Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

What? You thought it was over? This was my first zombie story. It's a narrative without dialog, partly because I'm not good at dialog (something I've been practicing with an eye toward improvement) and partly because I really find Suzie unlikeable.

I was intrigued by the description of a popular cult movie as "three interlocking tales of mayhem" and I couldn't resist something in a similar vein. So if this is the first and Eddie's Tale is the second, that must mean a third is on the way. Expect it by Christmas. Bonus points if you can name the movie!

There's a good chance I'll re-work this piece, shortening it and adding dialog, but that will have to wait for some spare time.



Zombie Café

Suzy was a petite blond with shoulder-length hair, high cheek bones and an upturned nose. Her eyes sparkled and she was in the habit of lightly touching people as she talked. People assumed she was a cheerleader because she was always so perky. She flashed a winning smile. It was perfect camouflage for the shark within. Suzy was full time student, part time barista, and an opportunistic thief. Some people are only pretty on the outside.

She worked in Rachel's Café, where big painted letters spelled out the shop's name in the front window. Each letter included a little scene with lots of flowers, castles, unicorns, and other hippy trash. It was very artsy-fartsy and about as far as possible from the big, sterile corporate coffee house down the street. Mismatched furniture made it look like an second rate antique shop. She hated the job for its snobby customers and equally snobby staff. The manager was overly 'friendly' and probably related to an octopus. It seemed he had that many hands. College sucked. The job sucked. The only relief was that Rachel's sold the best damn coffee in town and Suzy loved it. The odd cuppa taken at break time was sheer joy. She looked forward to putting college behind her and getting out into the world with a real job, one where she could get her hands on some real money. A career in banking or politics might feed her avarice.

Invariably polite and attentive, Suzy short changed customers whenever possible. Guys were the easiest because their attention was riveted on her face or her boobs. She lifted a little cash from the till once in a while, but she was smart enough to avoid doing it regularly. Shoplifting supplemented her wardrobe. She knew which stores had security and which would avoid prosecution.

She wasn't above stealing cash from a co-worker's purse left unattended in the break room, and once she found a bag of amphetamines. Suzy hid the drugs in a hollow behind a loose tile in the ladies room. She thought of it as her safe. Double-sided adhesive tape held the tile in place and a dab of toothpaste covered the cracked grout. It was perfect.

She used people, belittling them privately with sarcastic nicknames. Friends, acquaintances, co-workers, professors – all of them were merely stepping stones. For instance, Pretty Boy, a grad student and her soon-to-be-discarded boyfriend, wrote most of her term papers. Guys were so easy to manipulate after she'd slept with them a few times. She had no old friends or long-term boyfriends because people discovered that despite her cheery, warm demeanor, she was inwardly cold and ruthless.

Her customers were the easiest to categorize. The middle-aged bikers on breathtakingly expensive Harleys were the Mild Bunch. Mr. Friendly was smooth and talkative, with perfect hair, teeth, and clothes. He talked loudly on a cellphone and never failed to mention his BMW. The dorky cyclist was Eddy Jerkx, who once had the audacity to steal the tip jar when her back was turned. He was a thief, but a stupid one, which only earned him contempt from Suzy. He did it in front of three other customers and not one of them said a word. Fussy Woman was one of the three. She always ordered a double skinny latte – no foam – and she had a fit if there was a bubble atop the drink. She didn't tip, either. The pretentious bitch staked out a four-top near the window, spreading books, papers, and the inevitable laptop across it. She stayed most of the morning, frowning at the computer and furiously pounding on the keys.

Businessmen either ignored her or offered her a 'position' in their firms. Tips varied according to their illusions about getting into her pants. They were the real reason she worked at Rachel's. Suzy carefully observed their hands for wedding rings. More importantly, she noted when they chatted her up and the wedding bands disappeared. They offered to 'interview' her over drinks. So predictable. The guys were easy marks, but again, she didn't get greedy. A diamond cuff link here, a Rolex there, and just recently an expensive necklace and earrings when a fool took her to his home while wifey was out of town. All the jewelry was tucked away with the amphetamines in the ladies room safe.

Suzy lived in a small apartment within walking distance of campus. It was an old house that had been divided into student apartments. The elderly owners lived on the first floor. Suzy's place was on the third floor, up creaking wooden stairs past Cartman and Bob, two gay guys who spent their off hours smoking pot, playing video games, and listening to an endless succession of rock tunes. Cartman was big, fat, and obnoxious just like his cartoon namesake, but Bob was sweet.

She was an indifferent housekeeper, a slob, in fact. Dirty dishes were heaped in the sink. The trash can overflowed and a waist-high pile of laundry in the closet threatened to avalanche onto the floor. Pretty Boy hated her apartment, partly due to the mess and partly because Cartman liked to chat him up.

Mid-terms were coming up and she had to study. There was no way around that. Pretty Boy couldn't do it for her. She still had to show up and take the tests, so stealing the speeders had been fortuitous. She could take a few from the stash at work and use them to cram. Mid-term week passed in a blur of work, study, and a few hours of blissful sleep.

Then one morning everything changed. She missed most of it, crashed out in her apartment after mid-terms. Suzy woke up to uncharacteristic silence. No pounding music from downstairs. No faint hints of pot smoke. Just quiet. It was shattered by Cartman's high, wailing scream from the second floor. It choked off abruptly, replaced by grunting and gurgling. Then the stairs creaked as someone began climbing toward her room.

Without thinking, Suzy hid under the pile of clothes in the closet, hardly daring to breathe and hoping that the clothes didn't move from her trembling. Her door banged open and someone wandered around the apartment, knocking over a lamp. The crash almost made her jump and there was a strong temptation to run. Footsteps approached the closet and stopped. She didn't breathe until they wandered off, finally clumping downstairs. Hours later, she crept to the window as screams rose from the street. Suzy watched in horror as zombies caught...and ate...a middle-aged woman. They bit off chunks of flesh while the woman still screamed.

She stayed in her room without making a sound, only turning on a radio for news. And that news was universally bad as hordes of the walking dead overran the town. The water and electricity went off on the third day. She was terrified at night and doled out the rest of the speed. Bursts of gunfire added to her anxiety. Her only thought was to stay alert, stay awake, and stay alive. When her body simply had to sleep, she crawled under the reeking pile of laundry. After days without a shower, the smell just didn't bother her anymore.

The food ran out after five days. Just after dawn, Suzy crept down the stair and thought about raiding Cartman and Bob's apartment, but the appalling stench kept her from going inside. The door hung open and flies covered the walls.

On the street, she moved like a rat from one hiding place to another. She scurried only a few yards at a time, her senses alert and twitching from fear and the after-effects of the amphetamines. Doorways, trash cans, and hedges all provided concealment. Suzy saw a few zombies far down one cross street. She waited until none were facing her direction and ran across the intersection. The landscaping in a neatly tended front yard offered a safe hide while she watched her back trail. None of the zombies had seen her.

Suzy had a plan. She'd thought about it while in her apartment. She'd take a car and get out of town. There were plenty of them just sitting on the street with their doors open and keys still in the ignition. The owners had been eaten...or worse. But first she needed to recover the diamond necklace, earrings, and other jewelry at Rachel's Café. It was highly unlikely that the original owners would make any complaints at this point, and besides, she'd need it to make a fresh start. Driving a car to the café would attract unwanted attention, so she crept along on foot.

The businesses she passed probably had plenty of cash in the tills, but without a working government to back it, paper money simply became legal tinder, good for starting campfires but not much else. There was one jewelry store along her route, but it was locked up tight with security screens in place. She passed a gun shop too, and looked inside hoping to find a shotgun, but the store had been picked clean. No guns, no ammunition, not even a bow and arrow remained.

At the café, one plate glass window was smashed and some of the flowery letters were gone. The front door was shattered too, and one hinge was broken. Suzy quietly stepped past it and carefully looked for more shambling zombies. The shop was empty. She walked to the ladies room quickly and popped the tile loose. Stuffing the pills and the jewelry into her bag, she started back toward the door, and stopped abruptly when she saw another person silhouetted in the light from the street. A one-armed walking corpse was in the shop.

Fussy Woman stood at the counter, looking up at the menu and waving her remaining arm. She moaned. Suzy edged behind the counter, hoping to keep it between them. Fussy Woman spotted her, moaned even louder, and waggled her arm more frantically. In desperation, Suzy filled a cup with cold, slimy coffee from the urn. Chunks of mold floated to the surface. It was disgusting. She put it on the countertop, careful to stay out of the zombie's reach.

After staring at it for a long moment and grunting twice, Fussy Woman picked up the cup and wandered off. She sat at a window table, looking intently at the blank screen of a broken laptop while stabbing clumsy fingers at the keys.

Suzy couldn't leave. Zombies streamed down the street, heading toward the café. One by one they walked in the doorway.

Mr. Friendly lurched inside as far as the counter where he stood like a post. His lips were gone, leaving a parody of a ghastly smile on his face. Bits of rotting flesh stuck to his perfect teeth. He smelled of decay and Armani. She gave him a cup too, but he didn't move away until the corpse behind him started pushing. He lifted the cup to his mouth and poured most of the coffee down over his shirt. It formed a puddle on the floor. Mr. Friendly shuffled to rejoin the line.

As each reeking corpse arrived at the counter, Suzy poured another cup of coffee and quickly set it down on the counter, stepping back to stay out of reach. The café was filling up. She glanced toward the street and that's when it hit her. The broken window left just part of the store name. Now it spelled out “hel's Café. She was Hell's own barista, wondering in mounting horror what would happen when the coffee ran out.

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Eddie's Tale: Part Four

Here's the last part of Eddie's tale. As I said to Fritz, it could meander on for quite a while, but sometimes the best thing to do is keep it to the bare necessities. Truthfully, Eddie's story is just one part of a larger one. A related story will be posted tomorrow. It was actually the first in the series. And yes, that means more are on the way.




PART FOUR: Thursday

Eddie started awake to discover sunlight coming through the skylights above. Two zombies stood silently on the opposite catwalk. One stared hungrily at him and Donna. The other watched the pigeons fluttering from beam to beam overhead. Down below was a pile of bodies. As Eddie watched, a hand twitched, so they weren't all dead. He shook Donna to wake her. She didn't respond. Only then did he notice how cold she was, and to his utter horror, her skin was light gray. He scrambled to his feet and snatched up the pistol. Donna never moved. Her head was slumped forward onto her chest, and as far as Eddie could tell, she wasn't breathing. He took a step toward her just as her eyes opened wide. For a split second, yellow pupils regarded him with hungry ferocity. She leaped at him then, her fingers like talons and her teeth bared. He fired twice. The first round hit squarely in the middle of her chest, knocking her down. Before she could get up, the second one went through her forehead. The pistol's slide locked open. It was out of ammunition.

Eddie started screaming, his wails a tangle of guilt, fear, rage, and despair. In the end, rage won.


The Present

In the first days, he'd killed zombies again and again, as heedless of his own safety as any berserker on a battlefield. But on this chilly, foggy morning, only a tiny ember of that all-consuming rage remained burning in his chest, a reminder of all he'd lost. They'd taken Donna. They'd taken Dog. Now they were going to pay and keep paying until his hate was gone.

He shifted into the big ring, grasped the machete tightly in his right hand, and prepared to attack.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eddie's Tale: Part Three

For those of you (like Lemmiwinks!) with little patience, this story will end tomorrow. That's Thursday in Amurrican, but I have no idea what day that will be in Oz. Saturday? Who knows.

So I hope you enjoy today's part three. While you're reading it, I'll be out in the kitchen on my knees again, cementing ceramic tile to the floor. When I die, I suspect I'll be laying tile in Hell. But at least it'll look nice when it's done....and just for CycleDog readers....there will be photos!



PART THREE: Wednesday

Gunshots woke him just after midnight. Someone was shooting out on the street. He heard screams. Eddie rolled out of bed in his ratty old gym shorts. Without turning on the lights, he went to the window and stood carefully to one side, wary of stray bullets. Down the street, a neighbor stood in his doorway. Muzzle flashes from his shotgun lit up 3 or 4 people trying to get up the front steps. The shotgun blasted again and again, knocking down one person after another. His wife stood behind him, her screams echoing along the deserted street. But what made the hairs on Eddie's neck stand up was the sight of each body rising and going up the steps again. He kept a wooden practice sword – a boken – next to his bed and he reached for it now. Most people thought it was a fancy walking stick and Eddie preferred not to correct them. As he watched, Donna sprinted down the street on her bike, narrowly missing a body. It stood up and followed her.

The bedroom door opened behind him and Dog pushed inside. Even in the dim light filtering in from the street, Eddie knew something was terribly wrong. He turned as Dog reached for him, teeth gnashing and snapping as he moaned softly. Eddie shoved him and Dog tripped over a laundry basket. He was up again quickly and rushed Eddie again. Eddie ducked under his outstretched arms and kicked one of his knees hard. Dog went down. Eddie dodged across the room. Dog immediately started crawling across the floor as he pursued Eddie. The pain had to be excruciating, yet Dog kept on. Eddie reached for the light switch, never taking his eyes off his friend.

The light snapped on. Dog's skin was gray and his eyes were yellow like a wolf. Eddie didn't need any further confirmation that the thing crawling across the floor was no longer his friend.

A gun fired from the hallway. Dog's head exploded and Eddie was deafened by the blast in the small room. Donna shouted, “Come on! Run! The rest of them will be here in seconds!”

There was no time to ask questions. Donna ran down the stairs taking them two at a time with Eddie right behind her. Bodies slammed into the flimsy front door. It wouldn't hold for long. As they went through the kitchen, the door splintered. Eddie grabbed a pair of sneakers but didn't pause to put them on. He just ran. In the back yard, Donna held up a corner of the chain link fence separating the yard from the old factory grounds. They'd cut it months earlier to ride their bikes through that industrial wasteland. Eddie shot through. Running footsteps told him that Donna followed. Other footsteps pounded down the wooden stairs from the kitchen. A half moon hung overhead providing a dim light.

Eddie ran blindly past piles of junk and rusted machinery until Donna yelled, “This way! Hurry!” She turned right into an alleyway and Eddie hurried to keep pace. He clutched the shoes in one hand and the boken in the other. He was too afraid to stop and put them on. His feet were cut and bleeding from the gravel and concrete, and a far-off part of his mind wondered incongruously if he'd need a tetanus shot. He hated shots, especially ones that hurt. “Right,” he thought, “someone is trying to kill me and I'm worried about a stupid tetanus shot.” He realized that Donna knew where to go and that she had a plan. They raced through the factory in near darkness, spurred on by the running footsteps following close behind.

Donna arrived at the base of a ladder, tucked the pistol in her waistband, and started climbing without hesitation. Eddie followed, shoelaces gripped in his teeth and the boken threaded through his shorts. Its weight threatened to pull them down. The laces tasted awful. The ladder went up about 40 feet to a catwalk that had once been used for the glass plant's overhead crane. They'd used it to practice setting up static lines and rappelled from its sides just for fun. They'd even set up a zip line - a sloping piece of steel cable that connected to the far side of the factory floor. Donna reached the top and Eddie scrambled up next to her. Soft moaning rose from the darkness below. Someone else climbed the ladder until Donna aimed and fired. They heard a body hit the ground. A second later, she fired again. The muzzle blast lit a group of six or eight zombies trying to reach the foot of the ladder by climbing over the fallen body.

“How many bullets do you have?” Eddie asked as he quickly laced his shoes. “Where did you get that gun?”

“Two or three. Maybe.” Donna gasped for breath. “Dead security guard at work.” Someone was climbing the ladder again. Eddie drew the boken and waited, his breath rasping in and out. A head reached the top of the ladder and he swung at it, snapping his wrists in a vertical cut to bring crushing force down on the skull. Though it was a practice weapon, a boken used against an unprotected head was lethal. The zombie fell, taking another off the ladder with him.

“Get to the zip line, Donna! I can stop them here! Go! Go!” Donna didn't need to be persuaded. Her footsteps clanged along the catwalk and she was lost in the gloom. Eddie waited for another climber to come in range of the boken. He killed him easily, a man in a business suit this time, then he turned and ran toward the zip line. Without equipment, he'd have to go along it hand-over-hand. The steel cable would tear up his hands and legs, but the alternative – being taken by the zombies – was worse.

He reached the cable and could feel the vibration as Donna moved across it to the opposite wall. Without being told, Donna moved almost silently. Eddie threaded the boken through his shorts again, stepped off the catwalk, and hung below the cable. The steel cut into his palms and fingers. He swung his legs up and over it to support some of his weight. The boken slipped out and fell to the factory floor where it clattered loudly. He cursed silently, then followed after Donna.

When he reached the far side, he could see only a faint outline at first, but as he got closer, he realized Donna's pistol was aimed at him. “It's me!” Eddie hissed. “Don't shoot.” Donna let out a breath and lowered the gun. Eddie climbed onto the catwalk and rubbed his bloody hands on his shorts.

Donna whispered, “I pulled up the static rope, so the only way to get here is across the zip line.” Once, a badly rusted ladder had lead to this catwalk. They used it a few times, but it came crashing down one afternoon, so they relied on the static rope for ascending and rappelling. Suddenly, they felt the vibration as something attempted to follow them across the zip line. It stopped and a moment later the unmistakable sound of a body hitting the concrete floor reached them. Immediately, there was another. And another. “Damn! It's like one of them roach hotels.” Donna whispered, “and we're the bait.” They lost count of the impacts, but were relieved to realize there were no moans coming from below. Perhaps they were all dead.

They were out of danger for the moment. Eddie leaned over the handrail and puked.

They were safe on the catwalk, but without food or water they couldn't stay long. And they were both bleeding from the cable. They huddled together for warmth, Eddie's arms around his girlfriend. Donna slipped the pistol from her waistband and laid it on the catwalk between them. Despite the danger and their fear, as soon as the adrenaline wore off, they both fell asleep. In the darkness, he never noticed the small bite on Donna's arm.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eddie's Tale: Part Two

PART TWO: Tuesday

The next morning, Eddie locked up his bike outside Rachel's. The fussy Lexus woman stood on the sidewalk talking to a cop. She was complaining about some guy who tried to bite her at a stop light. The cop dutifully wrote the report. She said, “Well, don't just stand there – do something! Go find him and arrest that man!” Eddie coughed loudly, and she glared at him.

He recalled her remark later that day when a guy stepped off the curb into his path. His grayish skin looked awful and he tried to grasp Eddie's arm as he dodged away. It happened again that afternoon, and the second one had blood smeared over his face and hands. Eddie arrived home badly shaken, disturbed even more to discover drops of blood on the kitchen steps.

Dog sat in the kitchen, his hand wrapped in a towel. “Some asshole tried to knock me down!” he complained. “And he cut my hand. Honest-to-god, Eddie, he cut me with a fingernail! I punched the son-of-a-bitch but it didn't even faze him! He just got up and came at me again. Probably a drunk. I got out of there in a hurry.”

As Dog cleaned and bandaged his hand, Eddie told him about the people he'd seen. The last one with his face all bloodied had unnerved Eddie, though he'd never admit it. “Donna's working the evening shift tonight. I'm gonna call her. Maybe I'll go meet her for the ride home.” Eddie hadn't been afraid of the dark since he was a child, but somehow the growing darkness bothered him in a way he couldn't describe.

He called Donna at work and offered to ride home with her. For his effort, he received a hot retort of the I'm-a-big-girl-and-don't-need-your-help variety. After some lame small talk, he rang off.

“I'm gonna make dinner, Dog. There's still some spaghetti sauce left. Want some?”

“Nah. I'm not feeling so hot. I think I'll just go to bed early.”

This wasn't at all like Dog. Eddie had dinner and watched television until the late news was about to start. He clicked off the set as the announcer began droning ominously. Donna still hadn't arrived when he went upstairs. He would stay awake reading until she was home, “big girl” or not.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Stolen bikes (TULSA)

(If you come across any of these bikes, call your local police department first, then contact Lee at the number given. He is offering a reward for information leading to their recovery......Ed)

I have 3 bikes stolen from my garage last week. Should you see any of them
please call me at 918-232-8155. Grab them if you can.

1. Klein Reve - Yellow in color with Campy Record 10 speed, FSA triple
crankset, American Classic hubs & DT rims - Rido saddle

2. Kestrel RT700 - Gray in color with Campy Record 10 speed, FSA
triple crankset, DT 240s hubs & DT rims - Saddleco Flow saddle (mesh) -
Probably only RT700 in existence with triple crankset

3. Gary Fisher Joshua MTB - Red/yellow in color with mainly XTR
components

The 2 road bikes are completely unique, one of a kind, hand built by me from
components which should make them easy to claim. I can list every single
item on them.

All 3 bikes have Speedplay Frog peddles which may be replaced by somebody if
they're riding them now.

By the way, for those who are out of town, I live in Tulsa and I expect the
bikes to be in this area.

Thanks.Lee Griffin





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Eddie's Tale

This is a zombie story for Halloween week. It's divided into four parts, so it will end on Thursday. Those of you with other obligations, some light haunting, ghoulish mayhem, or like me, manning the door dolling out candy - will not miss the end of it.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


PART ONE: The Present

He coasted downhill on his mountain bike, its well-oiled freewheel almost silent. The light morning fog served to muffle his noise even further. Up ahead, a lone figure clad in rags shuffled along. Eddie gripped the bolo machete tighter and prepared to attack. His tactical position was good, what fighter pilots called “the Hun in the sun.” His target was a slow-moving zombie further down the hill. Her back was turned and she was alone. Eddie planned to pass her on the left, using the razor sharp machete to slice through the hamstrings just above and behind the knee. This didn't require much force, just a tap really, because he didn't want to overbalance, or worse, wedge the machete in her femur and lose it. He'd circle around and finish off the nearly immobilized zombie quite easily. He'd learned not to strike at the head, partly because it took more force, and partly because a last-second miss had thrown him off balance nearly causing a crash. He did not want to be lying in a heap on the ground with hungry zombies in the area.

Eddie learned quickly, adding to his knowledge daily or even hourly. He had incentive: learn or die. A week earlier, he lived a different life.


Monday

Eddie was a bicycle messenger. He made a modest income delivering packages and papers around town, supplementing it with small time drug deals or by boosting goodies out of an unlocked car. He wasn't greedy, just “work averse” and the money covered his minimal expenses for food, mountain biking, and occasional rock climbing trips in the mountains.

That morning, just before everything changed, Eddie stood in line at Rachel's Café, waiting for the insufferable barista to make a long-winded beverage for another equally insufferable customer. She stood in front of him. The woman fumed, hostility rolling off her in waves. Moments earlier, as Eddie rode toward Rachel's, she drove up behind him in a sleek, black Lexus and laid on the horn for at least 10 seconds before doing a right hook in front of his bicycle. He had to brake hard to avoid her. That put her just seconds ahead of him at the café door. “Big deal”, he thought.

She barked her coffee order. Eddie stood near enough to make her uncomfortable. He fished out his filthy handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. She stiffened. He did it again, then coughed into her hair, making the strands move. Still she did nothing.

It was often like this, Eddie noted. In their cars, people felt safe cocooned in a ton or more of steel and glass. They could be real dicks - until they got out. They weren't nearly as aggressive face to face.

The fussy woman collected her coffee, a multi-muddicato caramel whatever, and marched off toward a window table, steadfastly refusing to make eye contact. Eddie noted that she smoothed her hair quickly, perhaps feeling for boogers. The thought made him smile.

He was still smiling as the barista, a petite blond, stood coldly waiting for his order. Her name tag said, "Suzie." They shared an intense mutual dislike. Eddie once asked her to join him for lunch, and she said, "Sorry, I don't hang out with losers." The next day, he stole her tip jar, making sure she knew he'd done it.

Eddie got his coffee, then he too went off for a window table. There was an open one just behind the Lexus bitch. He farted loudly as he sat down. She was up and gone in seconds. He grinned again.

He spent the day delivering various packages, some legal papers to the courthouse, and a few 'roids to a campus jock. In late afternoon, he pedaled home to a house near the defunct glass plant. A forlorn row of houses stood like the last sentinels between the old factory and the growing industrial park to the south. Every house was for sale but few were occupied. Buyers were non-existent. There would be no gentrification here, no reprieve. Sometime soon the houses would be swallowed up. But in the meantime, rent was cheap.

His roomies were already home. Music blasted from open windows. He lived with Donna, his on-again-off-again girlfriend, and his climbing buddy, Dog the Party Animal. Eddie and Donna were edging toward a deeper relationship, a process that was both exhilarating and frightening for both of them. Dog watched in amusement, but wisely kept his mouth shut.

Eddie put his bike in the shed. Donna and Dog were in the living room, arguing as usual. This time it was over football. “Hey!” Eddie yelled to be heard. “You guys bought beer! Great! Do we have any groceries?”

Dog just pointed toward the kitchen since it was Eddie's turn to cook. He found a paper sack on the counter. It had pasta, spaghetti sauce, frozen meatballs, and a bag of salad mix. An open twelve-pack of beer sat next to it. Eddie helped himself to a cold one and started making dinner.

While they ate, Eddie said, “There sure were a lot of cops around the courthouse today. Lots more than usual. Even some state troopers were there, about a dozen of them. They had dogs too. What's going on? Have you guys heard anything?”

“Just a rumor,” Donna began, “about some kind of disease going around.”

“You're full of shit,” Dog countered. The two of them could argue about the time of day. “There isn't any disease. It's just an excuse to bring more cops into town for a big football weekend.”

That much was true. The college homecoming game was coming up on Saturday. The recreational drug business would be brisk this week.

“What was the rumor about the disease?” Eddie asked. He wasn't in the mood for a long, rambling argument.

Donna said, “Just something about a kind of flu that's going around.”

They didn't give it another thought. Monday Night Football was starting.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Let's be serious for a moment...

I'm figuring a way to end Wally's quest to be the next vice president of the United States. It's not resolved yet.

But the real campaign deserves your thoughtful consideration. I've decided on which candidate I'll support, and I'll even go so far as to endorse him in a moment. Before that, however, I urge you - regardless of your political affiliation - to go to the polls and cast your vote on November 4th. Your vote is your voice in our system of government. Lincoln said this is government of the people, by the people and for the people, so voting is our solemn responsibility.

There's a very real temptation to stay home if you're a minority party voter in a state like Oklahoma, where Senator McCain is expected to win all the electoral votes. I suspect the same temptation exists in other solidly blue states. Remember that there are other candidates down the ticket who need your support. They need your vote. It's not too late to get informed about those candidates. An excellent source for non-partisan local information is the League of Women Voters. Take the time to learn, and cast an informed vote.

Now, in Oklahoma, one of the other races is between incumbent Senator James Inhofe and state Senator Andrew Rice. Inhofe is favored by about 12 points over Rice, yet despite this advantage, Inhofe has been running overwhelmingly negative ads against his opponent. In my opinion, this almost looks as if he's fearful of a last minute surge in Rice's numbers. But from my point of view, Inhofe represents everything that's old and busted about the Republican party. It really is time for a change. I'll vote for Andrew Rice.

Change is the main theme of the Obama campaign. It's probably no surprise that I'll vote for him too. The Republicans have failed the American people on so many levels there isn't space to list them here. Barack Obama has a few positions I cannot agree with, but on balance, he's a better choice for the office than John McCain.

I don't do politics here on CycleDog. This is primarily about bicycling advocacy with a bit of comedy thrown in to keep readers coming back. So this is not an indication of a change in direction. I'll still do humor and cycling-related posts. But I am entirely serious about getting out the voters in this election as I said up at the top. You may not agree with me and that's OK. Regardless, get informed and vote. When you push aside all the fluff and nonsense like flag lapel pins, real patriotism stems from standing in line for the ballot box.

Vote November 4th!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Welcome to Friday!

Here in Oklahoma, we have the year's major religious celebration next week, one we've been waiting for with breathless anticipation since, oh, July or August when all the decorations first appeared in area stores. Yes, Halloween is upon us once again.

I'm not going to rail against the pagan nature of the holiday. Nor will I dwell on the historical significance of the eve of All Saint's Day, or the usurpation of older, non-Christian celebrations by the early church.

No, I'm all about ghost stories, scary movies, and things that go bump in the night. But I'm not a fan of the gore-fests that get passed off as entertainment. I like the ones that rely on our own imagination - which can be far more frightening than any literal description - because they're ultimately more terrifying. Think "Psycho" or H.P. Lovecraft's "Rats in the Walls."

So, with the above as introduction, here's a little something for your amusement. It's kind of a down payment and a brief segue into next week's theme.




Grannie...

I drove across town, frantic to reach my grandmother's house and terrified of what I might find. She lived alone, lavishing her attention on the flower bed and vegetable garden, where she shooed birds away from the ripening berries. She loved the birds too, except for the ones that pecked at her raspberries, incurring her wrath and a stream of invective in Serbian.

Zombies had attacked my house the previous night. I was trapped, afraid to sprint across the lawn to the detached garage. Just after dawn the police arrived and the shooting began.

I tried to call her but all I got was a busy signal. She seldom used the telephone and would leave it off the hook for hours. What chance would a helpless 80-year-old woman have? Yet there was no denying that she was tough in many ways. She'd emigrated from the "Old Country" as a teenager, and she still had a heavy accent. She cooked, cleaned, and tended her plants by herself and disdained any offers of help.

I pulled up in front of the house, my heart in my throat. A man's body was lying on her front porch partly inside the open door. I climbed out of the truck carrying a baseball bat.

"Grannie?" I called through the door. "Grannie? Are you there?"

"Who is it?" Her voice floated down the hall from the kitchen. She stepped into view, a long carving knife clutched in her bony hand. "Oh, Michael, good! Drag dat ting outta my door. It's letting flies in."

I was relieved she was OK, but I did as I was told, dragging the body by the heels. Then I closed the door and locked it.

Grannie was in the kitchen stirring a huge pot of soup. Loaves of freshly baked bread were lined up on the table. "Sit down,” she said. "Eat. You're too skinny."

"What happened? Are you OK? How did that guy get on your porch?"

She gave me a withering look. "When I was little girl day come down from mountains in winter. Day kill alla sheep, bastard sombie." She says something in Serbian and spits. "My father show me how to kill dem. Quick with a knife through eye or up under chin. I'm short. Chin is easy." She gestured with the knife and grinned.

It was unnerving. The whole city was in a panic, yet this old woman was calmly matter-of-fact as she described how to kill a 'sombie' with a knife.

"Eat," she urged. "The electricity no work. Refrigerator no work. Eat before it go bad."

I sat down at the table, but I had no appetite. She quickly put a bowl of steaming soup and some still warm bread in front of me. Then she looked past me through the kitchen window. "Sombie in my garden," she hissed.

It was true. A zombie lurched through the garden, knocking over tomato stakes and a rose trellis. Grannie was out the back door, her carving knife flashing in the sun. "Shoo!" she yelled. "Shoo! Shoo!"

At least the birds could fly away. The 'sombie' never had a chance.




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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I gotta gets me one of these!

I spent a week in an embarrassing attempt to learn how to ride a unicycle. Honestly, by the time it was over, I was sick of the thing, and I had an interesting collection of bruises for my effort. Now, it turns out that I needn't have bothered.


(Image from DVICE)


This is based on the same ring laser gyro technology used in those evil Segway devices that are out to take over the world. But somehow when it's attached to a simple unicycle, all the malevolence is lost. Go figure.

According to Focus Designs, the Self Balancing Unicycle (SBU) is capable of a maximum speed of 8 mph, and a range of about 12 miles. It weighs 25 pounds. This may be a useful device for multi-mode commuters since it would be more convenient than a folding bike and the relatively low speed would make it easier to mix in with pedestrians. (I'm not certain of the legality of unicycles on the road, so I'm being hesitant here.)

The SBU should be available in November and will cost $1500. Now, if Focus Designs (ahem) wanted to send me one for long term testing, I'd wring it out thoroughly and subject it to Ed's Vertical Crush Test for months if necessary. There's no weight limit stated, so I could realize my childhood dream of joining the circus! Sure, I'd be a big, gray-haired bear on a unicycle, but at least it's a circus act. I wouldn't ride the SBU to work, though. An hour commuting back and forth at 8 mph is just too slow.

One other thing, guys, and that's the name. Lose the SBU. It sounds like some kind of disease or maybe a cop show on television. This thing needs a snappy, hipster name. Maybe "Zipster" or "Uncle Funster" or even a made up pornstar name like "Zeke Second." Think about it. I'm available for consulting - after I've had a few more cups of coffee.

At least I wouldn't end up with my foot stuck through the spokes on this one.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday

Brian Potter accompanied me on part of the Midland Valley Extension yesterday, a multi-use path that more or less parallels the east side of Tulsa's inner dispersal loop. It's difficult to describe this MUP adequately. Superlatives are out of the question. Other words like 'craptastic', 'boondoggle', or 'wasted money' come to mind. This trail runs along the edge of a quiet neighborhood and could have utilized the neighborhood streets as part of the city's on-street bike route program. Instead, cyclists are expected to use this misbegotten glorified sidewalk instead of the street.

There are multiple problems. The biggest are the crossings at arterial streets like 11th. The arterial runs east and west. The trail approaches from the south, parallel to a residential street, yet before reaching the intersection, it veers further left, taking cyclists alongside an overpass. Now, 11th Street is very busy at rush hour. How is a cyclist supposed to cross? Besides all the traffic on the arterial, there's that neighborhood street to his right and slightly behind his shoulder. It would be complicated.

A savvy bicyclist would simply ignore the trail at that point and use the neighborhood street, particularly if there were some cars to run interference for him.

There's also a spot where north-bound cyclists are expected to cross a south bound street at mid block in order to get back on the trail. Granted, the neighborhood streets are normally quiet, but if that's the case, why have a trail at all?

But there was more fun in store. We went east on the 3rd Street bikeway until we reached South Delaware. We turned along Delaware and rode outside the overly narrow bike lane all the way to 11th Street. Surprisingly, the motorists behind us didn't have a problem with this. Maybe they're somehow aware of the debris accumulating in the bike lane or maybe they're saints-in-waiting. The only one who had a problem with our lane position was a university security guard, who in the manner of all such security guards, summoned all his super powers and awesome authority, and ordered us to ride in the bike lane. We said no. He repeated his order, using the Big Boy voice this time. Again, we said no and continued on our way. Nothing in the law requires cyclists to use a bike lane or MUP, yet time and again, we'll meet ill-informed motorists and even law enforcement professionals (though calling a security guard such a professional is a bit of a stretch) who believe that we cannot use the road when there's a bikelane or a trail nearby. And 'nearby' in some instances seems to mean that it's in the same time zone.


Like many of my recent activities, this one was another exercise in multi-tasking - a modern equivalent for 'killing two birds with one stone.' In addition to getting some much-needed exercise, I accompanied my daughter to a seminar. Actually, Dad was there as primary navigator. Brian and I had an opportunity to talk over some advocacy issues, and we even managed to stop by the HUB, a recent addition to Tulsa's bicycling culture run by none other than Ren Barger. Unfortunately, the doors were closed and locked or it would have been a 3-way advocacy discussion.


Eventually, Brian and I were in east Tulsa. He turned south into his neighborhood. I turned north toward Owasso. I had a light cross wind, brilliant sunshine, and an easy spin on the way home. It was the longest ride I've done all year, only about 25 or 30 miles. Yes, I'm such a wimp! My commute is no more than 10 miles one way, so while I'm strong, I just don't have the time for longer rides. Still, it sharpened my appetite for dinner, flank steak that was slow-cooked with spaghetti sauce and onions, and served over egg noodles. Jordan says I'll eat anything with pasta in it. He's probably right.

I was fast asleep by 10PM. Welcome to middle age.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Winter Cycling Attire

Image from JB/John on Flickr

Last month we covered how to make two essential tools for any eco-conscious cyclist, the obsidian knife and the stone ax. This month we'll discuss how to use them.

First, however, there's the issue of appropriate clothing for the season. With fall weather causing a drop in temperatures and an increase in precipitation, it's important that the well-prepared cyclist start thinking about winter attire.

Please don't make the common mistake of mud daubing. It lends itself well to the neolithic surrealism style that's a current Euro-fad, but it isn't a practical form of clothing during the winter months. Sure, there are some fashionistas who will not change with the weather, but even they realize that mud provides little insulation from cold and cannot stand up to rain. In summer, of course, it's excellent protection against sunburn and insects, but cold, wet weather reveals mud's limitations. Still, it's not unusual to see a woman stylishly covered in designer mud - with the requisite high-fashion footwear, of course - in some of those cycling photos from Copenhagen. Most of us prefer to be more comfortable and not suffer for the sake of fashion, so we make other choices.

Now, I'm assuming that anyone reading this is committed to using natural materials whenever possible, and will eschew all those synthetics flooding the market. Even those two natural favorites - cotton and wool - are tainted by their association with global agri-business, so eco-conscious bicyclists should pass them by as well.

First on almost everyone's list are dry leaves. Although they're not warm when wet, they contain the small dietary bonus of insects and ticks. Ticks are arachnids rather than insects, though they all taste pretty much the same, almost like crunchy, still wriggling chicken. While autumn leaves are certainly colorful, the colors don't last long. Autumn leaves dry out rapidly and have to be reapplied frequently. Dry leaves, on the other hand, are both plentiful and cheap, making them a popular choice with many fair-weather cyclists.

Moss is less popular than dry leaves mainly because it's more time-consuming to gather. But its properties out-weigh the additional time, making it a favorite among thoughtful cyclists interested in long-term use. In fact, some older cyclists may discover they already have a plentiful supply on their north sides. Moss dries rapidly. It's dense mat is like a thatched roof, shedding water much better than dried leaves. And unlike leaves, it's more durable.

Bark is an excellent choice for wind and rain protection, but it doesn't provide insulation. Also, bark is not very pliable so it can be uncomfortable. However, when bark is used as an outer layer with an insulating layer of dried moss underneath, the combination offers the best of both worlds, providing protection from wind, rain, and cold down to surprisingly low temperatures.

Controversy swirls around application methods. How are these materials best applied to the human body? Common methods include: staple guns, hot glue, or even sheet metal screws. One recommended accessory is a stick to clench between the teeth. It helps to muffle screams so the neighbors don't call the police complaining about out-of-season human sacrifices again. It's best to have someone help with the application as they'll have a more steady hand and can apply your leaves, bark, or moss symmetrically or in intricate patterns. An exciting new trend is developing that emphasizes a more random and natural-looking 'just rolled in the leaves' approach.

Regardless of the application method, the resulting scars will give you a stunning new look for the spring fertility rites!

A serviceable winter helmet can be carved from the bole of a tree. Turtle shells are another popular choice. This is where your obsidian knife and stone ax come in handy. You can make straps from vines and creepers. Moss provides padding and insulation. Ventilation is unnecessary as this is a cold weather item.

Animal fur is another exciting outerwear possibility. The hollow hair shafts found on deer, caribou, and polar bears offer superb protection, though killing a polar bear while armed with only an obsidian knife and a stone ax is somewhat problematic. Hunting polar bears is fairly easy, however, as their position atop the food chain insures that they'll come straight toward you when they're hungry. For some, this makes deer and caribou a more attractive resource as they're far less likely to kill and eat a hunter. Please don't make the neophyte's mistake of utilizing rabbit fur. Though they're plentiful and easy to trap, rabbit fur doesn't retain warmth when it's wet. Seeing multiple rabbit pelts on someone's back at the start of a club ride is a sure-fire indication of a eco-conscious newbie or that there's a Mad Max film festival showing in a local theater.

Motorists recognize fashion sense. When you're rolling down the road on an all-Campy carbon fiber and titanium road bike, and you have the elan to wear a caribou skin with a contrasting turtle shell helmet, they'll give you plenty of space. And a stone ax tucked into your belt is always the perfect accessory.



Next month

Fire: Not just for sacrifices any more!

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's not too early to do some Christmas shopping!


(Image from Lifestyle Energy. This is not a fine comestible, though it may be a fine combustible!)

All of us know someone who drinks only single malt Scotch, selects coffee hand picked by Honduran farmers, and insists that the kitchen help turns out fresh pasta on an imported Italian machine. Anything less is unacceptable.

For this discriminating, tasteful consumer, Fine Fueling offers an outstanding line of boutique products focused on added refinements for those high-end customers. Honestly, you couldn't go wrong by purchasing one of these for that self-absorbed snob special person on your list.

Don't wait! Supplies are limited. Please have your credit card on hand when placing an order, and realize that if you're one of those sweaty commuter cyclists, you probably will not qualify to purchase this product - ya commie bastard.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Does a Fat Cyclist jersey make me look fat?

video

A local television station shot this last spring. The telephoto lens makes it look like traffic is fairly heavy, but in reality it's not. The low angle shot, however, makes me look kinda fat. Not that it's a bad thing, you know.

The interview was longer, of course. It's unfortunate that I didn't get in anything about vehicular cycling, although the lane positioning is very good. What might appear as a quick head check is actually me spitting downwind - a critical skill for any cyclist.

Oh, and that is a Fat Cyclist jersey. Fritz over on Cyclelicious gave it to me!

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The Lure of the Open Road




I don't read many travelogues, but this one is different. In 1944, Doris Roy and Thelma Popp rode their bicycles out of Buffalo, New York, and traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio, following the rivers to New Orleans. From there, they went east, up the eastern seaboard, and returned to Buffalo. It's a remarkable story of two strong, capable women setting off on an adventure.

They rode a single speed and a two-speed loaded will all manner of camping equipment long before the days of ultra-light tents, sleeping bags, and titanium cook pots. They built campfires and used canned heat for cooking. For those of us who live on constant email, consider this:

"Good Lord! A whole summer without mail. I’d die if I didn’t know when Bud’s unit got shipped out."

"Imagine not hearing the top jive on Hit Parade for a whole summer!"

Now go read the whole thing after these excerpts. It's well worth your time.


The Lure of the Open Road.

Wartime wandering through the Eastern states by bicycle, truck, and riverboat. 1944.
by Thelma Popp Jones. 2007.

(LINK)


In 1944, a dear friend, Doris Roy, and I undertook an adventurous journey that we dreamed of during countless hikes together over our college holidays. We had been Camp Fire Girls together, loving the out-of-doors, camping and hiking the open road. Our dreams finally developed into a plan to ride bicycles from our home in Buffalo, New York, to Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River met the Mississippi. We admired Mark Twain’s adventures, had read his Life on the Mississippi, and sought to follow his path to the Midwest.

We were 21 years old, just graduated from college: Doris Roy from Michigan State and Thelma Popp from Buffalo State College. We often referred to each other as "Mouse," as we were two blind mice wearing glasses. I had the nickname "Poppy," characteristic of my last name.

World War II affected our college life as most of the male student body joined one of the services. Women assumed some of their roles by taking jobs in armament industries. During the summer, I worked from early morning to evening in a public school caring for infants whose mothers were working in aircraft factories or other related industries.

But now, before starting our careers, we decided that the coming summer after graduation would be the ideal time to have our adventure. We had a limited period of time to accomplish this. I had signed a contract to begin teaching first grade in Middleport, New York, on the Erie Canal on September 4, 1944. And so - with the leanest of equipment - we made our preparations and were ready to leave on June 22, 1944.




Part 1
June 22 - July 21, 1944

Leaving
Buffalo


This was the day, the first day of our adventure by bicycle. It was the reality of a dream one day toward completion. It was the beginning of an adventure, months of hoboing through the country to live as we pleased and go where we willed. And now, at 7:30 a.m., the Roy family arrived at the Popp residence at 134 Oakgrove Avenue, Buffalo, New York, to share breakfast together with their children, Doris and Thelma. Perhaps in the future we would be looking back at the wealth and the pleasure of that breakfast and the kind words of our parents still attempting to discourage us. Perhaps it was a ridiculous venture, but we were determined never to be put into the category with those who say, "I always wanted to, but never did." Out on the driveway were standing two beautiful new bicycles. Both were blue and their chrome fittings shone like silver in the sun. A previous checkup reported all parts oiled and geared for efficiency. These were our wartime Victory bicycles, lightweight and practical. Thelma’s bicycle had but one speed, and Doris’s had two. But an ordinary bicycle never looked like this! Every extremity was used as a carrier. The usual rack over the rear wheel was extended to hold the weight of a sleeping bag and duffle, and below, saddle bags bulged on either side of the wheels. Strapped to the handlebars was a wicker basket outfitted with oil cloth for protection against inclement weather. These were our bicycles - carnivals on wheels! We were all keyed up to this exciting moment.

..."Keep dry! Wear your hats!"

Mr. Popp clicked the lever of the camera and aimed at us through the lens. We pedaled down the drive, into the street, and out into the world. Down over the rough brick pavement, up the viaduct and over the freight yards we pumped and sweated. The outskirts of the city were an endless line of mills and factories belching smoke and soot. The odor of the chemicals stung our nostrils and dried our throats. We were glad to leave the city.

We must have been a humorous sight - bicycles bulging at all angles, tin cans jangling as we hit the bricks, and riders vainly attempting to keep their floppy hats from being carried off in the wind.

...Months before we embarked, our friends bonded in a mutual attempt to discourage our trip. "Foolishness!" they called it.

"How are you going to live in one dress all summer? And where on earth will you do your laundry?"

"What’ll you do when there’s no creek to take a bath in?"

"Don’t think you can always make a wet wood fire in the pouring rain."

"I know. You’ll get to Gowanda and wire home for some blister ointment and a feather pillow, and then beg somebody to take your seat and let you stand up on the bus." "Good Lord! A whole summer without mail. I’d die if I didn’t know when Bud’s unit got shipped out."

"Imagine not hearing the top jive on Hit Parade for a whole summer!"

They pelted us with a myriad of queries. We had answers to all of them... well, at least most of them. And for those unanswered, we would trust to the luck we hoped we possessed.

One dress nothing. We were equipped for rain, sun, snow, and swimming. Riding along the road in shorts, letting the wind blow through the toes of my huraches was the coolest form of travel. But those brisk mornings, which were very few, found us bundled in dungarees and thick sweat shirts. And every time we dug for the camera... out fell the rubbers.

What if it was storming? Hadn’t we always found shelter on our hikes before? If we could light a fire on one match, why worry about a little rain?

Maybe we were over confident. Maybe our egos were dangerously expanding. We didn’t wonder; we didn’t worry. We trusted an inner feeling of safety and strength in our independence.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mingo Road repair work..


This is how the railroad crossing at Mingo Road and E 56th St North appeared yesterday. This is looking north. Notice the shallow angle and the very rough planking between the rails. Several cyclist have fallen here in good weather. It's far more treacherous when it's wet.

I wrote about this crossing in The Zig-Zag Man back in 2005.






The rest of these photos were taken this afternoon. Surprisingly, it's the Public Works Department from the city of Tulsa doing this work, not the railroad. I thought the RR was responsible for all these crossings.








Here's the good news - the crossing will be finished sometime later today! The road will be open again by 6 or 7PM according to the work crew.


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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A quick note for Owasso bike commuters

Tomorrow, October 9th, North Mingo Road will be closed between E 56th St N and E 46th St N. This is the primary route for bicycle commuters inbound and outbound between Tulsa and Owasso. I think the railroad crossing just south of 56th Street is being improved. It definitely needs the work. The rails cross at a shallow angle and the road surface is very rough as it is filled with wooden ties that are split and broken. The crossing has been the site of several crashes.

I took some cell phone camera shots of it this afternoon. Hopefully I'll have some before and after photos.

Yes, this is a PITA because the alternate routes are through Mohawk Park to the west - not one of my favorite places in the pre-dawn darkness, or along 46th east to 145th. But making that left onto 145 is scary. The speed limit is 65 with heavy traffic including gravel trucks and Port of Catoosa traffic. It's no fun at all.

No word on how long the road will be closed.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Register to Vote!

Here in Oklahoma, the last day to register is this Friday, October 10th. You can register at most libraries, tag agencies, or the voter registration office in your county. Here are the rules and a registration form that can be downloaded.

Also, here's the State Election Board main page that lists polling places and much more.

This is your country and your vote is your voice in how we'll move forward. IF YOU DON'T VOTE - DON'T COMPLAIN!

In a democracy, people get the government they deserve....Adlai Stevenson

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Who dat?

Who dat sexy man?


I'm not entirely sure, but I may still have a pair of those black glasses around somewhere. Yep, that's me in 1969. Damn but I look like some kinda geek. My favorite classes were physics and electronics, so yeah, I was some kinda geek.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

This was about 2 or 3 years before I started riding a bike every day. When the photo was taken, I probably weighed about 160. That was, um, fifty pounds ago.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Bicycle Commuter Benefit Signed Into Law

Now, remember, you read it here...um...second.

Fritz has the whole bill on Cyclelicious.

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