Monday, October 4

tandem bike

Today some space-cadet accidentally commandeered my bicycle while I was shopping. I came out of the supermarket and unlocked my bike. I just use a cheap cable lock through the back tire, and not even through the frame. That's what most everyone else here does. I think there's not much bike theft.

So then I went to pull my bike out of the rack and it wouldn't come. It was stuck on something. I looked down and saw someone had locked their cable lock around my front tire.

As in the stages of coping with a death, my first reaction was disbelief. The lock isn't really locked around my tire, is it? It's just a lock someone left behind on the rack, and it has snagged my tire, right? I look closer. Nope, it's definitely locked around my tire. Is this some kind of bike stealing trick, where the person who locked up my bike hopes I'll leave and forget to fasten my lock again, and then they can come and take my bike?

This all makes more sense if I admit this isn't really my own bike. It's a bike that I've checked out from the research center where I work, CERN. Thousands of people work there, and they have a hundred or so bikes to check out. Most everywhere I go around here, I see these bikes. They stand out from other bikes because they're so uncool. As one of my colleagues said who also has one of these bikes, they're so uncool they've almost come full circle to being cool again.

First off, as my housemate observed when he first saw my bike, "It's for women." I told him, "Yes, all the bikes of CERN, it is like this." (My French ain't so good.) They're cruisers, which force you sit up straight while you're riding. Plus they're bone white, and have a little bell on the handlebars for kindly alerting pedestrians that they're about to be run down. It makes me feel prim and proper when I ride my bike, like people in old black-and-white photos wearing suits or nice dresses when riding one of those super old school bikes with a giant tire in the front.

So there's a lot of these bikes around. I wouldn't be surprised if someone mistook my bike for theirs. I've done it before: I tried to unlock the lock on a bike and it didn't work, and then I realized it was the wrong bike.

But how do you lock up the wrong bike? When I came out of the store, another guy with a CERN bike that had parked next to me was just leaving. Once I realized what had happened with my bike, this guy was long gone. Had he accidentally locked the wrong bike? How long would it take him to realize? Would he come back?

I looked around and noticed another CERN bike, this one with no lock at all. I'd found my culprit. This bike was down at the other end of the bike rack, but the only thing I could figure was this person had somehow accidentally locked my bike instead of theirs. It's safe here, but still I didn't think someone would intentionally leave their bike unlocked.

I decided I'd have to wait, but I hoped it wouldn't be too long. I pulled out a plum to snack on. (They're called "prunes" here, even when they're fresh. It's like how suit is called a "costume": kind of the same, but a bit off.)

What kind of person would this be, who somehow locked up a bike 10 feet--sorry, three metres away from their own? I decided it must be some absent-minded physicist. After about fifteen minutes, a man walked out of the store who looked like a good candidate. Balding, with a few strands of hair strewn across the dome of his head, he walked toward the bikes, as if in a daze, first walking toward the parking lot where I was, then turning toward a covered area where they keep the shopping carts, on the other side of a metal barrier from where I was.

He looked down at the my bike tire with confusion. I asked him, "Do you speak English?" in English. (I was going to ask in French, and then I forgot to.) Still staring down, he quietly said yes, as if I'd asked him some kind of off-hand question of no importance, rather than a question that could lead to others. It's not like I was there taking a survey of shoppers to see what languages they speak.

He was still looking at my bike, so I said, "This is my bike here. Someone locked their lock around the tire. That bike over there isn't locked, though. Is that your bike?"

I was waiting for an ah-hah moment, for an apology, for an embarrased smile. None of these came. The man looked back and forth and said nothing. He still seemed confused. I waited. What else was there to say? Did he think I was lying, that this bike I was standing next to was not in fact mine? Did he think I was a bike thief with my own overly-elaborate plan for stealing someone's bike?

Then he said, "OK," and reached down and unlocked my bike. He still looked uncertain, though, and hadn't apologized. I didn't want him to think I was trying to pull something over on him, so I asked him again, "Is that your bike over there?"

He said, "I think so. It looks like my bike." He spoke with a heavy accent that was hard to place, partly because he spoke so quietly. Russian, perhaps. But he still hand't moved toward the bike that appeared to be his. This was too weird, so I just told him thanks and got on my bike and rode home quickly so I could put my frozen pizza in the freezer.

And my gender for this story:
Female Score: 2473, Male Score: 1916
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!


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