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MIT, be warned. The best bike thief of all time is on the loose and he’s ready to steal your heart. Huh? Let me explain.

I was getting a falafel at the Massachusetts Ave. food truck and I’d leaned my bike against some stairs a few feet away. When I turned around, it was gone. I looked around and saw some dude casually riding away with it. I sprinted out after him shouting, but he didn’t speed up. In fact he sort of just stopped and looked scared. I knew then that something wasn’t quite right, but hey, this was my moment to collectively “man up” for everyone who had ever lost a bike to a thief.

I cornered him and began berating him, falafel in hand. I was mad and ready for fisticuffs. A normal thief would have gotten defensive or simply run away. This guy just lowered his head and starting stammering that he was sorry and sobbed that someone had stolen his bike and that he needed to get all the way over to Cambridgeport. I immediately felt sorry for the guy. Honestly, I’d been planning on punching him or at least shoving him around a little bit, but man, poor dude. I decided to give him another excuse to ruffle some feathers and asked him how stealing someone else’s bike seemed like a good idea at the time. He just looked even sadder and said, “I’ll pay you …”

That confused the hell out of me. Pay me for what? Like, are you actually going to pay me for the bike in its entirety or pay me a pittance for having stolen my bike? This doesn’t make any sense. I’m so scared.

I looked at the kid. He had a laptop case. I asked him if he was a student here. If he had said “of course” or something, I would’ve asked for ID. But he just lowered his head and said, “Yeah … ,” really sad like, as only a depressed MIT student can. I couldn’t punch the kid now. I tried to lecture him some more, but my heart just wasn’t into it. He wove together such a sad tale of woe that I almost wanted to give him my bike. At a loss for words, I grabbed my bike and told him to run along home and feel better. That’s right, some guy tries to steal my bike and I say to him, “Good luck, I hope it all works out.” What’s wrong with me?

I wheeled my bike over to the sidewalk and sat down to think. After chewing on both the situation and my falafel, it finally fell into place. This guy was either the most brilliant thief of all time or just the saddest sap humanity has ever seen. I’m leaning toward the former. Everyone knows stealing bikes is easy as pie. Most people leave bikes lying around. You just have to pick one up and walk away casually. And around here, what’s less suspicious than a small dude with glasses and a laptop case?

The problem is that every fifth bike or so, the owner of the bike is actually right around the corner, getting falafel. So the most relevant skill for a bike thief is to not get arrested or beat up that fifth time. And this guy said all the right things to make me not want to punch him. Every time I asked him a question, he either made himself seem even sadder or just confused me to bits. Like when he said, “Why didn’t you lock up your bike?” really glumly. And I just thought, “WHAT? Wait, you’re blaming me for you stealing my bike?”

The more I thought about it, the more his story didn’t check out. He said his bike had been stolen and he had to get back to Cambridgeport, but he didn’t have a helmet with him. He said he was a student, but what student lives in Cambridgeport? And if your bike did get stolen, how could you conceivably rationalize just picking up some other person’s bike? Also, he clearly did not have a laptop in that case. It was most likely lock picking tools, but who would ever suspect a laptop case?

None of it made any sense. I just know that as soon as I walked away, he straightened his posture, put on cool sunglasses, and laughed maniacally on his way home to his lair full of stolen bikes. But then, if he’s that smart, why is he stealing bikes? What could possibly motivate someone smart enough to be at MIT to commit petty crime? Wait, how much is tuition again? 40K a year? I guess he’s taking a more literal approach to the term “free ride.”