Brand building through storytelling

Unloved, unlovely, unwanted by thieves

It was one of those unloved, unlovely things you can pass every day without noticing what it is you’ve seen. A man’s bike, sheathed in duct tape and black paint, with a matted plush tiger tail dangling from each handlebar. The mismatched reflectors on its wheels suggested a joyriding kid, but the ungainly proportions of the whole apparatus had an air of desperation, of cast-off parts cobbled together into a Frankenbike. The rack held one of those red plastic bins that are designed for transporting milk cartons but in this case held someone’s worldly goods, tied into place with a frayed cotton sweater that had once been white.

I’m not sure when the bike first caught my attention, sagging against a post halfway up the block from our front door. A slushy day between winter and spring, most likely. We had just moved to this downtown Toronto corner in a neighborhood widely described as “up-and-coming,” which means we’re slightly closer to swanky home decor shops than we are to the Salvation Army shelter. I looked–really looked–at the bike and knew we weren’t living in Beemerland anymore.

I flashed on another thing, too: I’d walked past that bike countless times, and never once seen any sign of an owner. What I’d seen instead was the detritus bursting forth from underneath the sweater: sodden undershorts, a fast-food carton that oozed a blood-coloured trail.

Soon enough, I heard a rumour about the bike. Residents of the adjacent condo, mightily annoyed by the eyesore in their midst, had complained to the city. Next thing they knew, the building was vandalized.

I walk up and down this block at all times of the day, yet I still haven’t seen the bike’s owner. Sometimes I wonder who he is, and where he hangs out while tethering his wheels to this post, of all the other posts he could have picked instead. Has he left town? Is he locked up or dead? One summer day I saw his clammy belongings strewn all over the sidewalk, the sweater mangled like an accident victim. Was this someone’s idea of revenge, or just happenstance? I could have put on gloves and returned the whole sorry mess to the red plastic bin. I could have bagged it and thrown it away. A few days passed before it all disappeared, leaving the bike as pristine as it could ever be.

But not for long. Now passers-by are using the red bin as a garbage can. They’ve filled it with coffee cups and pop cans. Meanwhile cyclists all over the city are transfixed by the unfolding news story of a police bust that uncovered close to 3,000 stolen bikes. If you ride a bike downtown, the odds are that someone will steal it, no matter what kind of lock you have. One family I know (four avid cyclists) has collectively lost a dozen bikes to theft. And yet the black bike on my street is still hanging around, a phantom no thief would want.

Sometimes an absence has the power of a presence. I’m reminded of the riderless horse at certain presidential funerals. Empty boots in the stirrups point backwards, symbolic of the fallen leader surveying his troops. I’m not sure what to make of the riderless bike, with its pedals that, as far as I can tell, haven’t felt the weight of feet in God knows how long. I hope that whoever owns this bike has a place in the world more substantial than a metal post. Every time I pass the bike, I hold my breath for the unloved and unlovely. It’s so easy not to see them. But they’re all around me, as real as the click of my key in the front door of my loved and lovely home.

Posted by Rona

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