One night, after picking up a box of wine from Fred Meyer, I noticed a stolen bike leaning against the rack next to my bike. After confronting the man standing next to it, I got maced, twice, trying to rescue the bike. Initially, I set out to write this story down but It became a much larger story than just this incident. Here are some excerpts.
Houselessness in Portland
It is impossible to discuss bike thievery in any city without discussing, homelessness. The homeless situation in Portland is bad and getting worse:
“[Homeless camps] are ubiquitous all over Portland, mostly because our city has not been able to decide what should be done for our homeless community, beyond a well-meaning but largely inept stop-gap measure of benevolent tolerance, punctuated by fits of police-state cruelty. This has created a weird and horrible game of whack-a-mole between the city and its camps: the homeless are allowed to flourish for a period of time (which they do, with aplomb) until, randomly, the sheriff and a hazmat crew are called in to raze them and any of their structures from the earth.”
“Maybe, long ago, these chop-shops used to operate in the shadows, but not anymore. Now, perhaps because of the sheer number of stolen bicycles to process, and the lack of shadows, they set up tool benches and get to work out in the open, stripping and processing enormous quantities of frames and valuable components to either be sent to other cities, where they can be anonymously sold, or to stay here where they’re pieced together as any of the myriad frankenbikes seen creaking around town.”
Vigilantes are assholes, so why did I become one?
I’m not proud of what I did. So why did I try to take back a stolen bike? Especially, one that hadn’t even been stolen from me.
After having two bikes stolen in Portland, I’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to bike thievery—not so much one of consideration, or even (dear God) heroism as it is an inability to think clearly, or act otherwise:
“I never felt proud about taking the bike, I was ashamed. I thought that was obvious. I thought it was obvious—a man’s recklessness shouldn’t ever be confused with heroism. And it was reckless, especially for a husband and a father. Foolishly, I expected everyone would be on board with that concept.”
On getting maced
Before getting maced, it’s hard to tell—what’s the big deal?
As far as epiphanies go, getting maced was surprisingly effective. Certainly, it wasn’t as bad as getting shot. But still, a facefull of mace is enough to inspire reflection—to consider the decisions we make in life—about the big-picture missteps that brought us to this unfortunate moment. If only long enough to regroup:
“I’d never been maced before, (check that off the bucket-list). It was alarming how disabling the mace was. I could breathe but the air was spicy and toxic, like sucking in a handful of red-hot tacks. Before being maced, it’s hard to imagine the effect—I once minced a pile of peppers without gloves and spent an afternoon dipping my fingertips into cream. But this was like bathing in peppers, and drinking it in with every breath. Everything was on fire, deeply, and the fire spread everywhere.”
Have we learned nothing?
Somebody (either Einstein, Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin) once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I like that quote (though, in my case, I might switch ‘expecting’ for ‘hoping’). That quote handily summarizes the most profound takeaway from this (and similar) incidents: wishing, somehow, I could have done things differently, but also knowing, given a similar opportunity, I’d probably do it all over again.