I stand in a Subway sandwich shop off Crenshaw and Obama Blvd ordering a tomato basil chicken wrap. What used to be Rodeo (south of the 10 Freeway) is now named after our 44th president. I usually go with a spinach wrap, but they’re out. It’s 10:37 p.m. on Thursday, December 10th, 2020. I turn my head back toward the glass door, and my bike is gone.
List of things that 2020 has taken from me: my job, my freedom to travel abroad, the relationship with my fiancée, any sense of normalcy, and now my new bike. I sprint out of the store, leaving the sandwich-hack baffled.
Full panic. I look left down Crenshaw toward Adams Blvd. Nothing. I turn south, and a young guy on a bike is fleeing away. I’m not 100% sure if it’s my bike. I run after him and scream, “Hey, that’s my fucking bike.” Original, I know. What could I say to get him to stop? Scream-offer him money? I’m powerless, yet I keep running. My grey sweat pants and old Zoo York hoodie catch too much wind to be effective athletic wear. If not for the chin-strap, my bike helmet would dance right off my skull. The choice of flip flops keeps me from top speed, so I kick them off mid-stride—I’ll regret not having stretched later. My bare feet slap against the filthy Los Angeles sidewalk while the night air cools my nostrils. My lungs are pissed.
The thief takes a right turn down 30th. It takes me two full minutes to get there. There’s no way I’m catching this guy. I slow down and look—nothing. My heart pounds; I can’t catch my breath. RuRRruruRuruRur, two slobbering Dobermans scare the life out of me from behind a rusty rod-iron fence. “Shut up, dogs,” I say, meaner than I would like. How’d I let this happen? I look down the palm tree-lined street, but the thief is gone.
I track down my flip flops, and I walk back to my apartment on Adams Blvd. I must look ridiculous with a bike helmet on, but no bike. When I moved to L.A. from Minnesota ten years ago, West Adams was a rough neighborhood, but now it’s just another gentrifying part of the city. A handful of street people mill about. In the year-and-a-half I’ve lived here, I’ve been exposed to their 24-hour presence—a consistent reminder of how things could be worse if I’m not careful.
My breathing is back to normal, but my mind races. That bike cost me around $250 at the beginning of COVID, but prices have climbed. The all-black frame and matching wheels gave it a slick look. It had a fixed gear and was 58 centimeters tall, the first bike I’ve ever purchased appropriate for my height. I couldn’t afford to buy it again. Tonight was also the first time I used my new front and back lights. I love riding in the city at night. Fewer cars, the streets feel more like mine. Damnit, add those lights to the list of things I’ve lost this year.
I storm upstairs to my second-floor apartment and find a bottle of water in my fridge. I chug it. This can’t be the end of the story. I put on jeans, my hiking Nikes, and a baseball hat. I also grab my mini-Louisville Slugger baseball bat and my car keys. I put in my earbuds and call 911. It rings and rings. A woman finally answers and puts me on hold. I get in my white, 4-door Hyundai Accent and head toward the Subway. I listen to ‘on hold’ music. I know the chances of finding my bike are low, but I have to try. Trying is who I am. I don’t even know why I’m calling the cops; there’s nothing they can do. I drive past the sandwich shop and turn where the thief turned. I’m running on instincts. I take a left and then a right.
“Los Angeles Police department, how can I be of assistance?” a young male cop says in my earbuds.
“Hello, ummm, my bike was just stolen from the Subway off Crenshaw and 29th. I’m not sure if there is anything you can do to help me, but I figured I try.”
I turn right onto Jefferson.
“Do you have a pen and paper handy, sir? I can give you the website so you can report the theft.”
“So, you’re not going to do anything to help?”
“Sir, I’m giving you the information so you can report the incident.”
“Look, please shoot me straight. In this type of situation, does anyone ever get their bike back?”
“Sir, filling out a police report is your best chance of—“
“I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m not going to do that. Be real with me, is there any chance of me getting my bike back?”
The young officer doesn’t know what to say. I turn right onto La Brea. Traffic is minimal.
“Could you send an officer to the Subway to take my statement?”
“With COVID, we try to limit physical interactions.”
I pull up to the corner of La Brea and Adams.
“I get it,” I say.
This isn’t the cop’s fault. I should’ve used a lock.
On the sidewalk is a young guy in his twenties on a bike. He wears ripped skinny jeans and a faded black denim jacket. I look closer—holy shit, that’s my bike. I’m confused by his fashionable outfit. If he’s got money for new clothes, why’s he stealing my bike? I figured the chances of finding it were ten-thousand to one. There’s no hesitation in me. I’m too focused to be scared—finally, an opportunity to take something back.
“I think I found the guy who stole my bike,” I say to the cop in my earbuds.
Without a second thought, I swerve my car in front of the guy, stopping him from crossing Adams Blvd.
“Where are you, sir?” the cop asks.
I park, grab the mini-bat, and step out of my car. Time simultaneously goes in warp speed and slow-motion.
“That’s my fucking bike,” I scream and point the bat at the young guy.
He freezes in terror. The joy of his new toy is replaced with the fear of a man wielding a mini-Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Why am I not more scared? I run around the back of my car. “Get the fuck off my bike.”
“I just bought this bike for a hundred bucks,” he claims while running for his life around the front of my car.
I get to my bike, but now the young guy is on the driver’s side of my car with my door open—and the engine is running. He could steal my car.
My earbuds blow up. “Sir, what is going on? Where are you? Do you want me to send an officer?”
I have a move. “Yes, send the police,” I say to the cop. “I’m at the corner of La Brea and Adams,” I look at the young guy, “The cops are on their way, motherfucker.”
“Man, I didn’t steal shit. I just bought this fucking bike like twenty minutes ago.”
I give him credit for coming up with a story that quickly, but I don’t believe him. I examine the bike and realize my new lights are missing.
“Where the fuck are my lights?” I scream.
“I don’t know.”
“I will fuck you up if you don’t give me my lights back,” A dry threat. It’s all posturing at this point.
“I don’t have your fucking lights, man.”
“Then, get the fuck out of here. The cops are on their way.”
Under his breath, the young guy mumbles as he jogs away, “I just bought that fucking bike. This is bullshit.”
Adrenaline is why I’m not scared. Do I go after him for my lights? Cars line up on La Brea. My car blocks the turn lane. I need to get my bike home, but it won’t fit in my car without taking off the front tire. I rummage through my glove compartment, searching for the adjustable wrench I need. It’s not there. I shove the bike in my back seat. The back driver’s side door won’t close all the way. I need to get the hell out of here. I drive back to my apartment with my back door ajar—my mind is all over the place. Two cop cars fly past in the opposite direction with their lights and sirens on.
I pull into the garage area behind my apartment, get my bike out, and bring it upstairs. I come back downstairs and sit on the last step. Can’t sit still. One of these days, my confrontational nature is going to get me killed. I need to call someone and tell them what happened. My phone rings. A (213) area code. I don’t recognize the number. Is it the thief? That’s not possible.
“Los Angeles Police Department, is this Nick?” a female officer asks.
“We have officers at the corner of La Brea and Adams. Where are you?”
“Can you describe the gun?”
“What? I never said anything about a gun.” Did someone report the baseball bat as a gun?
“Ahhh, well, there was a report of a robbery,” the female officer says, unsure.
“Yeah, but there wasn’t any gun.”
“Oh,” she says, conscious of the difference in severity, “Do you want to make a police report?”
“No, I’m good. I got my bike back.”
“Okay, thanks. Have a good night, sir.”
This whole situation could’ve ended much differently. I was in Minnesota this summer when George Floyd got murdered. We all witnessed a worst-case scenario. What if the cops would’ve arrived when I was chasing the guy around my car? I had a weapon. I could’ve got shot. He could’ve got shot. Did I do the right thing? The people at the intersection probably thought I was the one stealing his bike. I can’t believe this got so out of hand. I don’t feel strong. I feel weak. All I want to do is punch the dash of my car till my hand bleeds. The same week I watched Minneapolis burn, the relationship with my fiancée fell apart. My whole life felt like it was on fire. I’m tired of things not working out. I’m tired of being tired.
My stomach creaks. I get in my car and drive back to the Subway. Without my hoodie, I walk in wearing a blue medical mask. My hair is wild from the chaos of the night and the months of pandemic growth. It’s only been an hour since I bolted out of here, but the kid behind the counter doesn’t seem to recognize me.
“How’s your day going?” he asks.
How’s my day going? “It’s not going great, man. I just had my bike stolen.”
“Oh,” he says, oblivious to humanity itself.
Back at my apartment, I eat my tomato basil chicken wrap in my tub full of bubbles. My mom texts: You up? I call her, and I tell the whole story. She can’t believe it. “Son, I’m proud of you for getting your bike back. Most people wouldn’t have even tried.” That’s wild. A million emotions swirl inside of me, but pride is not one of them.
The next day I have a cough. The day after that, I drive to Dodgers Stadium and wait in a two-hour line to take my first COVID test in my car. A few days later, the test comes back positive. I won’t be able to fly home for Christmas. If I’m lucky, this will be the last thing 2020 takes from me.