The summer going into seventh grade, on my birthday, I walked up the stairs of our small Cape after a baseball game, turned left into my room and stopped, astounded.
Propped against the wall, beside my desk, was one of the coolest bikes I’d ever seen: a blue Dyno Detour with white mag wheels. It was a trick bike. I couldn’t do any tricks. But I saw that bike in a magazine and asked for it not really thinking I was going to get it.
Nearly 35 years later, the bike my son wanted for his twelfth birthday was also a bit too extravagant and impractical for him. The SE BMX bikes kids ride around town are flashy and are meant for tricks as well. My son couldn’t pop a wheelie. But, I couldn’t either, when I was his age.
So, I don’t begrudge him at all for wanting that bike. And, although it was a hassle to get an SE bike (or any bike, for that matter) during Covid, I was happy to see him so happy to be similarly surprised to see that white-framed SE “Blocks Flyer” with blue tires and black wheels in our garage on his birthday.
But, I always had a bad feeling about that bike.
And, so, I was not entirely surprised when my wife called from her car, in a panic, informing me that some kid had just stolen Christian’s bike. What was surprising, however, was that this occurred right under his nose: my son’s bike was taken in broad daylight, from a park where he was playing basketball, while a group of his friends stood right beside his bike and others. Driving to meet him, I thought: How does a bike get stolen from Wigwam?
Wigwam is the unofficial name of the town park in the north end of Stratford. It has a baseball field, one of the nicer basketball courts in town, a playground and a small pond usually covered in algae. Growing up, my friends and I played basketball there, and from an adjacent house we would drink water from an outside spout on hot days. I think the owner gave one of us permission to do that once.
I saw my son in the street a block from the park. He got in the car. He was teary-eyed.
“A bike can get replaced,” I said. “You cannot. What’s important is that you are safe. You understand that?”
We parked by the baseball field and waited for the police officer. I told Christian to tell me exactly what happened, so that he could explain it clearly to the police officer. This was the story he told us: He and a group of his friends were playing basketball while another group of his friends were standing around behind a bench beside the court. Thrown into a pile beside the bench were a bunch of bikes. Christian said his bike was not even the most expensive one among those in the pile – adult BMX bikes that teenagers in town passively-aggressively pop wheelies on while recklessly riding in the road. Desirable bikes, a lot of them get stolen. None of them were locked. That was our bad. But my son was within 10 feet of his bike and they were at Wigwam shortly after school ended on a Friday and several of his friends were standing. Right. Beside. The bikes.
Apparently, there was a kid there – a big kid – that no one knew but one of my son’s friends thought he was with some other kids who were there, and they had been playing ball before Christian and his friends showed up. Apparently, they just blended in and bided their time until Christian and his friends were sufficiently unguarded – some of the boys playing basketball and everyone else probably looking at TikTok videos on their phones – and then one of them just walked over to the pile of bikes, picked one up (Christian’s), got on it and rode away. Apparently, one of Christian’s friends even saw the Big Kid get on Christian’s bike but didn’t see anything, he said, because he thought the kid had Christian’s permission to ride his bike. (He later changed his story saying he didn’t say anything – not even a peep to the group – because the kid was so big.)
So the kid rides away and no one says anything until he’s nearly out of the park. Only at that point does Christian see what’s happening, and he and a friend jump on bikes and begin chasing him. But, by the time they reach the main road, they don’t see the kid anywhere. The bike is gone.
After we met with the police officer, who was not confident the bike would be retrieved because we did not have the serial number (so even if they found the kid we could not have proved it was ours), we drove around looking for the bike.
“So, no one saw a stranger amongst all of you and thought, Oh, we should pay attention?” I asked as we drove around.
“You didn’t see some random kid at the park and think, I should be careful with my bike?”
I could tell he was getting upset, so I stopped pressing. I felt horrible for my son. I really liked that bike. It was a cool-looking bike, which is probably why it was taken from among the pile of bikes. Getting something stolen from you feels like a violation. It is yours, and someone just takes it. It’s not fair.
But, at the same time, I felt like screaming to him and his friends: “WAKE UP!”
Be aware of danger.
The phones have distracted us to the point where we don’t even recognize our recklessness. They make us feel – in the moment – like nothing bad can happen to us. How else can you explain people driving 75 miles per hour while looking down at their phone? Addiction clouds our judgment. And these tiny technological marvels have pulled us away from reality.
And the reality is this (to quote a country album): Life is Not Fair and the World Can Be Mean. And spending hours watching stupidly funny videos does not make that not so.