The Telltale Squeak


After a good 10-15 minutes of walking up and down the bicycle racks like a mildly insane person, looking for my trusty, rusty steed, I had finally given up hope. In a city of some 524,000 annual bike thefts (no joke), I had just experienced my first.

Or had I? Suddenly, faintly, almost plaintively, I heard the squeak.

Unmistakeable, as quiet as it was. I looked up to see a guy struggling to get on a bike while holding another one, getting ready to ride off into the masses that make up Amsterdam on a Saturday afternoon at the intersection of Spui and Kalverstraat, in the shadows of the American Book Center.

On any given weekend, this square is crammed with tourists and locals sitting on a bench, eating at a cafe, or heading to the shops nearby. Coupled with the messiest, most clogged bike parking areas this side of Centraal Station, it is the ideal place for a wannabe bike thief to go virtually unnoticed.

Enter the squeak.

I bought the cartoon dog horn several months ago for several reasons, practical and otherwise.

On the practical side, it helps me locate my own bike quickly in a sea of bikes. There are, perhaps unsurprisingly, very few white squeaky plastic dog horns adorning the handlebars of Amsterdam's cyclists. But this little dude had stood faithfully for months now, letting me zero in on his location quickly and efficiently.

On the intangible side, I decided to approach things strategically a few months ago; with almost everyone sporting a bell that rings at various levels of aggression in order to get people to move (trust me - a bell being clanged repeatedly right behind you on a bike by a cranky Amsterdammer is on par with a car horn bleating at you in your own vehicle while you are stalled in an intersection), a horn that sounds like a baby's bath toy is infinitely more pleasant. And more successful.

So why not defuse the everyday bike traffic situation by giving people (usually tourists) a little ee-oo instead? For months now, I have been able to delight these visitors while simultaneously getting them to move the hell out the way. It's been a win-win. A Schwinn-win, even.

In happier times

Anyway, back to the guy. Evidently, before biking off he wanted to take away any obvious markers, so the dog was the first to go. But little did he realize it was a squeaking dog, or that the squeaking dog's owner was standing there about 5 steps away.

So in short order he rips it off, the dog goes ee-oo, and I hear it, incredulous that my bike is right in front of my eyes. He is struggling to balance his bike with one hand while riding mine, and I dash over and pull the back wheel of the bike up.

It's a guy's bike, with the bar of the frame right there, and he is forced into a rather uncomfortable position. Suffice to say, at this moment we are both feeling testy.

He falls to the pavement, with both bikes clanging to the ground and some 100 onlookers wondering what is happening. I yell at him, something along the lines of "Hey man, this is my *(%@$#! bike" and he turns around, peering out from under a hood that was thus far obscuring what turns out to be the sad, sallow face of a junkie.

With his hands up in the international symbol for Ref, I didn't do it even though I clearly did it he says "Hey, I just bought this off a guy, I didn't know it was stolen."

Note that I was in the bookstore for maybe 10 minutes tops and certainly this was not enough time for the bike to have its lock picked, be stripped its removable parts, and then sold to someone else. So I doubted him.

I then said "I'll give you three seconds before I punch you in the *(%@$#! face" and he scooted away on his other bike right away, gone forever into the shopping and cycling masses.

Adding to my doubts about his innocence, I figured if he had just bought it from someone else, I highly doubt he would have let me threaten him into giving me a bike by words alone.

To be fair, I'm not sure I would have punched him in the *(%@$#! face, but it sounded impressive and sufficiently tough. It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I didn't think of all the things I could have done, but the end result was satisfactory.

In hindsight, maybe it was his sad, impoverished face that held me back from bopping him; or maybe it was the fact that he was the same height as me and I'm just not that tough; or perhaps it was the new jacket that I had on and didn't want to ruin. I'll never be quite sure.

In any event, I have my bike back and am very thankful that somehow this idiot decided to bike directly past the spot where he stole the bike from 10 minutes earlier.

Alas, in all the excitement, I forgot one thing. The dog horn.

Squeak on, little buddy, squeak on.