At 7:15 last night, we pulled into our driveway with our mission accomplished. Pedro, my Jamis road bike, had come home. Score one for the good guys.
It’s a just bike – an organized compilation of nicked up aluminum, carbon, and steel. I rode Pedro in my first Ironman and it’s a symbol of accomplishment and drive for me. I deserve to have it.
A couple of weeks ago, a fellow Mad Cow that lives down the street announced through our team distribution list that a couple of no-gooders swiped his commuter bike from his front porch. I saw Keith later that week and expressed my sympathy. As only Keith can do, he said – “Susan thinks its good karma because maybe the frame had a crack in it or something…” I keep Pedro in my carport, away from plain sight and locked with a steel gauge cable. After Keith’s episode, I thought about moving him to the backyard or inside. The backyard is hugely inconvenient and I already keep George (my racing bike) inside with full cooperation from Lena. A second bike would be a little much to handle, let alone the clutter.
Last Wednesday at work, I looked down to my cell phone to realize I’d missed three phone calls and had two texts. I read the first text from Lena – “Pedro stolen.” Fuck. I felt like a real dumbass. Could have been easily prevented with minimal work and instead I chose the lazy route. After a couple of phone calls, Lena learned that the Davis police ask you to fill out an online police report for stolen bikes and Beth at B&L Bike Shop where I bought Pedro, emailed me the invoice with the serial number to verify ownership.
I registered Pedro at www.stolenbicycleregistry.com and started a Craig’s List watch. Thanks to an email story posted to Keith’s group announcement, I’d read how someone had recovered their bike by scouring Craig’s List and ultimately confronting the seller. When I chatted with Keith last week, he’d mentioned that he heard stolen bikes often end up in Chico. I checked every Craig’s List from Redding to Humboldt to San Francisco to Fresno. Wednesday afternoon I saw a post from Chico for a used bike shop so I called up there. No luck. Saw another post in Monterey that a bike was found. I called. It wasn’t mine.
I wanted to be optimistic, but I already felt this would be fruitless, but still I hoped… (“C’mon 10!”) My work environment is busy and we had a big Pints and Paint party that night. I didn’t want to seem out of sorts so I pushed this bad news out of my head. I kept on my Craig’s List search Thursday and into early Friday, but by Friday afternoon I was busting with work stuff and prepping for my half-ironman race on Saturday. After yardwork chores on Sunday, I plopped on the couch and gave the Craig’s List search another run, starting from Chico and working down the list. When I got to San Francisco, there it was! On a Fairfield post from Friday! No question. The photo even showed by Ironman sticker on the seat post that I never removed.
I called the Davis police immediately to report my findings. The case that I entered on Wednesday still hadn’t shown up in the system so the dispatcher sent an officer (Sean) over to my house in a matter of minutes. I showed Sean the ad and explained the custom components of the bike to verify ownership. He told me that he would log the case and it would be up to the detectives on Monday morning as to whether or not they wanted to take the case.
But there’s my bike. I can verify it’s mine. The post is from Friday and he’s selling a $2500 bike for $800. We need to move on this.
I asked Sean about confronting the owner. According to him, some people just go and buy their own bike back.
He was very clear that he was not suggesting that I do this, and that I should be careful should I decide to take action on my own. The challenge is that the seller can simply tell them that he bought it a day ago from someone else for $400 and is a savvy business guy turning a profit, so then he can claim ownership without reservation. Then the bike ends up at the courthouse as evidence until trial and adjudication. I told him – “I don’t care if it sits for three years as long as that guy doesn’t have it.” Sean was very patient and sympathetic and said – “Hey if it was my property, I’d want it back too.”
But that’s the system. I called my sister, an officer in New Jersey and who has been a detective. She suggested showing up to the station on Monday morning “because then they have to deal with you.”
Now what? It’s Sunday night. The ad is already 2 days old and the bike is selling for 33% for a new replacement. Well, Lena and I set up a phone number through my Skype account with a (510) area code. We figured the thief would Google inbound phone numbers if he’s selling hot items and my phone number is everywhere because of work. I prepared a story about myself – I was Steve and lived in Berkeley. I was just getting into cycling and it looked like a good bike. I wanted to check out the bike on Monday afternoon.
From my computer, I called the number on the ad and got a generic voicemail so I left a message around 6:15pm on Sunday. A couple of hours passed and I received a voicemail notification on my phone. The dude called back! He still had the bike! I called him back and we agreed on Monday afternoon around 4pm for a meetup, and that I’d call him on Monday to confirm. Then he gave me his home address in Fairfield. Wow – this was going to be easier than I thought. I sent this additional information by email to Sean to append to the case for the detectives. I did some of my own snooping online to see if I could do a reverse look-up on the home owner. I paid $2 for a report that was worth about $2… But at least I knew where my bike was with a plan to see it tomorrow afternoon.
Davis Police, Monday AM
8:15am – Arrive at the Davis police station.
8:20am – I’m told by the clerk behind the glass that Detective Pham can’t do anything until the case has been logged by the officer. Sean was on his way back to the station.
8:45am – Sitting in an interview room, Sean thanked me for this additional information and when the detectives were finished with their morning meeting, he’d let them know. Once he had more info from them about whether they’d take the case, he’d update me. Huh? Yes, hugely frustrating. I understand the system and resources and that it’s just a bike. There are assaults and more important crimes on people that take priority. Just seemed to me that this one would be an easy one to knock off the list. I told him that I felt compelled to take action on my own and perhaps endanger myself, potentially causing a much bigger incident for the police to handle. He said he understood and told me that if I do go that route to be careful. I left more frustrated and feeling that I needed to handle this one on my own.
9:30am – Back home and starting to think about what I needed to do next.
At this point, I was resigned to the fact that I needed to handle this myself. I spent time Googling for bodyguards and executive protection. If you’re ever rich and famous, you’ll need to plan ahead for such services. Hard to find and there are knuckleheads running these operations. Many of these are single person shops brokering transactions with guys they know in other parts of the county. One guy was particularly helpful though and suggested that I call the local police department to request an off-duty police officer.
I called the Fairfield police and spoke to Gabrielle in administration to request an off-duty officer, who transferred me to Stephanie in dispatch. I explained to Stephanie that I was purchasing an expensive item from Craig’s List and that I would like to an officer there with me. I didn’t want to get into the whole stolen case because I worried about jurisdiction problems with it being a Davis case and the goods in Fairfield. (I figured I’d just tell the guy when I met him for the bike that we both know this is stolen and either he can give my bike back now, or we call the police. And oh by the way, this guy with me is an off-duty police officer.) Stephanie said they couldn’t provide an off-duty officer, but could possibly provide a “civil standby” and that I should call back about an hour before and she’d do her best to arrange this. She was careful to manage expectations though. Afternoons were busy and it’d already been a busy day.
I was skeptical that resources would be available to provide a standby and so I began plotting. I reserved an SUV from Enterprise. My plan was this – Lena and I would drive to the neighborhood and she would park around the corner. I’d walk up to the house and check out the bike. Then I’d change into my cycling shoes and ride off with the bike to Lena’s location. Throw the bike in the truck and we’d go. I was stealing it back. My main concern was that the guy would chase us in a car or do something else stupid to me. Risky, but I thought if planned correctly, could work out.
1:30pm – Sean phoned to update me on the case. The Davis detectives would not be able to work on the case today and tomorrow was questionable. He did contact the Fairfield police to ask about the neighborhood and he shared that neighborhood was a good one – not shady or seedy. I’m not sure this is what Sean was saying, but I certainly heard from him was this situation require my personal intervention and I should consider taking this on my own.
2:30pm – I talked to the seller to confirm for 4:00-4:30. Said I’d like to take it for a little test ride if that was okay. “Sure” he said. I called Lena to let her know the plan. Turns out that Lena separately called the Fairfield police and was more truthful – she said that needed a civil standby to recover stolen property. She was instructed to call about an hour ahead of time. We agreed I’d pick her up at school at 3:15 to get the rental car and head to Fairfield.
3:30pm – Sitting in our rented charcoal gray Dodge Durango, we called the Fairfield police to arrange the civil standby. Stephanie instructed me to call again when I was close to the location and she would have officers meet me if they were available.
On the way to Fairfield, we discussed contingencies. If the officers weren’t available, I was going to very peacefully confront the guy and if there was any resistance, I’d walk away. I can’t confirm nor deny I’d keep with this should things pan out this way, but that was the plan. We also thought we should know where the Fairfield police department was located in case the seller pursued us or we needed to get there.
4:00pm – From a school parking lot about a mile from the house, we called Fairfield police again. Stephanie said to hold tight and she would send over an officer somewhere in between 5-30 minutes from now.
4:28pm – Two!! officers arrived. From the drivers seat talking to the first officer, I immediately knew this plan was going to work. This dude looked determined and tough. He asked me directly – “Are you SURE this is your bike?” “Yep – I custom components make it very easy to verify.” I told him about the police report and actions I’d taken in Davis. That Davis PD wasn’t able to do much because of resource constraints, so we discussed the plan.
I would drive up to the house and check out the bike. I wanted to get the bike out in the open because if I showed up with police, the seller would simply say – “there’s no bike here” and without a search warrant, we’d be stuck. Once I saw the bike and verified it was mine, I’d call the officer’s cell phone and act like it was a friend or my wife and say – “Hey honey – this is a sweet bike. Is it okay to spend the money?” Then, the officers would swoop in on the scene. Whatever happened to that guy didn’t matter. I would have been just as good with a good talking to and a slap on the wrist. I just wanted my bike back. (Not exactly Mel Gibson, you know?)
It’s go time
I left Lena back at the school parking lot and I was on my way.
4:40pm – The seller answered the door. Let’s just say he didn’t have a cyclist’s physique. He said to meet him at the garage. The door opened. Ahhhhhhhhh! There was Pedro. Or so I was pretty sure. He cleaned it up and adjusted the seat height. For a moment, I had doubts – maybe this wasn’t Pedro.
He walked out the garage and started chatting before I could get next to the bike. I said – “Man, this is a nice neighborhood with the hills and trees.” “Yeah – I like it. Secure too with cameras and gates and everything. I live here with my girlfriend.”
I looked at him and said – “Wel- this is her huh?” “Yep – there she is.”
“You said in the ad she was light.” I walked over and then I saw the scratches on the frame and derailleur. Then I looked at the right side gear shifter. He pointed out – “Yeah – my kid knocked it over so it’s a little bent but it works great.” I looked down for the registration sticker but couldn’t find it. I was a little nervous but I knew right about now that this guy was going down.
“OK to take it for a little spin?” “Sure.” I walked back to the truck, grabbed by cycling shoes and put them on. Clipped in and said – “the neighborhood just winds around right?” “Yeah.” So I turned right and off I went. As I was riding away, he was walking across the lawn watching me and I heard him say – “Are those police cars?” I turned the corner so he couldn’t see me and called the officer – “This is it. This is the one.”
I turned around and headed back to house to watch two police cars come screaming around the corner and they had the guy sitting on the curb in a matter of seconds. I rode back and unclipped. The first officer asked the guy – “When did you get the bike?” “About a month ago?” “That’s funny because this bike was reported stolen three days ago in Davis.” The officer looked at me “Is that your bike?” I looked down and saw the registration sticker this time. He moron left it on!! My name was still on the bike. “Yep – it’s mine. My name is right here!”
The next thing I heard was – “You’re under arrest for possession of stolen property.” One officer cuffed him, the other stood with taser in hand.
The officer instructed me to put the bike in the truck and go back to where we met earlier and wait.
I looked at the guy and said – “I mean you no ill will. I just wanted my bike back.” He looked strangely confused. Driving away, I tried to snap and picture and ended up with a crappy 3 second video of the officers. Heading back to the school lot, I felt an exhiliration and satisfaction I’ve never experienced. I realized I’d won and that bastard lost.
Back at the lot, I pulled up and opened the hatch to show Pedro to Lena. We smiled as she was talking to her Dad on the phone explaining the story in real-time. Then my sister called for an update. I hadn’t talked to her since last night. Gave her the good news.
We waited about 30 minutes, with some mild paranoia that some gang banger was going to come get us. When the officer arrived and hopped out of his car before he could say anything, I said – “I can’t express to you how appreciative I am right now.” He just smiled and said – “I love getting those guys.
“You should be proud of yourself. A lot of people get stuff taken and just figure there’s nothing they can do. The fact that you scoured Craig’s List to find it. This guy doesn’t even know what just happened. And to get nabbed by the actual owner of the bike? That awesome!”
I looked the officer straight in the eye and said – “He fucked with the wrong guy.”
We did some last reports and a couple of pictures. My favorite is me in front the bike with the officer telling me – “OK – now smile nice and big on this one. This one’s for the court.” (Lena snapped a side picture of this one.)
We did some last reporting and I learned that this guy is looking at prison for grand theft. Turns out this sort of thievery ring is rampant. Guys like him pay teenagers to work all night stealing cars, bikes – anything. He pays them pennies then resells them for dollars. This guy own an Escalade and hasn’t had a job for more than five years. And he was fired from his last job for stealing. Shocking. “The little guys that we catch stealing the stuff is no big deal. You got a big fish here.”
As we pulled out of the lot to head home, I looked and Lena and said – “We’re going to be telling this story for a looooong time. ‘Grandma – tell the story about the bicycle thief again!'” Pulling on to the highway, Lena said – “I feel protected and served.”
The drive home to Davis was still a little nervous. We joked about getting a speeding ticket. We talked about how freaking stupid this guy was and how we got him. Between stories, we sat with silent satisfaction, both kind of grinning and thinking about how the good guys won for a change.
The thief has a 9-year-old son. I wonder what happens to kids like that. Seems unfair that they have a douchebag for a dad and I get my parents who taught me right and wrong.
Many thanks to everyone that chipped in to bust the case – Sean at Davis PD, Beth and B&L, friends I emailed and called to see if anyone knew a detective with Davis PD that could call in a favor, the Fairfield police department, my sister, and of course, my wife. As Monday progressed, Lena became more and more convinced that we needed to confront the seller ourselves. That made me proud. She’s tough and I’m glad she’s on my team.
We returned the rental car that we probably didn’t need but were happy to have and headed home. The Colbert Report and Family Guy were just a little bit funnier than usual and I slept really well that night – we were protected and served.