Patti is PattiPow: choir leader, local hero, my loyal chum and my steadfast companion. And Patti’s bike is Patti’s bike: her well-tuned Brodie that fit her so well, her wheels, her ride, her own steadfast companion.
Patti’s bike had already been heisted once before, and turned up in a flea market in Maple Ridge. But by now it was already three days gone since the theft and I didn’t want to say it, but I figured probably by this point the bike would have been spray-painted and chopped into a dozen pieces. But you can’t really let go until you’ve made all the reasonable efforts, so this morning Patti and I set out for a wander in the Downtown Eastside with slim hopes.
Patti borrowed an old bike from her roommate and we rambled through Strathcona, stopping for her to get coffee and for me to peruse ninja gear in a martial arts store. We cruised around Pender, Oppenheimer Park, Pigeon Park, then headed down East Hastings toward the grimy sidewalk market at Columbia where vendors hawk CDs and old cosmetics, clothing, bicycles, and crack cocaine. We were chatting along, enjoying the sunny day and each other’s company. I turned toward my friend and noticed a man coming toward us wheeling a large suitcase—and a nice white bike. I grabbed Patti’s arm—is that your bike? She did a classic double-take. That’s…that’s…that’s my bike!
We stepped in front of the man and questioned him. He said, “I just bought this bike from that guy, that guy over there, for thirty…um…i mean, for fifty bucks.” Patti muttered something about calling the cops. But by that point the bike had probably already changed hands a half-dozen times, and trying to find the original thief was pointless. “We’ll give you forty for it,” I offered. “Sure,” he said. I handed the man $40 and Patti, grinning and trembling, dug out another $15 and gave it to him as well. He put the money in his pocket and launched into an enthusiastic lecture on what sort of lock to use and where a good one could be bought.
What struck me then, just as when my own bike got nabbed and I went searching for it on the hard streets, was how genuinely empathetic the street folk were to my plight. As Patti stood on the crowded sidewalk alternately giggling and weeping, people paused to ask what was happening, then nodded and smiled when she said she had found her beloved bicycle. Good-news stories are not common on the street. When she tried to walk the two bikes away they wobbled and fell into each other. Another rough-looking man stopped and said “look, here’s how you do it: you put your left hand on the stem of this one, your right on the outer handlebar of that one…” His own expertise in handling multiple bikes suspiciously acquired, nevertheless, he offered Patti support in her situation. It struck me how the impulse to help and to extend compassion can neatly co-exist with the impulse to perhaps steal, or commit all kinds of hurtful acts under desperate circumstances. We are such complex beings.
Praises be to the mercies of the Downtown Eastside. Patti and her bike ride again.