Innocence lost. When the bike is stolen.

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. Since my arrival in Amsterdam, the most consistent warnings have related to bike security.  So even with the rusty bike, I relatively consistently followed the locking best practices – locking the back wheel with a key and using a chain to lock the bike’s frame and  front wheel to something, like a bike rack, a light pole, even another bike (if I knew the other owner, obviously).  I lived in constant fear of losing a bike that was only slightly more than 2x the cost of the lock that secured it.

I upgraded over the summer, thinking it would improve my quality of life. Nothing fancy. But it had one of those new kickstands, a shiny silver color, and all of the words on its side were in tact. It was like a bike version of my Jetta (from the recent U.S. years) – whereas Rusty was more like the ’85 Maxima we had when I was growing up, except about 25 years after its heyday.

I think the shine is where I went wrong. Even though it wasn’t glamorous, it was obviously new. And a new bike catches attention. And comments. Even from people I didn’t really know.  Like, “oh, is this a new bike?” But I would hear it on the defensive, as if they were saying, “ooohhh, someone’s fancy ass is trying to get robbed, huh?”

By the time I left for Suriname in September, I still hadn’t gotten rid of Rusty. I thought a back-up bike couldn’t hurt. Or maybe I would even sell it. In the meantime, while I was away, Rusty was parked outside, across the street from my apartment, for more than 2 months. Back wheel locked. Front wheel and frame chained to a rack. Shiny was parked in my friend’s garage, then back to my hallway when I returned home (Rusty stayed outside for a bit longer with barely a visit).

Then, after a miserable couple of weeks filled with snow, rain, and healthy doses of cat mourning (and on the same day I picked up Zora’s ashes), I decided to spend time with fun people doing fun things. So not too far from my place I met some friends for dinner, and later a party. I parked Shiny across the street from the restaurant. Back wheel locked. Front wheel and frame…well, uh, tucked next to the rack. I was rushing and my chain lock had been sticking (maybe because it was sitting outside with Rusty for all of that time).  So yes, I admit it. I didn’t lock the front wheel or frame.

Continuing on my rampage of carefree carelessness, I left Shiny behind to receive a ride to the party. Turning down the ride didn’t cross my mind – especially since my friend offered to return me to the bike at the end of the night.  And she did.

I held the Shiny’s key in my hand, waved goodbye, and watched my friend drive away. I thought I was standing at the right rack, where Shiny was tucked into the middle. But it must not have been. So I walked down the street. Checking each one. Maaaaaybe….no. Coooouuuld it be…no. Is thaaaat…no.

Then, returning to the original rack – the actual rack, I happened to look down at the other side of the sidewalk. There was my chain lock. Ripped from Shiny and tossed aside. Shiny was gone. Maybe I asked for it. But Shiny didn’t deserve it.

Robbed and feeling violated, I walked home to a faithful Rusty with a chain in my hand, my frown to the ground, and a brewing enthusiasm to leave Amsterdam for a bit.

This black girl is about to be gone again…

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Criminal Activity

When I was a teenager, I took the train from Philadelphia to NYC to visit my sister.  At the conclusion of my trip to the big city, I found myself at Penn Station, smushed in an unacceptably large group of people as we all tried to avoid a single-file line at all costs.   I carried a bag in my hand and another on my back, shuffling along with the crowd.  Down the escalator, onto the platform, and eventually onto the train.  I thought I made it out of the city unscathed.  But alas, when I went to the front pocket of my backpack for my ticket, I saw that it was already wide open.  And although my ticket was still there (some mercy was had), my wallet was gone.  Long gone.  All I could do was sulk for a couple of hours as I sat in angry train silence.

That was my first truly lesson-teaching theft experience.  I’m pretty sure this girl in my 5th grade class stole some stuff from me back in the day.  But this was the first time I can remember falling victim to and being outwitted by a complete stranger.  Traumatic, yes.  But I learned two lessons: 1) Sometimes thieves win – can’t sweat it too much; and 2) front pockets are not meant for wallets…or maybe backpacks aren’t meant for wallets.

Fast forward a few years and time zones, I found myself walking down a street in Amsterdam, delighting in the fact that I felt so safe walking alone after dark.  Maybe I didn’t want to walk down the street with headphones, but I was still impressed by the unfamiliar feeling of…

…swish…

scream

scatter…

Although several people were around, the night was quiet.  Waiting for the tram, she was dressed up – skirt, heels, that kind of thing.  She was carrying a bright yellow clutch purse.  I heard him grab her purse in a quick motion before I registered what I was seeing.  He ran almost silently across the tram tracks in my direction, continuing down the street I had just crossed.  She chased him all the way – perhaps on instinct more than reason.  In English she screamed things like, “thief!” and “stop him!” But with the exception of one guy who was in the way and made a faux attempt at heroism, none of us helped.  Her frantic footsteps and screams just faded down the street.

I was shook.  Standing at that tram stop, that woman easily could have been me (though her style wasn’t exactly my taste).  And since I was in for a 10 minute wait for my tram, I stayed shook.

The biggest threats around these parts seem to be bike theft and pickpocketing/mugging – though no one else seems to have witnessed a mugging in such a way.  Perhaps I needed to witness that poor woman losing her yellow clutch purse.  Because although I carefully double-lock my (inexpensive) bike every time I so much as turn my back on it, I was getting a little too relaxed about everything else.  Now, whenever on the street, I try my best to stay conscious of what’s not strapped on and locked down.  The bike also helps me stay out of harm’s way, keeping me off the sidewalks and moving at a much faster pace.

Fast forward several more months, a new problem presented itself.  Sitting in a cafeteria, on campus, with three other people, among once trusted student-colleagues, I placed my laptop at my feet.  Okay, I’m absolutely certain I would have treated such a valuable item with far more care if I were in an airport or somewhere of the sort, keeping it in my sight and attached to me in some way at all times.  But I was at school, with school people, discussing school stuff, with laptops and large bags all around.  I felt safe.

Too bad I wasn’t…or rather, my laptop wasn’t.  I have no idea how it was done.  But although four of us sat at the table, someone managed to steal it from under me.  A sad story, I know.

A student may have been the culprit.  Or perhaps someone from outside of the school preys on careless and distracted students.  (But I think it was a student.)  Regardless, I need to get it together.  I’m just not secure anywhere, at any time, around anyone.  Got it.  And I really can’t afford many more of these tough lessons…literally.  I literally can’t afford this.