Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stolen Bike

            No more bicycle sojourns in Santo Domingo. I dozed off for a minute on a park bench with the bike on its kickstand inches from my feet and it disappeared. Nobody saw anything.
            I went to the Tourist Police office in the Fortaleza and filled out forms. One of the cops there gave me a ride to the Destacamento of the Policia Nacional and I filled out forms there too. I walked back home through the Colonial Zone peering up and down the cross streets hoping to catch a glimpse of my bike.
            The next morning I printed up posters announcing a 3,000 peso ($70 USD) reward for the return of my bike and posted a bunch of them in the park where it was stolen. There are very few folding bicycles with 20-inch wheels in the DR which makes mine easy to spot from far away. A Haitian guy who lives in the area read one of the posters carefully and said that he had seen a limpiabota, or shoeshine boy, riding that very same bike and that he had seen me too but had not connected me with the bike. When I pinned my reward posters up on bulletin boards inside the two police stations they attracted a lot of attention. A wiry, shifty informant type who had been hanging out with the cops followed me out of the destacamento and asked for more details and a copy of the poster. He explained that bicycles stolen by limpiabotas generally wind up in either Las Cañitas or Guachupita, both notoriously tough barrios, and that he knew how to find it and get it back. I loaned him two dollars for bus fare. I haven't heard from him.
            In the days that followed I searched the streets of Santo Domingo where used bicycles might be bought, sold or traded. I was lead into back rooms of tire repair places and pawn shops where I looked for mine among piles of rusty-framed mountain, BMX as well as kid's bikes and trikes and scooters and roller skates and, incongruously, even a pair of ice skates. I visited bike stores in both fancy and poor barrios and I scanned the online classified listings for Bikes for Sale on, and I crept slowly in the guaguita through the maze of streets in Villa Consuelo where everything is for sale and piled on the street and spilling out of warehouse doorways-- from giant slaps of rough-hewn mahogany, to piles of wheelchairs, heaps of toilets and plumbing parts, tangles of used copper electrical cables, barber chairs, bales of used tee shirts, towers of cheap foam mattresses, pyramids of bolts of cloth, cut rate perfumes and gold filled jewelry. Forklifts and wheelbarrows crisscross traffic in the crowded streets carrying stacks of plywood, Masonite, 2x4's, tinacos and stacks of nested plastic chairs. Motorcycles everywhere. People say my chances are good of recovering the bike since it is practically unique here. On the bright side I have sold a few Airzounds in my meanderings.
            Two nights ago I got a call from an agitated guy asking about my bike and I eventually gathered that he had a similar one. We agreed to meet at the colmado on the corner. Santiago is short, blocky and intense with eyes that look in slightly different directions. He ordered a Bohemia beer which we shared while he excitedly related that he had just been riding his black, 20-inch wheeled folding bike through Parque Colón when he was apprehended by Sosa, the Chief of the Tourist Police in the Zona, because the bike looked just like the photograph of mine on the poster. Sosa is famous here and not for patience or compassion for thieves. It was lucky for Santiago that the brand of his bike, Bfold, was clearly decal-ed on the frame and that Sosa had a photocopy of my ad in his pocket that clearly stated the brand of the stolen bike as Retrospec. Santiago pocketed two copies of the poster and is hot to recover the bike for me and it turns out that he lives only two blocks from my apartment. I hope nobody mistakenly kills him for his Bfold thinking it is mine hoping for the reward.

            It has been more than two weeks now and I spend less time in the evenings sitting in Parque Juan Barón or Maria Eugenia de Hostos or Playa Guïbia or some other bicycle meeting spot with a copy of the police report in my pocket waiting for my bicycle to pass by. I think it may still appear perhaps months from now after all my posters have been torn down or dissolved by rain and time. I keep a scan of the poster and the police report in my cell phone just in case. Hopefully the phone will not be stolen before then

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

More Bicycle

            My Airzound bicycle air horn arrived and it is an extremely effective traffic control. You get about 60 short piercing bursts of penetrating honk out of each 100 psi canister of air and you can refill whenever you like using a gas station compressor or your own bicycle tire pump. It stops busses, dump trucks, motorcycles, cars backing out of driveways and startles pedestrians a half block away. Drivers opening doors in the street recoil back into their parked cars like turtles backing into their shells when the blast hits them. People who have heard me honk before call out from sidewalks or colmado entrances when I pass by, “Pita, pita!!!!” (or Honk, honk!!!) wanting to hear it again.
            I have imported 100 Airzounds from the factory in Canada. It is too many but it was the minimum order for the maximum discount. My apartment is full of them.

            My main selling strategy is to put 3 or 4 horns in my backpack and a sign on my bicycle and pedal through the city and its parks tooting occasionally to attract attention when I see a group of bikers. This is not a high percentage strategy since very few people here go out with 1200 pesos ($25 usd) in their pockets. I think of it as akin to the Theodore Cleaver plan, named after the Beaver's idea of sitting on the steps of a bank waiting for a nice old man to come out and give him a bunch of money. But you never know!

            Thursday I joined up with the group of about 75 cyclists for their weekly nighttime 30 km tour of Santo Domingo. They hire 2 Amet motorcycle cops, one of whom rides ahead and closes intersections to car traffic while the other brings up the rear of the peloton to collect stragglers. If a cyclist falls or gets a flat tire the whole group stops and waits. Front riders shout out, “Hoyo!” to warn of potholes or missing manhole covers. I honked my horn when appropriate and gave out my phone number to all interested.
            Interest in the Airzound is intense, but sales not so. Today I will go to Aro y Pedal, the largest bike shop in the DR with 10 stores scattered around the country, to try to sell wholesale.

Last week marked the 36th annual Vuelta Independencia International Bicycle road race in the Dominican Republic. 17 teams participated over 8 stages ranging in length from 196 Km to 84 km traversing the country.
            On Monday I hung around the start line before the race talking to racers and a few fans and when the gun went off the bikers were gone in seconds and on their way to Samaná 177 Km away.
            On Saturday the race returned to Santo Domingo and I waited near the finish line in the rain at Sambíl Mall. Talking to the official Timer I learned that each racer has a small computer chip attached to his front wheel that triggers a sensor at the exact millisecond that he crosses the finish line that communicates with the timer's computer. A half-hour before the racers were expected the electricity went out. A battered pick-up truck eventually dropped off a gas powered generator and the harried Timer heaved a sigh of relief. The route to the finish line on Avenida Kennedy, a large multi lane divided highway through the heart of the city, was in the right hand lanes but, about 300 meters before the finish, crossed through a space between the jersey barriers to occupy the three left hand lanes hugely complicating traffic control for the Amet police. Cars coming out of the mall's underground parking garage kept entering the bike lanes head-on and a motorcycle suddenly appeared in the crossover area causing the American who was leading the race, as well as a few others, to crash on the wet road. He finished roadburned and near last.
27th Febrero and Ave. Winston Churchill
Sunday marked the 8th and final stage of the race and consisted of fourteen 6 km laps down Avenida Lincoln, across Ave. 27 de Febrero, and up Avenida Churchill; finally an ideal scenario for spectators. I watched the start in a throng of about 50 aficionados and then biked down the empty closed-off boulevard to the first corner to watch the next lap on the inside turn. There were no barriers so I sat alone on the edge of the sidewalk and when the racers whirred past they were only a few feet from me and were going so impossibly fast that I could feel the speed and danger in my chest. After the bikers were clear and the support cars and the trailing ambulance passed I, and 3 other fans, biked to the next turn to await the passing of the next lap. And so on until we all arrived back at the finish line for the exciting conclusion of the Vuelta Independencia, to the relief of all.

If you are interested in purchasing an Airzound Safety Air Horn I can give you a good price.