Saturday, June 23, 2012

Taken for a Ride

”Crime Stopper Patrol ”

It was just sitting there, smack dab in the middle of a heap of special bulk pick up garbage, lovingly nestled between a broken down baby stroller and an old beat up chest of drawers, and it was perfect. Maybe not perfect, but it had essentially everything a bicycle needed, two wheels, a chain, a handlebar and most importantly brakes. I was tempted to rescue it from the pile and use it myself. Then fear got the better of me. I've heard rumors of foreigners who had done the same and wound up on the wrong side of the law. Technically, once trash is put out on the street, it becomes the property of the municipal government. Taking it was tantamount to stealing, a felony perhaps. That's when I remembered Kevin and the unfortunate fate that most certainly befell him. 

Like me, Kevin was a foreigner, and like me he also attended the free Japanese language class taught by volunteer instructors at the neighborhood culture and sports center run by the city. We were unalike in many ways too. He was younger than I and also wiser. He had been living in Japan for nearly a decade when we met, and spent most of his time here in the US armed services on the island prefecture of Okinawa. I guess that's where he learned all the ins and outs about life in Japan and lucky for me he was willing to let me in on some of the secrets he had discovered during his long sojourn here.

One night while walking home from class he let me in on a little known transportation tip. 

"Did you ever see those bicycles that have the yellow tin plates with the writing on them?" 

I asked, "You mean the ones that say 'Bohan Patrol, Nantokanantoka Elementary School PTA (Crime Stoppers Patrol, Somethingsomething Elementary School PTA)'?"

"Yeah those," he said. "They are like shared bikes. If you see one with nobody on it, you can just take it, ride it around, and leave it wherever you want when your finished with it."

"No way," I said.

"Yes way," he assured me. "My girlfriend told me and she's Japanese."

Well that was good enough for me. It was pointless to argue the point any further. He had to be right about the bikes. He had just played the Japanese girlfriend card. It's the second most powerful trump card in the deck. There was no questioning his authority on the subject now. Still, before I actually tried testing his thesis, I decided to do a little extra research and asked around a bit.

No one I talked to had ever heard of anything like it, which could only mean one thing I surmised. Kevin, thanks in part to his girlfriend, was more in the know than I had previously thought. Yet, before hopping on one of the shared rides, I thought it would be best to check with one last source. I asked my wife, Em. I guess you could call her the wild card.

"What! Nooo way Jose," she said. "That's stealing. You'll get arrested. Those bicycles belong to people. That guy, whatever his name is, has abosolutely NO IDEA of what he is talking about."  

She seemed to be pretty confident about what she was saying. So I  thought I might rephrase her reservations to Kevin at our next Japanese class but he never showed. In fact I never saw Kevin again after that night he told me about the little known nationwide shared bike program. I eventually came to the realization that there could only be one explanation for his sudden and sustained absence. Perhaps Em was right. In the end I guess Kevin had been somewhat misinformed about the shared bicycles. Now looking back on everything he told me, it looks as if Kevin may have been taken for a ride.

Related post: Speaking the Same Language


  1. Nice story again. I like how you framed this and surprised the reader with a twist about Kevin's disappearance. Perhaps he just turned lazy, though, and dropped out of class? Honestly, bikes are so cheap that you might as well get your own. The throwaway bikes will likely be donated to Southeast Asian countries, so they aren't going to waste.

  2. Thanks! I hope you're right about Kevin. I liked him but I guess we weren't chummy enough to have exchanged email addresses or phone numbers. If we had I might have known exactly what happened to him but all I have now is my runaway imagination. Since the "Kevin incident" occurred, Yokohama City has implemented a real shared bike program. You can find the bikes near Yamashita Park and other touristy areas. I'm not exactly sure how the system works (but I bet Kevin would have known a lot about it). I think you may have to pay a rental fee or deposit to use the bikes. They are kind of spiffy looking bright red numbers and clearly identified for shared use. If I ever do see Kevin again, I'll have to ask him about them.