For the first time in my life, I willingly approached a Greenpeace canvasser. “Hello,” I said to her.
“Hi!” She was smiley and pixie-like and had red streaks in her hair.
“I know you guys have been on this street corner all day. My bike’s been parked over there, and someone stole the front wheel. Have you guys seen anything?”
She thought for a minute. “Yeah!” she said, “there was some guy messing with a bike over there earlier, but I didn’t get a good look at him.”
“Any idea of what time?”
“Maybe two. I don’t know. Three? I was watching the pedestrians, mostly.”
“Do you want to help save the environment today?”
“Look, I just had the front wheel of my bike stolen.”
“You ride a bike! Obviously you care about the environment.”
“I’m in a very bad mood right now, and have to file a police report.”
“Okay, but it’s a great cause!”
I walked away. The corner where my wheel was stolen, SW Broadway and Morrison, is an incredibly busy spot. Several retail spots, tons of pedestrians, a few buskers, some canvassers, and a handful security guards are nearly always there during the day.
I asked around to see if anyone had seen someone messing with my bike. I asked the Baskin Robbins, Abercrombie &, Fitch, Nordstrom, multiple security guards, a few buskers, and a great deal of Pioneer Courthouse Square. I didn’t know why. There was no chance that I’d get my wheel back, I suppose I wanted some sort of satisfaction, or wanted to know that it wasn’t possible to just go up to a bike in a public place and, you know, steal parts of it without detection. The presence of lots of people would be enough to deter you.
Unfortunately, no one had seen anything of substance. My bike wheel was crippled, and some thief has a new front wheel, along with an old tire and much-patched tube. I was annoyed at the thieves, certainly (I had some nice thoughts about weaponizing my U lock and bruising up their soft tissue with it) but I was also pissed at Portland itself. This was on a dynamic, well-trafficked intersection. I would hope that the light of day, the presence of crowds, and general feel of the area would be enough to deter crime. It usually is, but today I got to be the one guy who happened to get his shit jacked.
In a very, very public place. The whole incident reminded me how easy it is to slip beneath people’s perception, as this clip illustrates. Stealing is actually quite easy, as is sleight-of-hand, being unnoticed, and stealth in general. When I was in high school, a classmate walked into a McDonald’s, took the gigantic ketchup dispenser with him, and then walked out. Nothing happened to him (he claimed that it was a “social experiment” and subsequently had a ketchup dispenser in his locker all year.) The Willamette Week actually did a story on this, and a reporter was able to very easily steal his own bike. I don’t have any profound conclusion here, but I really do want to believe that the presence of tons and tons of people on an intersection an exert enough ambient social pressure to make people behave. It works, I suppose, most of the time, but every so often a crowd of people on a street corner are all too happy to see nothing.