Three Lessons I Learned from Stealing a Tricycle

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Most people spend their summers swimming, going to concerts, etc. Not me. I’ve been in bed for 25 days because I broke my leg on a stolen trike. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. … It’s also not that simple.

I’ve been wanting to make some kind of statement, and I’m happy the Flyer gave me the opportunity to formally let everyone know what happened. I’ve been hearing rumors, and that makes me nervous so I want to address them.

Here goes.

I thought I was rescuing the tricycle. I know, I’m a weird guy. I’m someone who keeps a look out for discarded items that may still be of use, like lumber poking out of a demolition dumpster or clothes thrown away by departing students each year.

You can imagine how exciting it was for someone like me, a huge nerd for sustainability and reuse, to discover an abandoned cargo tricycle – what a find! Sure, I knew it would take a couple of hours to get it working again, but I didn’t mind putting the time in. I considered it community service, and I thought I was going the extra mile to keep our community looking good.

I was even proud of myself when I cut the chain and walked it home. After I got it fixed up, I did like most men do when they get new toys: I couldn’t stop showing it off. I rode it to City Hall, to the Farmers’ Market, and around campus. I showed it to everyone who came over. The tricycle was unique, and I liked the conversations it generated with people. I liked it enough that I made plans to replace some of the parts, clean the rust off, and give it a new coat of paint. I even took it to the shop to have it looked at.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the tricycle wasn’t abandoned, it just seemed that way. Here’s what happened… When I first saw the tricycle on campus, I was interested in how it was put together, so I took a look at it to see if I might be able to build one. Over a semester and a half, every time I visited campus, I noticed it hadn’t moved, and I watched the tricycle deteriorate to the point it became unsafe to ride and finally completely broken down. There was no doubt in my mind it had been abandoned.

I didn’t find out it was stolen until after I got home from the first hospital visit and went back to unchain it from the scene of the injury. A police officer met my fiance there and came to my home to explain it had been reported stolen. I was surprised to say the least, and I asked the officer to give my contact information to the owner so I could explain my misunderstanding and that I was glad to give it back. I also wanted to make sure the owner knew the dangers of the tricycle, since I had just broken my leg with it.

I knew I messed up. I knew immediately that I should have reported it lost+found to UA Transit or UAPD, but instead I became a recycling vigilante and just went to work salvaging a tricycle without speaking to anyone.

It was my mistake, and realizing that served as an important lesson: check your facts before you act, because what is a rescue to one person might be theft to another.

Fortunately, this has all been for the best, and there are at least two more lessons I learned. You see, I broke my leg when the tricycle malfunctioned, and even though I’m facing five-digit medical bills and I haven’t been able to fix my own meals until a few days ago, it may be one of the best things that has happened to me. When I first found out the tricycle was stolen, I thought it was poetic justice that I broke my leg, but it turned out to be some kind of karmic opportunity.

Most people who know me know how busy I am with various projects. I’m way into green energy and the Internet and I’m on the City Council and blah blah blah…

But people who are very close to me know the truth: that I’ve been bordering on burnout for a long time. Breaking my leg has given me time to reflect on my life and my goals, and now I feel a certain alignment with my priorities and personal energy. In the past few days that I’ve felt well enough to work (having just undergone surgery), I’ve felt more productive than ever. I’m finally clear-headed again, and I’m able to focus on what’s important to me.

Lesson two: it’s vital to take time to reflect and get your life in order, otherwise stress will keep you from your dreams and goals.

And regarding the tricycle being stolen, that’s worked out fine, too. The owner and I are on great terms, having spoken several times. She even invited me and my fiancé to attend her roller derby battle this weekend. I could almost – but not quite – describe the return of the tricycle as “kumbayah.”

Lesson three: Fayetteville has some great people who are understanding, and I’m fortunate to live in this great community.

Still, everyone being understanding is no excuse, and I know I made a mistake when I decided to take the tricycle home for repair. It’s obvious that I should have pursued things through official channels, and it sucks, and I feel bad about it.

Now, I’m just trying to lay everything out on the table so you can decide for yourselves whether or not you even care.

So there it is. There’s the story. I hope you understand, and thanks for listening.

Matthew Petty