Streets Paved With Luck Bicyclist1b.GIF
Relating to my bicycle throughout the streets of L.A. keeps me joyful. My pannier bags have cameras in them, dressy shoes, and lunch. My neck may have a tie around it. It is to freelance photography jobs I that pedal my bicycle for the newsletters of corporations and law firms.

I delight in my freedom from traffic jams, gas and parking costs. But another reason I pedal habitually to my clients is what I call "karmic" rewards of bicycling.

I find treasure in steets. If it is a ball near a court or a course, I throw it over the fence. But usually my catches are from such varied and commercial zones that no rightful owner can be determined. So I take home many a wayward jacket, shirt, glove or tool. Consequently, I always have something to give to charity.

Once in a local bike shop I overheard the neighborhood fry-cook ask to borrow a 9/16th inch wrench for his stove. The mechanic could not help him since bicycles lack nuts that size. Since I had found a dozen of that same size wrench on the streets of my town, I had one to give him. It may be a size endemic to those clumsy four wheeled beasts most people depend on.

A car dependent friend of mine once mentioned to me that he had lost his gas cap. "No problem," I said. "Give me a few weeks." Within one month of treading this fuming, chugging town by bicycle, I had encountered and collected from roads and gutters six odd-sized automobile gas caps, one of which fit perfectly my good friend's fuel snout.

There are also coins lurking on our pavement. All pedaling commuters see pennies and probably lots of silver coins which they may feel too rich and busy to stop for. I am not. Wherever I trade, clerks are puzzled by the number of chipped, discolored and often unreadable coins I pay with. This does not comprise what could be called an income. It just means my eyes are open. It makes me feel lucky.

I have also found wallets on the street. Four of them seemed to sneak under my front wheel over a four year period. As good natured as I am, I was disappointed to discover drivers' licenses among the credit cards and cash. As you would expect, most of those losers were extremely glad to get their treasures back from me. One young man whose wallet's entire contents were two twenty dollar bills and a library card said nothing was missing when I handed over his billfold.

"Wow," he beamed. "I can't believe it! Where on earth did you find it?" It was as though his entire life's work had been rescued. He hugged me, gave me one of the two bills, and phoned his mother from my desk to celebrate. Then he made me talk to her. Her voice also sounded jubilant, asking where I had found it.

"On Pico Boulevard," I said. "In front of the Newberry variety store."

"This really means a lot to Billy," she said. "You are a rare person."

One curious result of this encounter came from the aspiring casting director, Victor, who I was volunteering for at that time. When Billy first tried to phone me back at the office and told Victor about his luck, it was a shock to my schmaltzy talking, starlet bartering, ersatz producer boss, who claimed he would have simply taken the money out and dropped the unenveloped wallet in a mail box.

A year later I had left that office. I received a call from Victor saying he had recommended me for a position at an optical printing house, which eventually hired me. "They know how dependable you are," Victor said. "I told them about the wallet."

At the end of each day of labor, then as now, I return always to the rhythm of my loyal steed. Stroking down, pedaling round, and inhaling audibly through my clear nostrils, I advance toward the perfection of my system. My nerves, blood vessels and digestive tract are all tuned finer by my choice of exertion. Doubting I have time for the reading I would love, the sports I would enjoy, or the parties I am sometimes invited to, I never fail to exalt the many levels of meaning of my commute. And when once again some fresh or bedraggled, folded leather-crafted reservoir of currency catches my eye from somewhere near the curb, my brows and my cheeks go up. I smile. "Maybe my luck is finally here," I think. "Maybe I am getting something for free. Or maybe I just have a chance to play a part in someone else's luck. That is good too."

A young woman's name was indicated on some of the cards in the next wallet I found outside a small shopping center. There was no cash or phone number. I did not want to mail her the wallet with its many cards, lest she had recently moved, so I sent a post card. Then her husband phoned me cautiously. He wanted to be sure I was a finder and not a malicious thief, for her purse had been taken by a mugger. They expected the wallet to be sans cash and more of the cards that it was. Gratefully, the man brought me a loaf of his wife's home made pumpkin bread, when he came to pick up the wallet.

My next and oddest wallet find was on the lane where cars park on a street full of Japanese restaurants. Its owner turned out to be, of all things, a movie producer who would not respond to my message concerning his lost billfold. I later found out he was not too busy. Rather, because of how efficiently and quickly he had contacted his bank, the matter had totally left his mind. It was on my third call to him that I finally heard him personally say that he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. So I described the place and time of day. "Yeah," he said. "I go there for lunch occasionally. What about it?" My asking for the spelling of his name brought him the big realization. "Ohhh. Now I remember. Yeah you can bring it over if you want."

As I pedaled to his office, I vaguely hoped he would give me a job or something, and that I was not really foolish to return what seemed to be willfully abandoned cash which I definitely needed. No such luch. He generously shook my hand, and without looking in his billfold, banished it to some oblivious corner of his office, on a pile of mail he apparently did not intend to ever read. As he quickly returned to his momentous work, I humbly returned to mine.

Another higher up sort whose wallet crossed my passionate pedaling path through Hollywood turned out to be a well established architectural photographer whose work I admired. I was professionally shooting pictures for designer/contractors at that time. When I contacted and then pedaled to meet the owner of my find, he volunteered to me $40.00, a small fraction of his wallet's contents. He then gave me an extended tour of his studio and a perusal of his portfolio, complete with valuable tips and pointers about our mutual craft. Indeed that was a lucky find for both of us.

That was not the end of my reward. About two years later I visited Seattle, not by bicycle, regretfully, but by train, the next most environmentally sound mode I could get. With my dear family I roamed up and down the stairs of a crowded three story department store on the day after Thanksgiving. After viewing and trying on shoes and jackets and purses and pants, we all jumbled into the car and went back to my sister's apartment. When I found my pockets empty and mentioned my wallet was missing, a ripple of concern moved through my family.

"Check the car, why don't you?" "What was in it?" "Check the street next to the car." "Check your suitcase!"

We all checked. $200.00 had been inside, my very first Visa card, a calendar and an address book. My sister phoned the store. There was no sign of it, but she persuaded them to let the five of us come right back and search after the store had closed. We all retraced my steps as well as I could remember them. We looked in shoes, in pockets and under heaps of garments. We wrote a description and filled in forms.

My dad said, "There will come a point when you do not expect to find it." Somehow that made me feel better. He also gave me some money for the two day train ride back to L.A.

I had recently moved to a new address. Of course I had notified the post office, but when a former neighbor phoned me to say I ought to come pick up some mail at my old address, it seemed about normal that the post office had forgotten that I had moved. I did not expect more than junk mail, but I pedaled over anyway.

It was not junk mail. It was a small package from the Northwest. Without opening it I put it in my pannier bag, rolled my feet around the crankset at a slowly accelerating speed and hoped for what it could be. Finally at home I put the package on my desk under a spotlight and began to unwrap what seemed to be and was the brown leather of my Daytimer wallet. I opened it and saw the calendar and address book peeking out of their appropriate pockets. Then the other pockets revealed the cards and the cash. It was all there.

An unsigned note was included:

"Dear Mr. Swets: I found this while Christmas shopping in Seattle. I took out the money needed for postage. Merry Christmas."

It is not really our desires or our intents, I think, that determine our happiness. It is our actions. My pedaling around car-clogged L.A. automatically brings me happiness and is not motivated by a search for money. However, I would not be totally honest if I deny that I hoped for a reward whenever I found a wallet. But still the circumstances I ultimately experienced seemed greater and sweeter than ever I had hoped for.

I wrote to the Seattle Times to thank the stranger. My letter to the editor was published on Christmas Day. I hope whoever found my wallet read the paper. But even more, I hope he or she rides a bicycle.

by Ben Swets 1997
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composed by B.A.S Last updated 8 Apr 2005