from whom the bike was stolen.   One fellow of my acquaintance claimed that he punched the would-be small-time entrepreneur in the nose and took his bike back.  I'm sure others did the same.

Then, as now, retrieving stolen bikes or going after bike thieves wasn't very high on the NYPD's list of priorities.  Sometimes I wonder whether they know that most people will simply give up if they're not re-united with their bikes within a couple of days...

...let alone a couple of years.  Or more.  Apparently, that is the story of a few people whose bikes ended up at Los Amigos 2, a bodega in Camden NJ.

Camden (NJ) Police Captain Gabriel Camacho, Sergeant Jannel Simpson and Captain Rich Verticelli with bikes recovered from Los Amigos 2.

Police discovered a stockpile of bikes in the shop's basement when responding to, ironically enough, a burglar alarm.  Cops were searching the store for a suspect when they came upon the stash:  91 in all.  Nobody knows how many other bikes passed through.

Now, if you were in St. Mark's in the heyday of punk and New Wave, try to imagine the neighborhood without the band--or without the movie houses it had (It still has one.), coffee shops or even its dive bars.  (Back in the day, you went to a dive bar--or shopped in a thrift shop--because you couldn't afford to go anywhere else:  There was no cachet in doing so.)  Or try to imagine Newark NJ or Richmond CA, without the charm (really!). Then you'll have an idea of what Camden is like.

Like St. Mark's of yore, Camden is a magnet for the drug-addicted , in part because of the treatment facilities and shelters located in their vicinities. Some bring bikes or other items they stole, sometimes far from the neighborhood, to get money for a "fix."  

Some of the bikes recovered from Los Amigos 2

One thing I found interesting is that the bodega was paying less money for bikes--"up to $20", according to a police spokesperson-- than the unscrupulous were paying on St. Mark's more than three decades ago.  I wonder whether that is a signal that the number of desperate or otherwise impaired people who would steal a bike and sell it for a "fix" is so much greater than it was in the St. Mark's of my youth.

Bodegas, like other small grocery stores, are about convenience.  But a bicycle with your sandwich and cerveza?


  1. Aberdeen, WA is also a magnet for the drug addicted, but I've never seen stolen bikes for sale there. Regardless, when I go there, I lock up with a good U Lock and cable.

  2. The area around the Aberdeen bus station is nicknamed "Felony Flats."

  3. Steve--"Felony Flats"? If nothing else, it's a catchy name--thought I think I'd be careful about leaving my bike there!

  4. Ah yes: St Mark's Place. For me this is the department of un-nostalga. I used to watch with horrified interest the fate of the many abandoned cars on the streets around there. After two days they started striping them, right on the tails of the young boys breaking all the windows. Then came the serious ones who jacked it up and took the engine and transmission. The shell was left for a couple of days being beat the hell out of, and in the end somebody set fire to what was left. The NYFD was uninterested. The twisted black carcass was scooped up by city maintenance at the most a week after the car was abandoned. It was like watching a time-lapse movie of a decomposing body. And several a week on any block. This was the background for showers from open fire hydrants with kids dancing, soaking wet. And at night the small-time gang wars, including a few shots. Best to stay inside after the sun set and guard your possessions as every junkie seemed to have the talents of Spider Man.

    This was spring and summer of 1968. I lived there for a few months, one block north of St Mark's Place.


  5. Leo--I wasn't at St. Mark's back then. But the period to which I'm referring--about a decade and a half later--was still pretty wild on St. Mark's.

    I love your description of the "time lapse" movie.