Three years ago, our bikes were stolen out of the bike locker, the one with a security camera overhead, located in the locked parking garage of our building, using what could only have been a circular saw to sever the Kryptonite U-lock, never mind the additional cable lock, all of which supposedly secured our bikes to the rack. Yet, no one heard or saw a thing, including whenever Santa’s little helper rolled on out of the garage with a tangle of bikes stuffed in a van, leaving only remnants of the handiwork behind, butchered locks strewn about the bike cage, like bones sucked dry and tossed by a pride of lions in the Serengeti.
The camera was inoperable, or too time-consuming to review, I never knew which, but with the same end result. It proved useless. After the police took our statement, they shrugged empathetically, suggesting we register future bikes with the aptly named BikeRegister.com, and the case disintegrated into the ether of nowhere after that. This outcome didn’t surprise me. The metropolitan police department had (have) bigger problems than a slew of bike thefts before the Christmas holidays. But this theft left a salty sting after the crushing blow of Cracker dying only days prior. I lost my best dog and my bike.
Since “The Great Bicycle Swindle of 2018,” I’ve learned the day after Thanksgiving is not only Black Friday across the country, but the day also signals “Open Season” here in DC. It lasts until after the new year. One must nail their shit down, batten the hatches, and hope for the best. Any item left visible in a car is a rookie mistake. Only once will an individual walk past a row of cars, parked nose to tail on the side of the road with their windows punched out, shards of glass sprayed everywhere, to understand thieves snatch first and ask questions later. An empty backpack propped in the backseat is the cost of a broken window replaced. Facing the fact our bikes were gone, I placated myself with “They must have really needed them more than we did,” even though I was still a reeking lowball of anguish, mixed with two fingers of anger. I fed myself this soupy platitude, uttered through clenched teeth, but I half believed the words, understanding these were difficult times. Nowadays I question if life is any more difficult now, compared to some other chapters in the past. My sneaking suspicion is our difficulties today may not be any worse, but affect more people at once than ever before, hence the roll tide of collective angst and dissension across the country.
But having your shit stolen pales to bullets flying through your neighborhood. There have been two shootings close to home in the last three weeks alone. One occurred in front of our building, and the other incident took place one street over, in front of my favorite bakery/hangout. What happened? Was it a personal vendetta? A random drive-by? The details aren’t always made clear to the public, but it’s a tragedy for everyone, a brutal symptom of a much larger problem.
On Wednesday, walking past the Building Museum, G St. was taped off between 4th and 5th Ave. Police cars blocked both ends of the intersection, while a mechanical voice sounded, repeating instructions “for employees to relocate,” like she was advertising perfumed shampoo, above the ring of the alarm inside the building. Immediately I thought “bomb threat” and quickened my pace. I shook my head as I passed The Government Office of Accountability, almost sneering at the grotesque irony of this particular office being evacuated. Under my breath I huffed, “George Orwell himself couldn’t make this up!” (Yes, an entire building exists in DC dedicated to this department of the government.)
I was working from home that day, so I turned on the television when I stepped through the door. Surely the networks would announce a bomb threat, but nothing was mentioned, not even on Twitter, where I often find the most relevant information. (This is the absolute truth). I called my husband who suggested it was probably a drill.
“With all those police cars? Really?”
“Yep,” he said. “They would do the whole emergency procedure with police and road blocks, etc.”
The police sirens and choppers made haste for hours afterwards. For what I do not know. My heartrate was almost stabilized when a score of fire trucks rolled down our street at quitting time, honking and flashing, dropping hose as they went. Russ and I glued our noses to the window, propped up on our knees with our elbows pressed into the back of the couch, like children watching a neighborhood squabble unfold in the square. The hose snaked down the middle of the road and the ladder lifted half way up to the building before the firemen called it. False alarm. Like any other mess, it took three times as long for the firemen to put the equipment away, as it did to pull it out in the first place. Disaster was averted, but it was an expensive drill nonetheless.
Russ and I did eventually replace our bikes, but it took over a year. Now we stable (euphemism) our string (another one) in the solarium (purely hyperbolic); the space behind the couch and between the plants, next to the floor to ceiling window. It’s like having two extra roommates, who never speak or steal our food out of the fridge at night, but don’t pay rent for all the space they inhabit either. I told Russ there is no bike riding in the city until after the New Year. It’s a slippery slope from a car jack to a bike jack and I already have enough trouble staying upright on two wheels without wanton intervention from passersby. In the eyes of a thief, I’m as good as a goat staked in the lion enclosure at the zoo. Easy pickings, as they say.
Last summer, my sister came for a visit from Houston. The weather was sweltering, even by Texas standards. In light of this, I took her places somewhat outside the purview of a tourist’s attention, and more importantly, covered in shade. We visited Roosevelt Island, The FDR Memorial, and skirting the Tidal Basin, we found the only strip of shade lining the granite enclave of the MLK Memorial. Drenched, walking back to the car in West Potomac Park, my sister looked up at the helicopter parting the thick air above our heads.
She said, “You know, sometimes I think we are down here, just doing our own thing, oblivious, while this whole other world is going on that we know nothing about.”
I was almost used to DC’s helicopter traffic, but the truth was, the frequency had intensified since COVID, and like my sister suggested, I sometimes felt I was living under a state of surveillance in the nation’s capital. Not only do helicopters here transport those in power, but they also converge where tragedy strikes. They are the city’s version of buzzards attracted to roadkill. One has only to see them circling to know where the latest calamity is shaping up.
So Merry Fucking Christmas, Everyone!
These days, when I work from the office, I pass McPherson Square on my walk home. A van parks there regularly handing out meals in the evenings. The line of people waiting their turn usually twists around a corner in the park. Maybe some of you reading this story picture those on the down-and-out; vagabonds, vagrants; the homeless. But many of the people standing there have just finished work. They are dressed for the job they just departed; a clean jacket zipped up and a hat pulled down over their heads to keep them warm; a decent pair of shoes on their feet; with a briefcase in hand, or a backpack slung over a shoulder. Not much separates me, or anyone else, from those waiting in that line, except for maybe a few lucky breaks along the way, and dodging a catastrophic scrape with misfortune, from which one cannot recover. Privilege, after all, is always landing on your feet.
A bike is replaceable, but so much of life is not.
Co-opting Scott Galloway: “Life is so rich.”