How I un-stole my bike and got COVID —a short story

It’s 10:37 p.m. on December 15th, 2020, and I stand in a Subway sandwich shop off Crenshaw and Obama Blvd ordering a tomato basil chicken wrap. I usually go with a spinach wrap, but they’re out. What used to be Rodeo (south of the 10 Freeway) is now named after our 44th president. I turn my head toward the glass door to make sure my bike is… fuck.

List of things that 2020 has taken: my job, my freedom to travel, my fiancée, any sense of normalcy, and now, my bike.

I sprint out of the store, leaving the sandwich artist baffled. I turn right down Crenshaw, and a young guy on a bike is fleeing at top speed. Is that my bike? I run after him. “Hey, that’s my fucking bike.” What could I say to stop him? Threaten him with the police? Scream-offer him money? I’m powerless, yet I maintain pursuit. My grey sweat pants and tattered Zoo York hoodie catch too much wind to be effective athletic wear. If not for the chin strap, my bike helmet would dance off my skull. The choice of flip-flops keeps me from optimal 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 cool night air flushes through my nostrils — my lungs are pissed.

The thief takes a right turn down 30th. It takes me two full minutes to get to the corner. I slow down and find nothing. My heart pounds; I can’t catch my breath. RuRRruruRuruRur, two slobbering Dobermans scare the marrow out of my bones from behind a rusty rod-iron fence. “Shut up, dogs,” I say, meaner than I would like. I look down the palm tree-lined street and shake my head. The thief is gone.

Wearing a bike helmet without a bike makes me feel preposterous. I track down my flip-flops and sulk back to my apartment. When I moved here from Minnesota ten years ago, this was a rough neighborhood, but now it’s just another gentrifying part of the city. A handful of street people mill about. In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been exposed to their 24-hour presence — a constant reminder of my luck.

That bike cost me around $250 at the beginning of COVID, now, it would be more. 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 rebuy it. Tonight was also the first time I used my new lights. I love riding in the city at night; fewer cars, the streets feel like mine. Damnit, add those lights to the list of things I’ve lost.

I storm upstairs to my second-floor apartment, find a bottle of water in my fridge and chug it. This can’t be the end of the story. I put on comfortable jeans, an old pair of running shoes, and a Twins baseball hat my mom bought me. I also grab my mini-Louisville Slugger, 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 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. Running on pure instinct, I drive past the sandwich shop and turn where I think the thief may have turned.

“Los Angeles Police department, how can I be of assistance?” a young male cop says in my earbuds.

“Hello, um, my bike was just stolen from the Subway off Crenshaw and 29th. Is there anything you can do to help me,” I say and 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?”

“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. Please just 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 at least send an officer to the Subway to take my statement?”

“With COVID, we try to limit physical interactions,” he says.

I pull up to the corner of La Brea and Adams. I’m at least a mile from my apartment.

“I get it.” 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 figured the chances of finding it were ten-thousand to one — finally, an opportunity to take something back.

“I think I found the guy who stole my bike,” I say to the cop.

Without hesitation, I swerve my car in front of the guy, blocking him from crossing Adams Blvd.

“Where are you, sir?” the cop asks.

I park, grab the mini-Louisville Slugger, and explode out of the driver-side door. Time simultaneously goes in warp speed and slow-motion.

“That’s my fucking bike.” I point the small wooden bat at the guy.

He freezes in terror. The joy of his new toy is replaced with the fear of assult from a miniature souvenir baseball bat. 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 scurrying around the front of my car with wide eyes.

I get to my bike and realize the guy is on the driver’s side of my car, with my door open and the engine running. Oh no, I’ve check-mated myself.

My earbuds blow up. “Sir, what is going on? Where are you? Do you want me to send an officer?”

“Yes!” I say, grateful I still have a move. “I’m at the corner of La Brea and Adams.” I make eye contact with the thief. “The cops are on their way, motherfucker.”

“Man, I didn’t steal shit,” he says. “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. “Where the fuck are my lights?”

“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.”

Why am I not more afraid? I’m Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Adrenaline. Cars line up behind me; I’m blocking their turn lane. I need to get my bike home, but it won’t fit in my car without taking off the front tire. I shove the bike in my back seat and drive home with the passenger side door ajar — my mind chews over the events of the evening. Two cop cars fly in the opposite direction with their lights on and their sirens blaring.

I pull into the garage behind my apartment and bring my bike upstairs. I come back down and sit on the last step. Nervous energy shakes through my chest into my arms. One of these days, I’m going to get myself killed. I need to call someone and tell them what happened. Suddenly, my phone rings. A (213) area code. I don’t recognize the number. Is it the thief?

“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?”

“I’m at home.”

“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,” she says.

“Yeah, but there wasn’t any gun.”

“Oh,” she says, conscious of the difference in severity, “Do you still want me to file a report?”

“No, I’m good. I got my bike back.”

“Oh, okay. Well, have a good night, sir.”

A gun?

What if the cops would’ve arrived when I was chasing that guy around my car? I had a weapon. We both could’ve been shot. The image of George Floyd’s head pinned to the street by the knee of that brutal cop floods my mind. Did I do the right thing? The onlookers at the intersection probably thought I was the one stealing his bike. I can’t believe this got so out of hand. All I want is to punch the dash of my car till my knuckles bleed. The same week I watched Minneapolis burn itself down because a man was unjustly murdered, the relationship with my fiancée fell apart. Everything felt like it was on fire.

My stomach creaks, still empty. I drive back to the Subway without my hoodie and enter wearing a black Miles Davis t-shirt and blue medical mask. My hair is wild from the chaos of the evening and months of pandemic growth. Although it’s only been an hour since I bolted, the sandwich artist doesn’t recognize me.

“How’s your day going, man?” he asks with a smile.

“Not great… man. I just had my bike stolen.”

“Oh,” he says, oblivious.

Back at my apartment, I eat my tomato basil chicken wrap in a tub full of bubbles. My mom texts: You awake? I call her and tell her the story. She can’t believe it. “Son, I’m proud of you for getting your bike back. Most people wouldn’t have even tried.” Her response surprises me. My head swirls with emotions; pride is not one of them.

The next day I have a cough and a sore throat. The day after that, I drive to Dodgers Stadium and wait in a two-hour line behind a sea of cars to take my first COVID test. A few days later, an email informs me that the test was positive and that flying home for Christmas is no longer an option. If I’m lucky, this will be the last thing 2020 takes from me.

I lie in bed — an hour of sweating, followed by an hour of shivering repeats for five isolating days. On the sixth day, I stand in my kitchen, weak, wearing an open bathrobe, drinking tap water, and eating saltines. Going after my bike was reckless. I shake my head, thinking about the unlikeliness of getting my bike back, and paranoia creeps in.

Am I sure that was my bike?

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