Two Fridays ago I was biking along Monroe Avenue to the tennis courts at Cobb’s Hill. Approaching Highland Drive, a green bicycle parked outside Mike Deming Antiques caught my eye. As the store was closed, I fleetingly wondered why the bicycle was there.
The next morning — Saturday — I went to National Record Day at the Bop Shop adjacent to Deming. At 8am, Deming was closed, as it would be all weekend (normally the store is open Thurs – Sat but that day was a rare exception), but the bicycle was still there. Attractive and well preserved, it was a sweet vintage 1964 Harley Davidson Schwinn, way back then advertised as the bicycle for carefree lovers.
Surprisingly, the Schwinn — poised temptingly– was not locked. That day, hundreds of Bop Shoppers must also have noticed — if not coveted — the green two wheeler.
The next morning — Sunday — I was again biking to Cobb’s Hill. Lo and behold, the vintage 1964 Harley Davidson Schwinn was still outside the store, alone, after spending a chilly night outside Deming. Foolishly, I did not have my camera. I rushed home to grab my Canon Elph 180. But upon returning, maybe 20 minutes later, the bicycle was gone.
To learn more, I went to Deming when it reopened on Thursday. When I asked Mike about the bicycle, he had not yet realized it was missing. Lacking space in the store, Mike had parked the bike outside the previous Friday. At 5pm, he was on his way to a weekend getaway. In his haste, Mike forgot to bring the bicycle inside. The bike would thus be unattended for five days.
Though his pocketbook was hit, Mike took the loss with equanimity. He was not surprised the bike was stolen. What followed was a philosophical discussion on honesty. Mike believes — unlike Rousseau — people are not born honest. Dishonest acquisitiveness is the natural condition; honesty, if learned at all, must be taught. The bike was ripe for the taking. Mike guesses the bike was not walked away but swooped up into a van or truck.
Although he was a crime victim, if anything, Mike blamed himself for the theft. He said its his responsibility to oversee his property. Might his insurance cover the loss? No. Besides, an insurance company would retort, you knucklehead for leaving the bicycle outside without a lock.
At the same time, reviewing the timeline, we realized the bike had been outside, on a busy thoroughfare, for two full nights and over 40 hours. Considering this, Mike’s mood lightened a bit. 40 plus hours was way longer than Mike would have anticipated. Maybe people have more ethics and morals than expected. Actually, 40 plus hours represented something positive about humanity and his little corner of Brighton. We concluded, apparently, the social fabric can be intact for almost two days. But, after that, as Mike said, you are on your own.
Is over 40 hours a long time? I asked several Brightonians who all thought it stretched beyond their prediction. Maybe Brighton is the best town in New York to live.
For Sandy, the anecdote reminded her of when she lived across from the Brighton High School. She noticed a bicycle parked in the bike rack in front of the school with no lock. Day after day, month after month, the bike was unmoved and unlocked. It might have been there the entire school year.
Sandy hopes this indicated goodness on behalf of students, but wonders if maybe the students already had enough bikes. Sandy grew up in the city and noted what we all know: outside of affluent suburbs like leafy Brighton the bicycle would be unlikely to stay unscathed for any amount of time. The value of bicycles is relative depending on where you peddle.
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced the phenomenon first hand. Last summer at Cobb’s Hill — just down the street from Deming — I placed my unlocked GIANT by a tree and drifted over to watch the basketball games near Lake Riley. Almost literally with my back turned, I was victim to the old “switcheroo.” Someone parked their crappy ROADMASTER next to my nicer GIANT. And, when the moment was ripe, took off with mine and left the crappy ROADMASTER that still sits in the garage.
Like Mike, even though I was a crime victim whose perpetrators were jerks, I blamed myself. Socio-economic realities are harsh — you can’t leave a bike unlocked at Cobb’s Hill, period — and I tempted fate, you knucklehead.
Sandy also provided her schema as to how people in general would respond to the untethered, unattended and unlocked bicycle: the one third virtuous, the one third venal and the one third unobservant.
Sandy thinks 1/3 would never take the bicycle; while 1/3 would take anything not nailed down if they could get away with it. The other third — the unobservant — wouldn’t even notice the bike as they whiz by in their SUVS, mesmerized by their phones, tuned out of their surroundings, never giving the bike a second thought.
Sandy says her conscience is too developed for her to ever steal; she would not enjoy her ill gotten gains. She might even feel guilt just considering the heist.
My friend Dean elaborated on the categories. Half of the thieves would steal but feel guilt. Half of the virtuous would be tempted but hold back. I am in Dean’s second category. I had no pricks of conscience when I lusted after the attractive green vintage 1964 Schwinn, but my superego is too strong for such an anti-social transgression.
Dean is also in his own second category. In your mind, you are allowed any thoughts you like — as long as you don’t act on them. When it comes to the bike, look but don’t touch.
Cynically, Dean also thinks the unstolen bike outside the High School said less about the virtue of the students, but, rather, the bike must have fallen below their standards.
All this said, I wondered if the person who took the bike outside Deming was really a thief? After all, the bike was just sitting there on the walk next to the store. Maybe the person considered the bike to be something just left on a curbside, like old stuff placed on lawn extensions.
To verify, I contacted the Brighton Police Department as to what constitutes abandoned property and theft. The Department said taking the bicycle would almost surely constitute theft. Items left on a curbside are implicitly understood as available and free, but not a bicycle that was simply left outside. According to the Department, abandoned property should be reported to the police.
This confirmed a previous experience. Several years ago, I discovered a high quality bicycle lying in the brush behind the Brighton High School baseball field. I knew that sometimes young people — often in an altered state — take bicycle joy rides and then dump the bike. Maybe this was the case. I brought the bicycle to the Brighton police.
I recall never contemplating theft, but in the back of my mind wondered that if nobody claimed the bike, I might get it.
The police thanked me, adding that if the owner was not found, the bike would probably be auctioned. Virtue would be my reward, and, in fact, I did feel a tinge of virtuousness. A few days later, I inquired as to what became of the bike. Its owner did contact the police. Apparently, the person did not have a lock, and was hiding the bike in the brush. Moral: always lock your bike.