Bike-riding thief makes off with loot, and a lesson

July 26, 2000|By Gregory Kane

HE WAS riding a bicycle up my block, the man in the red T-shirt and red shorts with the close-cut haircut and left eyelid that drooped ever so slightly. That's how I recognized him later.

I was toting a bag of groceries into the house. The rider was within feet of me.

"Excuse me," I said, looking at him as I crossed the street. I had left the car trunk open, as I always did when bringing in groceries. No need to close it. I live on a block of decent, hardworking, honest folks who wouldn't dream of stealing from their neighbors.

But Bike Man wasn't from my block. No sooner had I put down the bag and returned outside than a little boy across the street pointed to the rider.

"He just stole some videotapes from the trunk of your car!" the boy yelled.

I chased the villain as best my 48-year-old, out-of-shape and coming-off-a-bout-with-congestive-heart-failure body could. In an alley, I asked a guy coming from the direction of Park Heights Avenue if he had seen a man riding a red bike. When he said no, I figured the ride-by tape-snatcher must have gone in the direction of Reisterstown Road. I hopped in the car and took off after him.

The cost of the blank videotapes came to a piddling $10. My wife later chided me for going after a man - "in your condition" - for videotapes totaling such a measly sum. But it wasn't the cost of the tapes. When these offenses are committed, it's never about the money. Folks have criticized Christian Ludwig, the dental student stabbed to death this year after he chased an alleged purse snatcher, because, they claim, the purse wasn't that valuable.

But that's not what was on Ludwig's mind, or mine. We wanted to confront the sheer arrogance of the thief, the cockiness, the hubris, the mentality that you can just take something without consequences. Drug dealers and addicts have taken over corners in some communities, but law-abiding citizens have to draw the line somewhere and let even the pettiest thieves know some folks will confront their iniquity. I figured I'd let this cheeky bloke know that some folks might come looking for him.

I turned left from Oakmont Avenue onto Reisterstown Road. Right would have taken me north, eventually leading me into Baltimore's Jewish neighborhood. I figured it was a safe bet that Bike Man didn't go to synagogue.

Sure enough, a guy with a red shirt holding something in his lap was peddling south. I passed him and made a U-turn. I wanted to see his face to be certain I had the right man. As I approached him, I saw the same close haircut and drooping eyelid of the fellow who had ridden so close to me on my block. I made another U-turn and followed him.

I stopped for a red light at Reisterstown and Cold Spring Lane. Bike Man went through the light but had stopped about a block down at Boarman Avenue and Reisterstown Road. He was pulled to the side of the curb, apparently secure in the knowledge that he had gotten away with his caper. I could have run right into him, claimed my brakes failed, and sent him sprawling onto the sidewalk and then leaped from my car to take him on. But I just wanted to confront the guy. I pulled up to him as close as I could.

"I want those tapes!" I shouted at him.

His eyes lit up in terror and bewilderment as Bike Man no doubt wondered how I had found him and how severe a beat-down he was about to get. He whipped the bike up on the pavement and hopped on. He pedaled fiercely down Reisterstown Road, only to bump into a pay phone and go tumbling to the sidewalk. He leaped to his feet, turned the bike in the opposite direction and shot up Reisterstown, still clinging to the videotapes.

I hung a right at Grantley Road and another through an alley. I turned right again on Boarman but lost the fool when I hit Reisterstown Road again.

It was just as well. My job was done. Yes, I had terrorized a fellow human being over the theft of $10 worth of blank videotapes. But I didn't feel bad. Maybe the guy would learn a lesson that the next person who tracks him down after one of his thefts may not be as soft-hearted.

Besides, the laugh he had given me with his Steve Urkel pratfall was worth at least 20 bucks. I figured I was ahead $10.

And there was one other benefit: I doubt Bike Man will ride through my block any time soon.

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