For twenty-eight years, two 10-speed bikes stood motionless on my back porch. Previously, they resided in the bicycle storage room at my in-law's apartment building in Atlantic City. Before that, they took up an inconvenient hunk of floor space in my fiance's (now my wife of 30 years) living room. My bike got quite a workout in the early 1980s. I would often ride it late at night from my job on the edge of North Philadelphia, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic and across the cobblestone streets of Olde City to the Queen Village condo where I spent weekends with my future spouse. In the summer, after we were married, Mrs. P and I would wake early and ride our bikes on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, like we did when were were kids.
But then we bought a house and moved to the suburbs. Then we had a baby. Then the baby grew up and started school. And then leisure time slipped away, replaced by a bustling, busy life. And our bikes were soon ignored, relegated to the back porch, where they would lean on their extended kickstands undisturbed, dust gathering, tires deflating and dry-rotting, rust forming here and there.
Last Saturday, our neighbors Rae and O. had a yard sale and invited us to supplement their cast-offs with anything we'd like to add. My wife surveyed our three-story, six bedroom vault of accumulation and selected a couple of seldom-used beach chairs and a few rattan pieces that had worn out their welcome. After a quick dusting to make them presentable (and saleable), I lugged them across the street, and deposited them on my neighbor's front lawn where they stayed for approximately two minutes when a woman bought all of our stuff.
O. and my wife had previously discussed the sale of our bikes. O. told us that, through an ad he placed on craigslist, a man was coming to see a bike that he was offering. O. invited us to bring over our two bikes and maybe the customer would be interested in a package deal. I dragged our two bikes from our back porch and wheeled them unsteadily across the street on flattened tires. O. opened the fortified high wooden gate to his backyard and I parked our 10-speeds next to his in a secluded area next to his large recycling bin.
This afternoon, O. called my wife in a panic. "Did you take your bike back?," he asked.
"No. Of course not.," she replied, "Why?"
O. gulped. "Someone stole our bikes! I moved them from my yard to the front porch because it was raining and now they're gone!"
"What?!?," my wife exclaimed in disbelief.
"Actually," he continued, "they left one of yours. The silver one. They took my bike and the red one." (The silver one that the thieves deemed unworthy was mine.) O. was very upset. A native Israeli, he began ranting about his disappointment in America. Mrs. P suggested that the police be notified. O. seemed confused.
"Why call the police?," he asked.
Mrs. P explained that the proper procedure in this case was to file a police report. Then, officers will be extra concerned with the possibility of another theft. Not fully convinced, O. reluctantly called the police. (Actually, Rae made the call.) A short time later, a police car pulled up in front of our house. An officer emerged and headed straight over to Rae and O.'s house. My wife watched as the officer returned to his cruiser. He sat behind the wheel busying himself with some paper work, when My wife approached and introduced herself.
"Hi," she said, "I wanted to tell you that one of the bikes that was taken is mine."
"Yeah," the policeman smiled, "your neighbor told me. As a matter of fact, we just got a red bike over in the evidence locker."
"Really?," my wife questioned.
"Yeah," he continued, " a man just up the street gave a report earlier." The officer looked down at his clipboard and, in his best "Sgt. Joe Friday," read "just the facts" straight from the scribbled form. "He said that around four o'clock today he saw four black teenagers* walk up the front path of your neighbor's house, up to the front porch and come back down with two bikes. They ditched the red one on someone's lawn halfway down the block."
My wife followed the officer over to the police station. She was led to the evidence locker to identify the bike. The officer unlocked the gate and, sure enough, there was Mrs. P's red bike in all its dusty, flat-tire glory. The officer ripped a big "EVIDENCE" sticker off of the frame and my spouse maneuvered the bike into the back of her SUV.
When I got home from an evening doctor's appointment, I wheeled our two bikes — my wife's newly-returned red one and my unwanted silver one — back to the safety of our back porch, where, perhaps, they will reside for the next twenty-eight years without another harrowing adventure.
* * * * * * U P D A T E * * * * * *
The mighty Cheltenham Township Police force set up a surveillance team specifically focused on nabbing the wave of bicycle crime sweeping the area. On Wednesday, July 30, a vicious trio of youngsters — ranging in age from 8 to 15 — were apprehended by authorities. The gang's M.O. was snatching unattended bikes from porches, driveways, yards and unlocked garages. The little bastards were caught in the act. Thanks to the fine work by the Cheltenham Police, the reign of terror is over.
* the officer's actual words