When I went on a ramble about my history with utility bills, I had made mention of the fact that my family and I had just moved to a new part of the world that none of us had ever lived in, let alone visited before: the desert. Previously, we had lived in Japan as a part of the US military.
Prior to our departure from Japan, one of my former co-workers had expressed to me his hopes that the culture shock wouldn’t affect us too greatly. Naturally, I didn’t know what he was getting at so I asked him to unpack what he meant.
He legally lives in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman. What he had meant when he was expressing his hopes for my family and I was what you all probably all ready realized. My family and I had been living in Japan for three years at that point. On top of that, we were living on a military base. For the uninitiated, military base living isn’t glamorous. If anything the best part about military life was that everyone is expected to behave themselves at all times.
My coworker was aware that my family and I would be living off base for a year and amongst civilians for the first time in close to a decade. On top of that, the majority of the population that my family and I had interacted with were of Japanese descent. While the Japanese population numbers are high, the majority of the Japanese behave themselves in a respectful manner because:
- It’s common decency.
- It’s built into their culture.
My coworker had visited his own family back in the States multiple times since the beginning of his marriage. Every time he’d come back to the States, he’d have a hard time enjoying his time there because we Americans, can be a singularly self centered lot. His wish was that we have an easier time adjusting to that than he ever did.
At the time, I didn’t put much thought into what he was getting at. I was packing up my home and my employment was coming to a close. It was obviously very nice of him to show concern like that, but really, how much adjustment would we need to do?
Famous Last Words
Finding a home in the Phoenix area was proving to be a bit of a problem. This search had resulted in my wife and I making the decision to move our family into an apartment for our year in the desert. After the dust had settled from the movers cramming a four bedroom home into a three bedroom apartment, I had set about downsizing.
It wasn’t easy. And it took the better part of two months.
What a lot of single people and couples don’t seem to realize is that no matter how “minimal” you live, you will always accumulate junk and stuff that you know that you won’t use, let alone have a need for, ever.
When you apply that to yourself, your significant other, and any children that you may have, in my case three kids, that’s a lot of stuff.
In order to make a bit of breathing room available for myself and my family, I had made a point of storing our bikes outside of the apartment. There were bike racks all throughout the property. I figured that I ought to take advantage of it.
So I bunched all of the bikes together and locked them with the shitty, little coil locks that I had bought when we were living in Japan.
Fun Fact: In an effort to deter theft, you, regardless of your race and placement within the land of the Rising Sun, you are legally required to register your bike with the bike seller. When you do that, you fill out paperwork and have an impossible to remove, decal placed on your bike.
I opted for the shitty locks because I was the only member of my family that rode off base regularly. On top of that, if your bike did get pinched when it was on base, 100% of the time it was by some asshole kid who went joy riding and you could always find your ride relatively close to where you “left” it.
So the bikes lived outside for those first couple of weeks.
When I managed to get the inside of the apartment into a workable shape, I broke the bunch of our bikes down from one group, into two groups. My thinking was that the kids would never ride their fucking bikes if they had to move three other bikes just to get to theirs.
Two days later, I woke up to three out of 6 of our bikes missing.
That morning, I fully understood what my coworker was getting at.
The Morning in Question
I was the first person up. Some time during the night, my wife had gone out to the living room and had fallen asleep on the couch. Our bedroom, the master bedroom, has a sliding door that lets you out on the back porch. Our back porch is five feet away from where I had grouped and then re-grouped my family’s bikes.
Suffice it to say, when I had opened the blinds and saw that someone had helped themselves to our bikes, I was fucking pissed.
What made my discovery worse was the fact that our apartment complex is gated. There are pedestrian gates and automobile gates of which, you’d need a key, or key card to access. I had happened to regroup the bikes on the same week that the automobile gate had broken and was left in the open position. Oddly enough, this was also the same week that my wife and I had noticed a lot of “new” faces that we hadn’t seen before, or since.
Culture Shock Achievement Unlocked!
So not only did I commit a rookie mistake most foul, I also had zero proof that the three bikes stolen from us were in fact ours. Two out of the three bikes were bought in Japan. I have the receipts but everything on them is in Japanese. The third bike was bought off of my brother 20 years ago. And no, I had no photos of any of the bikes in question. Filing a police report would be useless.
After I had gotten over my anger, I was gifted with a relatively lucid thought: none of the tires had air in them and the two bikes that were bought in Japan had Japanese tubes in them. Meaning that, whoever jacked them wouldn’t be able to ride them adequately unless they replaced the tubes.
It wasn’t hopeful but I had to try. So I threw on clothes and tiptoed past my wife and out of the house without waking anyone.
The game is afoot!
I found my wife’s bicycle 30 feet from our home.
Most Japanese bikes come standard with a mounted ring lock over the back wheel. You’re not going to cut through a lock like that. On top of that, there’s no way that you can pop the lock off without crippling the bike. Our bike thieves saw this after the fact, and as a parting fuck you they had severed the brake lines and gear shifters.
Finding my wife’s bike had spurred on so I kept walking. After a thorough inspection of my apartment community, I came up empty handed. Undeterred, I widened my search to include the surrounding residential blocks.
What an Acai Bowl Is
Of course, my luck did not progress past finding my wife’s bike. It was after 8 in the morning and the temperature had all ready been climbing steadily past 90 degrees. I had looked by dumpsters, down alleyways, behind stores, and in the yards of suspicious looking homes. All for naught.
Eventually, my thoughts returned to my wife and how she’d be up by the time that I’d be back. On the scale of shitty things to wake up to, waking up to the realization that you have been the victim of petty theft, is a shitty thing to wake up to.
“So why not soften that fact with breakfast?”, I thought.
And then I remembered the Acai Bowl place, Berry Divine. We had been back in the country just shy of two months. Neither of us knew what an Acai bowl was at that point. Even if it was shit, at least she’d have breakfast, right?
It wasn’t shit.
Basically, an acai is a berry. What Berry Divine does is freeze a bunch of the berries. Then they serve it in two forms: soft serve or… I don’t know what they other one is because I have always gotten the soft serve. There’s different types of bowls that you can get that have different types of fruits, nuts, grains, and sauces. The point is that Acai bowls are good.
After being indoctrinated into desert hippie culture, I proceeded to make the sweaty march back to our apartment in order to deliver the “good news” to my wife.
Every step that I took back to our apartment served as a reminder of my naive tendencies. As I got closer to home I began to notice all of the obviously homeless men and women who had bikes of their own. Makes you wonder where they got those bikes from, doesn’t it? As I reentered our property, I began to notice all of the bike racks on the property that had no bikes in them. Sure it was hot as fuck at that point in the year, but I can see now that there were probably other reasons for the lack of pedal power.
To her credit, my wife took the news a lot better than I did. I’d like to think that waking up to breakfast helped but I know that of the two of us, she’s the more realistic of us when it comes to matters like this.
Later that day, my wife and I went to Target and purchased real bike locks that couldn’t be cut off or hacked through. Having the worst of it behind me, I regrouped the bikes into one lump and locked them up.
A week later, I went to assess the status of the bikes that were left behind. I had had time to cool off plus I figured that some general maintenance was in order. In that time, someone had come back to helped themselves to the front tire of one of the remaining bikes. Fuck you, Tempe.
In the end
My coworker was dead on when he spoke to me of culture shock. None of the aforementioned bullshit would have happened in Japan, let alone on an armed forces base. The worst part about the whole experience wasn’t having the bikes stolen nor was it blowing smoke up my kids asses about where my bikes went.
The worst part about the whole ordeal was the realization that it was all my fault. I should have known better. I should have paid attention to the bums on bikes and the lack of bikes in our general area and put security ahead of unpacking. But I didn’t. I don’t think that I can be blamed, right?