Lately, I’ve made a habit of biking to Happy + Hale for the Big Green smoothie with whey protein. It’s to the point now where one of the employees knows my name, face and order from memory. Achievement unlocked.
My normal route takes me up Main Street, a shortcut through Duke East Campus, and pops me out on Broad Street right in front of WholeFoods Market. Perry Street gets me the rest of the way there.
It’s not uncommon to see a Ninth Street Flowers work truck parked next to the shop on Perry Street, usually loading and unloading inventory. Today was no different. As I biked by, a young man was rummaging through the white van. The only bike parking nearby is right in front of Yoga Off East so I locked up and then step up to the crosswalk. The white van turns the corner in front of me and pulls away, headed west down the Ninth Street shopping district.
It takes about five minutes for me to get my Big Green. Typically, I don’t linger. I get my smoothie, hop back on my bike, and take off. But today, I decided to take things slow. My grandparents, who I just visited in Portland, Maine last week, are still avid Wordle players and convinced me to re-engage the daily habit. I toiled away at the day’s five-letter puzzle while I finished my smoothie. Minutes later, one of the shop employees at Ninth Street Flowers pops out of the side entrance facing Perry Street.
“Did you see a white van out here?” he asked with a look of concern and confusion.
“Yeah!” I told him. “It drove off about 10 minutes ago headed down Ninth Street.”
“Are you serious?!” He was panicked.
He ran back into the shop, yelling at one of the other employees.
“Our van was stolen!”
He rushes back outside holding his phone, explaining to the 911 operator what had just happened. He tells them there was a witness. I give my best recollection of the past 15 minutes including a vague description of the driver. Just as we’re wrapping up, another one of the shop employees came outside. She was on the phone with her husband who happened to be driving nearby and saw the oddly familiar-looking vehicle.
“They found a white van crashed down on Broad Street in front of the dental office!” she yelled.
Without thinking, I hopped on my bike and sped off toward the accident. Clearly, all the Sherlock Holmes I read in Portland had gone to my head.
The husband was already on the scene along with about seven officers and a police canine examining the vehicle. I assumed they would want to talk to me, but mostly, I was just being nosy. The shop employee shows up shortly after, frantically explaining to the officers all he could about the situation. I told the husband that I’d been on the scene which is why I came down from the shop. He said the van was brand new: a temporary paper license plate was still on the back bumper. It was the third van in the last several weeks that Ninth Street Flowers would have to replace.
The officers found a Bruegger’s Bagels bag in the console of the car. Apparently, the console is where the keys had been left when the shop was loading and unloading the van earlier. The thief might have been monitoring the situation closely and saw his window of opportunity when the employees went back inside between loads. If you’re going to commit a crime, it’s best not to leave evidence. I’ve seen the movies. I know how this works. The shop employee told the cops he knew Bruegger’s had cameras.
“Well, they’re a private business so they aren’t required to show you their security footage,” the cop explained.
“I know them. They’ll show me,” he said confidently. A man on a mission.
There was nothing left for me to do, but I asked the officers anyway.
“Anything else y’all need from me.”
“Yeah, if you’ll just write your information down for when we process all this.”
My feelings about the prison industrial complex aside, it felt important that I help a local small business. I wrote my information down in what Oma would call “chicken scratch” and handed the notepad back to the officer.
Just as I was getting ready to pedal off, the officer, squinting at the pad trying to decipher my handwriting, asked, “Is your last name Laidlaw?”
I assumed he couldn’t make it out on the pad so I started spelling it out.
Before I could finish, he asked, “Is your dad Michael? The DJ?”
Now it clicked. What I took as the officer’s confusion was actually serendipity.
“Your dad and I used to work together!”
He gave me his name and explained how he used to work the cameras for the same production company my dad DJ-ed for when I was a kid (which is a whole other story that I’ll get him to share one day on one of the pods).
“This is gonna sound funny but… I knew you when you were in diapers.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot…” I couldn’t help but chuckle. Being in Durham my whole life makes this an inevitability.
He asked me more about my parents. We talked for a couple minutes.
“Tell your parents I said hi!”
“I’ll definitely do that.”
The word was ROOMY.