Does everyone know the Sesame Street song about the people in your neighbourhood (or likely 'neighborhood' since it was an American show)? I even had a book about it. I remember reading about the dentist and the grocer. Or something like that. Anyhow, Sesame Street never mentioned the homeless, and let's face it, the homeless population is a pretty big part of most urban neighbourhoods.
And they are largely invisible.
This is neither a sympathetic or damning of the homeless post. It's just a record of a recent encounter I had.
One thing about the bike rally and training for it, although I found every single day of the rally and every single training ride to be an excruciatingly painful arduous torture, the experience did make me into a great city cyclist. I bought a city bike after the rally was over (I sit completely upright, it only has three gears, it has big, fat tires to negotiate street car tracks, etc.) and I ride it to my downtown office faithfully. I also ride on errands on week-ends. It's so freeing.
Anyhow, one Saturday in November I rode down to Yonge and Dundas, one of Toronto's main intersections, as I was attending a fundraiser that a good friend was hosting. It's a busy, somewhat sketchy area so I was a tad worried about leaving my bike there. I walked it over to the nearby university campus and decided to lock it there instead of right next to the huge shopping mall. As I was placing my bike in the bike rack, a nearby homeless dude was reading a newspaper and started chatting to me. Dude looked a bit rough (missing most of his front teeth)
"Oh hey. Nice bike. Is it new?"
I was taken aback that homeless dude noticed my bike at all. I'm not sure why I thought that a homeless guy would have no clue about bikes, yet I did. Anyhow, I confirmed that it was indeed reasonably new.
"Oh yeah. I can tell. I used to bike ride all the time. That's a great lock you have too."
I don't know what I said at this point. Probably babbling about how great bike riding was. Then he added, "But I stopped." As with disabled-actually-just-rude woman at my espresso moment, I was filling in the blanks with "I got in a bad bike accident", "my bike was stolen", "I have a back injury", etc.
He surprised me with, "I got tired of going to jail."
I think my answer to this was some sort of vacuous look on my face and a semi-nod as if to say, "Oh yeah, of course" while meanwhile realizing that I had no clue how one ended up in jail from bike riding.
His stream of thought clarified his statement for me...
"Yeah. You know that guy who stole all those bikes?"
Me: "Igor Kenk?" [at this point of this conversation Kenk had been charged but not convicted of bike theft]
"Yeah. Oh, I must have sold over 200 bikes to him in two years."
By now my two thoughts are, "Shit. Kenk must have known he was selling stolen bikes", followed closely by, "Shit. I so don't want to leave my bike here" What I in fact said was, "So, this is a really good lock?"
"Oh yeah. That's a great lock."
What the hell, if a reformed bike thief is telling me that I have a good lock, then my bike was about as safe as it can be left in downtown Toronto. I wished him a nice day, locked my bike, and went to the fundraiser. When I got back, dude wasn't there, but my bike was. I hope this guy manages to stay out of jail.