Bike upgrades

March 8, 2014 § 41 Comments

People always ask me about bike stuff.

“What do you think of the new Slobotomy aero-helmet?”

“I hear that slightly wider tires are actually faster than the ultra-narrow profiles. Is that true?”

“How does the GoPro Super Narcissto 4 stack up agains the Garmin 24/7 MeMeMeMe?”

“Is a computerized bike fit as good as a hand job?”

Needless to say, I devote hours answering the person’s question, and they do the exact opposite, or, more commonly, nothing at all and instead go buy a large pizza.

Still, there are ways to really upgrade your ride, and they aren’t the ways you might think. I will list them here for you in order of the impact they will have on your riding experience.

  1. Make your next two purchases the best and brightest taillight you can find, and the best and brightest headlight you can find. Then, mount them on your bike and use them all the time, especially during the day. How it improves your ride: Cagers will not horribly maim or kill you and you will get home alive.
  2. Max out your uninsured motorist insurance. When you get hit by some idiot who doesn’t have enough insurance, or who has none at all, or who hits you and drives off, leaving you for dead, the only way you can pay for the damage is through the uninsured motorist coverage ON YOUR AUTOMOBILE LIABILITY INSURANCE POLICY. It’s cheap to max out your UM coverage, so do it now. $500k in coverage is not too much. How it improves your ride: 48% of LA-area collisions are hit-and-run, and you will, with maximum UM coverage, get compensation for your injuries and your destroyed bike.
  3. Enter an event you would normally never do. A century ride, an MTB race, a ‘cross race, the Eldo Crit, a charity ride, a Fredfest, Ciclavia, critical mass, certification at the Velo Sports Center, whatever it is, if it’s outside your normal riding band, do it. How it improves your ride: You’ll meet new people and get a new sense of appreciation for the fun that is cycling.
  4. Read a book that treats some aspect of the history of cycling. How it improves your ride: You’ll understand the incredible changes and challenges that have been overcome in order to allow you to effortlessly, electronically shift your way along the streets on a carbon fiber bike.
  5. Go into a local bike shop and buy something. How it improves your ride: The vast majority of people who own bike shops do it first and foremost because they love bikes. Supporting their passion supports yours as well.
  6. Proffer roadside assistance to someone. Even if you can no more change a flat than swap out a car’s transmission, take a second to pull over and see if the fellow cyclist on the side of the road needs help. Everyone appreciates consideration and concern, even if just means holding their bike or pulling the tube and cartridge out of their seat bag. How it helps your ride: Cycling is a community, and the good deeds you do to strangers will get paid forward.
  7. Say hello to someone you don’t know. Whether it’s your regular ride or whether you’re passing someone on the street, greet a stranger and exchange names. How it helps your ride: People remember being spoken to, especially when they’re new to a group, and it makes them feel good, and making others feel good will make you feel good, too.
  8. Get rid of five cycling-related things you no longer use or need. Most riders are awash in crap. Old shoes, old helmets, old wheel sets, even (especially) bikes. Slim down your possessions, especially if you can pass them on to someone who will actually use them. How it improves your ride: Makes space for you to buy newer, cooler crap.
  9. Ride to work one day a month. How it improves your ride: Once you begin commuting, odds are that you will do it more often. I went from 0 days a week to commuting almost every day. How it improves your ride: You’re riding more, of course. And bikers who cycle to work will tell you that the commute is the best part of their day.
  10. Go on a ride with a family member who isn’t a “cyclist.” Not a 25-mile hammerfest, just a fun 15 or 20-minute pedal. How it improves your ride: You can slowly trick them into riding if you do it in a way that is actually, you know, fun. And the family that rides together …

The Sealpire clubs back

March 7, 2014 § 29 Comments

Wankmeister’s ass hurt, the kind of butthurt that felt like his saddle had been forcefully wedged somewhere between L1 and T9 for an hour or so. Even though he was curled up in bed, coughing chunks of dark green phlegm, his legs still ached the deep ache of “you are too old and weak to exert yourself in this fashion and expect anything other than collapse.” The roots of his teeth hurt, always a bad sign. Most worrisome, his headache had sunk down below his brain and had morphed into a deep throbbing at the back of his eyeballs.

Wanky wondered if he’d ever had sore eyeballs before from a bike ride. He hadn’t.

Don’t roll NPR when you’re droopypants

The morning had begun with the most ill of omens, an incredulous interrogation by Mrs. WM. “You not goin onna NPR?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“You crazy? You been droopy alla week with cold and coughin and fluin and spittin onna washbasin and onna toilet seat. Why you goin onna ride so soon after bein droopypants?”

“I’m better now. I need to ride.”

“You ain’t better now you still all sick and still coughin because you woke me up alla night spittin, you was spittin an chokin like a cat spittin four hairballs outta his butt.”

“That would be shitting, then, not spitting.”

“You was doin that too and you wasn’t turnin on the high fan because it stinked up alla hallway and even inna kitchen.”

“Honey, I’ve been off the bike for a week. I’m losing fitness.”

“What you’re losin, you’re losin onna your mind. An you’re gonna come back home even bigger droopypants you watch, an askin onna “hot tea” this anna “leg rubbin’” that but I ain’t doin it.”

Etymology of the South Bay seal hunt

Few know that the concept of baby seal clubbing on the New Pier Ride was invented by Bull Seivert, also known as “KitchenAid” for his thrashing, mashing, mixing, heaving, whaling, pig-fucking-a-greased-football pedaling style that, when observed up close, makes you wonder whether the bike wouldn’t go faster if he flipped over on his back and rowed the thing in the air with his giant hams. Bull is known far and wide for his fearless, senseless, single-minded charges to the front, charges so filled with fury and strength that he typically explodes halfway through the ride like a giant blood sausage overstuffed with snot, sweat, and sputum.

However, by the time that KitchenAid rolls over like a great, bleeding, wheezing harpooned whale, the hangers-on, suckers-of-wheels, waiters-for-the-sprunt, and all other manner of lower life forms have been beaten into a lumpy pulp of quivering flesh and bone. It was after one particularly memorable thrashing that Bull compared the pack fodder to a raft of baby harp seals, innocent, bleating, helpless, chubby, doe-eyed and defenseless in the face of the murderous, blood covered drunks swinging their hooked clubs, matted as they were with the blood, gore, and fleshy pieces of their victims.

The baby seal analogy stuck, and the truism of the analogy was such that entire contingents of NPR riders began referring to themselves as “baby seals.” Like their namesakes, they relived the brutal clubbing of their furry friends each and every Tuesday. Only a few of the most daring pinnipeds, creatures with names like Sausage and Poopsie, ever raised their flippers in victory at the NPR. The passion play remained forever writ in stone: The giants clubbed and the baby seals rolled over in a bloody trough of shame, pain, and defeat.

Carrying the hunter’s club to the seal’s own demise

Winter before last, on a cold and rainy morning that had less than twenty riders on the NPR, Wanky had stopped at the alleyway exit to take off his rain jacket. The pack kept going but one baby seal stopped. It was a weak and barely developed juvenile seal, Phoque de Paris, who was in his second season of riding. Phoque accepted his place in the clubbing hierarchy so completely that he had purchased a baby stuffed seal and strapped it beneath his saddle, just in case there were ever any doubt. There wasn’t.

Wanky fumbled with his jacket, got it stuffed in his jersey, and the pair, hunter and prey, set off in chase of the peloton. Wankmeister wasn’t feeling great, and his less-than-great sensations were enhanced by Phoque’s madman time-trial mode along Vista del Mar, battering into a nasty, miserably cold crosswind. “What the Phoque?” he wondered at this sudden display of speed and power by a heretofore undistinguished baby seal.

Phoque never swung over, and barreled for several miles until the pack was in sight. With one huge final effort he got to within a couple of hundred yards. By now Wankmeister was quite warmed up and he noted Phoque’s shoulders as they swayed and sagged, his head beginning to evince the tell-tale “cranial droop” of a tired rider. Thankful and profoundly appreciative for Phoque’s selfless effort, Wanky took out his club, inspected the shiny, sparkling, unblooded tip, and jumped as hard as he could around Phoque to close the gap. Unable to follow the sudden burst, the hapless baby seal, after doing all that hard word for a friend, found himself alone, shelled, and hopelessly dropped as the pack rode away.

Wankmeister wiped off his club and went on to a glorious NPR victory that day, which he dedicated to “that little phoquer who waited for me.”

When the club swings full circle

Now, many moons later, Wanky reached the Center of the Known Universe and greeted his fellow riders. The chief talk that morning was whether or not the angry psychotic homeless person would be waiting to ambush them in the alley, and what the best response would be if he challenged the group again with his fists. Most agreed that the bragging rights attached to 60 healthy grown athletic men beating the snot out of an insane poor person were minimal, and although a certain “fun” quotient was mentioned by one or two, the consensus was to take evasive action if he appeared.

Wankmeister’s cold/flu/bronchial infection/ovarian cyst reminded him how bad he felt, how right his wife had been, and how he should have stayed in bed. When the group turned onto Vista del Mar, he realized that in his current condition the only sane thing to do would be, of course, to attack. So he did.

Unbeknownst to our hero, however, there is a sacred rule espoused by those who are famed for never attacking anywhere, ever: “Thou shalt not attack on Vista del Mar.” In retrospect, when he was curled up in bed, Wanky wished that he had known about the rule if only so that he could have enjoyed breaking it. By the time he passed Imperial, a nascent break had formed including Bull, Phoque, Lamchops, Brewmaster, and Ronan the Mini-Barbarian. The first time that Phoque pulled through, Wankmeister noticed something that surprised him. Beneath Phoque’s saddle there no longer dangled a stuffed baby seal.

After a few rotations Lamchop had been seasoned, fried in the pan, and served up with a sprig of parsley. Mini-Barbarian decided to go back to the pack and get civilized. Brewmaster’s yeast infection had gummed up his pedalworks, and there were soon only three riders left. After one rotation KitchenAid began to suck and heave, and each time Phoque swung over for Wanky to pull through, he couldn’t. “Hey, fucker!” yelled Wanky. “I can’t pull through if you don’t slow down!” Shrugging, Phoque kept the gas on.

Dragging the corpse

They raced up the small hill on Pershing, with Bull still hanging on for dear life, unable to take a pull. In his pain-besotted misery, Wankmeister cursed his friend and teammate. “Pull through you sorry fucker, I don’t care how much you’re hurting,” he muttered to himself between mighty exhalations of snot that were immediately absorbed by his dripping mustache, then drooled into his mouth or into his beard.

By the time they hit the Parkway, KitchenAid’s beaters had been reattached and he started to pull through. The peloton was a distant memory as Poopsie, Sausage, Hallpass, and Finnhead bitterly complained and gnashed their teeth about the early attack while they had been discussing gear-inches, motorcycle protective clothing, and drag coefficients. They angrily made plans to impugn the integrity of the breakaways, people who had none, on Facebook. “Just remember,” Finnhead said to Poopsie, “it’s easier to complain about a breakaway on FB than it is to chase it down in real life.” Then they all went to the back and Instagrammed each other’s kits.

The three-man breakaway, however, was completely unconcerned with Finnhead’s gnashing teeth or with the long, detailed complaint that Sausage and Poopsie would draft and mail to the New Pier Ride Advisory Board and its director, “Toofs” Prettytree, one of the staunchest advocates for fair, honest, riding on the NPR and dental work and wheelsucking. The breakaway was concerned with something much more important: Not becoming a one-man breakaway, as Phoque was drilling and grilling like an insane combination of dentist-turned-Texas-BBQ-chef.

Phoque kept the torrid pace up for minutes at a time, pausing only to catch his breath while Wanky leaked tears and prostate juice all over his bike and while KitchenAid kept staring mindlessly at his Garmin, hoping that it would say something other than YOU ARE COMPLETELY FUCKED NOW. It didn’t, but deep in the throes of cranial droop KitchenAid slammed into Phoque’s rear wheel, creating a nice brown stain in Wanky’s shorts that would take several hours of hard scrubbing to remove. “Keep your fucking head up and quit looking at your fucking computer!” Wanky roared, but it wasn’t a roar, it was more of a whimper, as Phoque was driving the pace into the wind again and the two cabooses needed every bit of oxygen to pedal.

Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud. Swing. Thud.

If you’ve ever been in a break on the NPR with four laps to go, you know the meaning of hell. 99 times out of 100, you’re going to get caught and when you do, you will be wrecked. However, Phoque didn’t appear to care, and he swung his club at Wanky and Bull with abandon. The blood flowed.

“So,” squealed Bull. “This is how it feels.”

“Ouchies,” whined Wankmeister. “My prostate juice is sopping my shorts.”

“Oh, did that hurt?” Phoque asked solicitously. “Let me give you another one.” And he’d pound away. Occasionally the chasing peloton would come into view, with Sausage and Finnhead and Toofs seated comfortably at the back, adding new points and sub-points to their detailed legal polemic that would be posted after the ride. Poopsie tried to drive the pace, but as an inveterate baby seal his efforts were for naught, and anyway, while the chasers got hung up at the occasional red light Phoque & Co. had full advantage of the NPR’s Three Breakaway Rules, which are as follows:

  1. Never stop.
  2. Do not stop.
  3. Stopping is prohibited.

Finnhead and Toofs made note of this and added it to the long list of infractions being compiled, to wit: “Faux breakaway cheaters and early attackers in neutral zone furthermore didn’t stop but we had to stop at all the lights so there.”

“Be sure to add that we almost caught them anyway,” said Finnhead, comfortably sitting in the very back as the break continued to put huge amounts of time on the pack.

It pays to have friends in high places

Even with their gargantuan lead, the breakaway would have succumbed had Wankmeister’s SPY teammates not sat at the back of the peloton and refused to assist with Poopsie’s doomed chase. Before long even Poopsie, he of the detailed report to be submitted to the Rules Committee, threw in the towel. Finnhead, realizing that his usual zero probability of winning had been reduced to negative numbers, focused instead on the 38 mph max speed that he would reach by sitting on others’ wheels, and chalked it up as a win. Sausage planned to purchase the Parkway in his next M&A acquisition and jail all future rule breakers.

As they sped up towards the bridge on the finishing lap, Phoque finally swung over. He was starting to look winded and well-tenderized for a late attack, the kind that would be quick and hard enough for him not to respond to, and the kind that would leave him gasping for air as Wankmeister claimed another glorious victory. It would be a nice “don’t forget your elders” touch to pay Phoque back for the relentless clubbing he’d administered the entire morning.

“Hey, man,” Wanky said as he passed.

“Yeah?”

“You ever won the NPR?”

Phoque shook his head. “No.”

“Well, wanker, you will today.”

And he did.

———————————

Why not subscribe? Everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting!

How to buy a revolutionary

March 6, 2014 § 12 Comments

Don Ward is a big guy with big opinions and a big mouth and big, big, big, big street cred to back it all up. Infamously known as “Roadblock,” he’s the legend behind Wolfpack Hustle and the mainspring behind the off-menu L.A. Marathon Crash Race.

If you don’t know what a marathon crash race is, then you are tone deaf when it comes to urban cycling in America. Beginning in 2009 the Wolfpack Hustle riders “crashed” the L.A. marathon course. As soon as the barriers went up, usually around 4:00 AM the morning of the marathon, the ridazz would hop the barriers and race pell-mell from the start to the finish, ripping down L.A.’s biggest and most off-limits-to-bikes thoroughfares in the glory of a pre-dawn 26-mile beatdown.

The crash race, like all bike races, also featured crashes. Dudes on fixies, road warriors in full bike racer drag, the curious, the crazy, the anarchic, the manic, the insomniac, and every other species of rider found her way over the barriers and onto the marathon race course to sample that sweet asphalt freedom that is normally RESERVED: FOR CAGERS ONLY. It quickly became known as the largest unsanctioned race in the country.

It was the running of the bulls, L.A. style.

Have you ever been to Pamplona?

Whatever the running of the bulls used to be, it’s not anymore. In 2014 this completely bizarre, alien tradition of getting drunk and running from fighting bulls is now a college stunt. In addition to frat boys, it’s mostly a mix of young white guys, frat boys, some English fellows, frat boys, and boys from frats. What is the cachet? Hint: There isn’t any.

The L.A. Marathon Crash Race found out the hard way that you can’t be a rebel without a cause and a rebel with a city permit. Rebels don’t need no fuggin’ permits. What they need are open streets and a good criminal defense lawyer. The crash race’s demise, however, was much more terrible than everyone waking up one day and suddenly realizing that it would be “cool” to bike downtown L.A. in the wee hours, thereby making the crash race forever uncool.

No, the death of the crash race, like its life, was deeply embedded in the tattooed, drunken, drug-using, marginalized, borderline poverty line cycling counterculture that makes up the vast majority of bicyclists in greater L.A., a counterculture much of which may not even be tattooed or drunken or drugged. In short, the sanitized social view of cycling as something done by middle-aged white men on expensive bikes wearing $900 Rapha outfits had been turned on its head by Roadblock and the Wolfpack Hustle.

Most L.A. cyclists aren’t “cyclists”

The might and main of people who ride bikes in L.A. are not part of the lycra road riding crowd. They have a lot more in common with the Wolfpack Hustle, economically and socially, than they do with Velo Club La Grange. They ride bikes for transportation, and also for fun. Most of their riding terrain is the asphalt of urban Los Angeles rather than the off-road tracks of the Santa Monicas or the groomed climbs of the PV Peninsula.

Wolfpack Hustle began as an expression of this common bicycling humanity, a rejection of roadie elitism, a rejection of USA Cycling’s dictatorship-cum-greed, a rejection of cagers, and an assertion of every Angeleno’s legal right to ride in the street. It was no accident that Roadblock chose the night, a time that cyclists are typically terrified of riding, to establish the legendary late night ride of the Wolfpack Hustle. Even the word “hustle” was a carefully crafted mission statement. Life’s a hustle. To live in the city you gotta hustle. Ride your bike in traffic you sure as shit better hustle. Don’t straggle or fugg off in the group … hustle.

To lead is to advocate is to compromise is to change

Ward became a leader. No, he became the leader. He tapped into swirling currents of ostracism and outsider-ness that percolate through the urban L.A. cycling community, and he, with them, became a vanguard for the rights of bicycles in CARS ONLY LOS ANGELES. More importantly, he saw the connection between poverty and transportation and urban survival and police-community relations and took the issue of cycling rights to its logical conclusion: Human rights.

As an advocate he was hard-nosed, efficient, smart, and an ingenious consensus builder. The Hustle went from an outlaw ride to an organized ride that received the informal blessing of the LAPD. The success of issues related to riding bikes in downtown Los Angeles owes a lot to the work of Don Ward, and in the process he’s gone from cocktail-tossing revolutionary to patient member of the cycling establishment.

This repels many, who call him “corporate” and a “sell out” and who long for the good old days of outlaw rides and devil-take-the-hindmost. But these criticisms only prove the point: You can’t advance without compromise and you can’t compromise without change. Which means, of course, changing yourself.

Victim of a petty schmuck

The crash race was shut down by the “Chief of Investigation and Enforcement of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services,” or “COIAEOTCOLABOSS,” for short. It’s pronounced “Coya-Yotco-Laboss,” or just “dipshit.”

Dipshit informed Roadblock that if he went through with the crash race he faced jail and fines for whatever the city had to pay as costs for enforcement. A revolutionary would have promptly placed the letter in the round file, or perhaps would have sent an email along the lines of “I have two sweaty balls. You are free to lick them.”

Jail and fines, of course, are the way you bring a responsible advocate to his knees. The event’s “cancellation” came five days before the crash race, which was itself no coincidence, because it gave the disorganizers no time to try to obtain the mysterious “permits” without which such an event couldn’t be held. No matter that the whole beauty of the crash race is that it piggybacks on the existing infrastructure supporting the L.A. Marathon. No matter that the city’s “enforcement costs” are zero. And no matter that this is just one pinhead’s power play.

What matters is that an outlaw event, once tamed, can never return to the wild.

Thanks to Don Ward, L.A. is a better place to ride a bicycle for countless people. Thanks to Don Ward, bicyclists for five years sampled the sweet, evil pleasure of crashing the marathon. Thanks to Don Ward, a huge section of LAPD no longer looks at bikers as de facto criminals.

If we have to trade the crash race for all that, it’s a trade well worth making.

Hats off to you, Roadblock. Ride on.

———————————

I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this blog. Everything here is true except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting.

Butts (Part 29)

March 5, 2014 § 7 Comments

Somewhere between Columbus and Smithville Turner came down. The clear moonlit night rushed into and was thrust away from the windshield as the big motor pushed the Chevy effortlessly along the highway. Clem had cracked her window halfway and was smoking a cigarette. “Feeling better?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“You were down at the bottom of a pretty black hole there for a while. Thought I might have to come lookin’ for you.”

“How could you tell?”

She smiled. “Hmmm. Was it the wrenched expression on your face that looked like you were taking the world’s longest crap? For two solid hours? Yeah, that might have been it.”

“I hate pot. Makes me paranoid. And that beach weed is nasty, just nasty sick gross. How in the world will you sell it? Nobody’s gonna buy that stuff. You won’t be able to give it away.”

“Sure I will. High school kids’ll buy anything as long as it gets them high. They won’t care. I’ve seen schoolkids pay good money for the worst stuff you can imagine. Transmission fluid, airplane glue, they do not fucking care as long as they get high.”

“Let me get this straight, Clem. You’re going to target schoolkids?”

“Sure. Why not? Everybody knows kids do drugs. I did. You did. Plus, this beach weed will be cheap, so it’s like a discount. Easy on their budget.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. You’re actually doing them a favor. ‘Clem’s Discount Illegal Drug Sales.’ Kind of like the K-Mart of drug dealers.”

She smiled. “Pretty nice of me, don’t you think?” She spit out the window. “Stuff does taste pretty nasty, though.”

“Actually, it’s not really very nice of you at all. You’re preying on kids. Pot may not be the ‘demon weed,’ but it never helped any kid who was struggling in school.”

She rolled her eyes. “These are practically adults, Turner. Little stoner delinquent druggies who listen to Rush and bang each other and get high. They’re old enough to make up their minds about which drugs they want to take and they don’t need you or me acting like their parents. If they wanna get high let ‘em get high. Kids just wanna get hi-igh, kids just wanna get hiiiiiiigh … plus, we need the money. Right?”

“You need the money.”

“Sure do, sweetcakes. You know why? ‘Cause mommy ain’t sending me monthly checks so I can fart around on my girlfriend’s couch reading some dumbass book so some dumbass college teacher can give me a dumbass grade so I can go out and be a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief and swindle people so I can have enough money to give to my kids and start the whole damn thing over again. You don’t like dealing or hooking, Turner, so how the fuck would you be paying the rent if mommy weren’t sending you those checks?”

His cheeks were burning. “I’d do something you’ve never done.”

“Like what, Mr. Philosphizer?”

“I’d get a fucking job. You think the only kinds of people in the world are rich kids, hookers, and dealers?”

“I know which one you are. And I know without that little monthly check you’d be out on your ass and I wouldn’t be gettin’ any holypants lectures about selling pot to stoner high school dropouts.” Her anger made the words hard and sharp. “And why the hell is some job slinging shit in a Denny’s more honorable than selling pot? Who made pot illegal? Some asshole in Congress, that’s who, so he could make a billion off tobacco or alcohol or some bullshit they peddle in hospitals that you can’t buy without a prescription. You ever worked in a restaurant?”

“No.”

“It’s shit work, Turner. I’ve done it. People treat you like shit, the men ogle your tits and ask you for a date while their fucking wives are in the ladies’ room, snotty little brats spill shit on the floor, they tell you the food’s for shit after clearing off half the plate, they run you shitass ragged and then leave a fifty-cent tip. At least when they’re lying on top of you it’s over in five minutes and there’s enough cash left over to make rent.”

“When they’re not throwing you of the pickup at 50 miles an hour.”

“Right, or raping you or cursing you or threatening to beat you up if you don’t do their cousin as a freebie, but you know what? I’ve seen waitresses slip on grease in the kitchen and get third degree burns on their faces and get shitcanned for not showing up the next day. I’ve spent enough time in emergency rooms getting my own broken ass fixed to know what happens on job sites. People get hurt, fucked over, fired, and left for dead, and if they’re lucky some ambulance chasing douchebag takes their case, gets them a few bucks and keeps the rest of it for himself. So tell me again about how you’re gonna go get a job and protect the youth from the evil drug dealer Clementine? What job are you gonna get, Turner?”

“I don’t need to get one yet.”

She snorted. “Exactly my fucking point.” She blew a cloud of cigarette smoke in his face. “You know what’s weird about you?”

“What?”

“Here you are all healthy and shit and you’ve never asked me to quit blowing smoke in your face.” She blew some more smoke in his face. “Doesn’t it gross you out?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew it.” She exhaled the next breath out the window. “So how come, Turner?”

“How come what?”

“How come you never asked me to stop?”

“Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t?”

“Yeah. Aside from that.”

“Because I’ve been waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“Waiting for you to bring it up.”

“Oh crapcakes. What if I’d never brought it up?”

“Then we’d never have talked about it.”

“You are completely nucking futs,” she laughed. “Okay, I’ve brought it up. Now what?”

“Would you mind not blowing smoke in my face?”

“Just like that? That’s all you have to say?” She screwed up her face. “Of course I’ll stop. Anything else?” Her left hand was on the wheel and her right hand was on his thigh as the ash crumbled off his leg and onto the floorboard.

“Yeah.”

“What?”

“Would you  mind throwing those things away and never smoking them again?”

She looked straight ahead and flicked the glowing butt out the window. “You know how many times in my life I’ve thrown away a pack of cigarettes?”

“How many?”

“One.” Then she grabbed the almost-full pack of Marlboros off the dashboard and tossed them out, too. “What’s next, hon?” she asked with a giggle. “Do we start going to church now?”

“Fuck church,” he laughed.

She licked her lips. “I like the way half of that sounds.”

———————————

I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this blog if you’ve been enjoying the serialization of this story, which is a true story except for the parts I’ve made up, which is all of it. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting!

Fire! (Part 28)

March 4, 2014 § 10 Comments

Rather than take the ferry back, they left the beach and continued up the peninsula, cut over at High Island, and went north to I-10.

“Aren’t there going to be a lot of cops on the Interstate?” Turner asked.

“Yeah. But we’ll draw a lot more attention driving through little towns off the main road at 2:00 AM than we will on the highway.”

“We’re gonna get busted,” Turner said. What had begun as a happy, pleasant high started to creep ever so slightly to the edge of paranoia. He settled back into the vinyl seat awaiting the monster. This is how it always was and this was why he’d stopped smoking dope in junior high school. He loved that first buzz, but the paranoia ate him alive. His mind lingered for a moment on the word “busted.”

“Have you ever been to jail, Clem?”

She was giggly and happy. “Sure. That beach weed making you curious? That’s a very un-Turnerlike question.”

Then it flipped. The good vibe was gone, instantly overwhelmed by terror. Every car was either a cruiser or an undercover policeman. Turner coiled up into a fetal ball even though he was still sitting upright. The speeding Impala took him right back to that summer morning waiting for the white-and-yellow HouTran bus to haul him to Sharpstown High, “A secondary school named after a fucking real estate swindler,” he thought.

Wayne had passed around the little one-hit pipe and when the bus picked them up they were stoned solid. By eight o’clock on a June morning in Houston they were already soaked to the skin in sweat and humidity, and the doors to the air-conditioned bus opened like the gates of heaven. They stumbled to the back of the bus and Turner wedged himself up against the window, but after a few minutes he had become so paranoid about getting caught while stoned he stopped looking out the window and repeatedly blew his breath into his cupped palm then inhaled it. “Does that smell like I’m stoned?” he kept asking himself, repeating the breath test over and over.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Julio asked him.

“I’m checking to see if my breath smells like I’m stoned.”

“Fuck yeah you smell like you’re stoned, and even if you didn’t you look totally wasted. Open your fucking eyes, dude, they’re hanging three-quarters shut. And use some of this.” He handed Turner a plastic bottle of Visine. Then they all laughed and Turner forgot about the spies and the friends of his parents who were riding the bus waiting to rat him out. The bus driver kept glowering at them in the giant rearview mirror. “He knows we’re stoned,” Turner thought, falling into the paranoid hole again. “I wonder if he knows Dad?”

In order to force his mind out the bad place it had fallen into, Turner focused all of his attention on the pull cable that ran the length of the bus. The cable was attached at regular intervals to small rectangular sockets, and when you yanked the cable, the socket let out a ring and the driver knew to let you out at the next stop. One of those sockets was right above Turner’s head, next to the electrical panel that operated the rear doors.

The paranoia, unfortunately, was becoming something much worse. Turner knew that you couldn’t hallucinate on pot, but he was starting to hallucinate. It was scaring him out of his mind. The harder he looked at the socket and the electrical panel by the doors, the crazier things got. The bus stopped to let off a passenger and the electrical panel appeared to break out in flames.

“Oh, shit,” Turner thought. “If I get up and jump off the bus everyone’s going to know I’m stoned. But if I stay here I’ll get burned to death. But if it’s just a hallucination so all I have to do is stay calm. Just stay calm. Unless of course it really is on fire.” This terrible trap of three untenable options raced on, over and over in an infinite loop. His heart was racing as his mind toyed with the flames that were now jumping and leaping out of the electrical panel.

“Pretty soon the bus will catch on fire,” he said. “I’m so fucking stoned. This is the most stoned I’ve ever been. I wish we’d hurry up and get to school. I’m really not that stoned. I’m so fucking stoned.” He looked out the window and saw the debarked passengers, then looked back at the burning interior of the bus and its magical hues, then put his head between his knees, resisting every fiber in his being that urged him to shout out “Fire! Fire!”

“First of all it’s a felony to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater, so on a bus it must be, too. Second of all everyone’s gonna look at me like I’m insane. Third they’re all gonna figure out I’m stoned and then I’m really gonna be in trouble.” The infinite loop of bad choices played over and over, speeding up until it was one continuous stream of catastrophes that froze him in place. “Maybe when I look up my head will be put back on right,” he thought. “Maybe I’ll start coming down.”

He raised his head just as the shape of the giant bus driver appeared out of the smoke. “What’s wrong with you, you crazy little motherfucker?” the driver was screaming. “You wanna fucking burn to death back here?” He grabbed Turner by the collar, jerked him over the seat, and leaped off the bus through the flames, finally throwing Turner on the grass. “What they fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck is WRONG?” the bus driver screamed.

The bus was now engulfed in flames, and Wayne and Julio were standing off to the side with the other passengers. “What was that all about?” asked Wayne. “You was just sitting on that damned bus like you was gonna burn yourself up inside it.”

Turner shook his head, then his whole body convulsed. “That’s it,” he said. “No more drugs for me.”

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It’s hard to ask for money, but as with most vices the more I do it the easier it gets. I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this blog if you enjoy the content. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner if you feel like it, and even if you don’t … thanks for reading and for commenting!

Pickin’ and a’ grinnin’ (Part 27)

March 3, 2014 § 5 Comments

The harbormen grabbed the big hawsers and made them fast as the front of the ship opened and made a gangplank for the cars to exit onto the Bolivar Peninsula. “It’s really simple, Turner. We’re going — you and I — to find that beach weed, and if those two clowns try to mess with us, we’ll have to politely convince them not to, probably with an ass beating.”

The Chrysler jalopnik had rolled off ahead of them and they followed it at a distance. After a few miles it turned right. “See?” said Clem. “Bastards are going to steal our beach weed.”

Turner was starting to feel proprietary about it as well. “Fuckers,” he swore. “How dare they?”

The Chrysler vanished from view and they rolled along until the pavement ended. Now they were on the sand, and the car bottomed out momentarily before the wheels got traction. The sand was now packed and hard and they could see the taillights of the Chrysler down by the shore. The moon illuminated the beach and the glassy Gulf waters for as far as they could see.

“Let’s start as far away from ‘em as we can,” said Clem, driving the opposite direction along the empty beach. She finally parked and they got out, each holding a big plastic trash bag. The tide was out and all along the edge were giant clumps of seaweed.

“This isn’t pot,” Turner offered. “It’s just nasty ol’ seaweed.” He reached down and picked up a handful. “Seaweed and tar.”

They walked some more, inspecting the big clumps of seaweed. After a few hundred yards they were in despair. “I can’t believe it,” said Clem. “What a colossal waste of time.”

Turner kicked another clump with his foot. “Hey, Clem,” he said. “What’s this?” He reached down and picked up a fistful of matted vegetable matter. It wasn’t seaweed. Clem came over and shined her flashlight on it.

“That’s it, Turner!” she said excitedly. “That’s it!”

They peered closely at the matted stuff, and indeed it was marijuana. Wet and nasty looking, but marijuana nonetheless. Turner dropped it into his garbage bag. “Here’s more!”

As they walked along they came upon bigger and bigger clumps of pot. The bales had broken apart in the water and washed ashore as medium – to – large sized conglomerations weighing several pounds each. Before long their trash bags were full and they returned to the car for more.

Now they were so excited they couldn’t work quickly enough. “Oh my dog, Turner,” said Clem. “Even dried out this stuff is going to weigh hundreds of pounds! Hundreds!” Soon the trunk was full and they began loading the floorboards of the back seat.

Gradually they made their way down the beach until they were only fifty yards or so from the Chrysler. One of the guys was leaning against the hood smoking  a cigarette. The other guy was at the trunk taking out something long and dangerous looking.

“It’s a rifle,” said Turner. “He’s gonna kill us. He’s been waiting for us to collect all the shit and now he’s going to blow us away and they’re gonna keep it for themselves.”

With the brilliant moonshine they were easy targets for a guy with a rifle. “Hey!” Clem shouted to the guy smoking the cigarette.

“Yeah?” he said.

“What are you guys doing out here?”

“Hell, I was gonna ask you the same thing. We’re fishing.” As Clem and Turner approached, they could see that the guy at the trunk was handling a fishing pole, not a rifle.

“If you’re fishing then that means you’ve got beer,” said Clem.

“Indeed we do. Want one?”

“Does the pope shit in the woods?” Clem asked.

The guy smiled in the moonlight. “Hey, Bill. Grab a couple of beers, willya?” He turned back to them. “What are you two up to? I don’t see no fishing poles. Unless you’re fishin’ with trash bags.”

“We’re pretty much done,” Clem said. “There’s another ton of pot washed up on the beach. Our car’s full and we’re heading home.”

“Pot?” said Bill, holding out the beer. “On the beach?”

“Yeah,” said Clem. “Check it out.” She opened up her garbage bag and they peered in.

“Whew,” said the other guy, whose name was Joel. “That stinks like shit.”

“Wait ’til it dries out,” said Clem. “That’s money, that is.”

Joel reached into the bag and pulled out a fistful of the matted weeds, looking at it more closely. “I”ll be goddamned. It is weed. Hey Bill, crank on the engine.” As Bill turned the ignition, Joel opened the hood and spread the weed on top of the air filter cover, then slammed the hood. “That’ll dry ‘er out,” he said.

The four of them stood around and drank beer, with Turner surreptitiously pouring his out in dribs and drabs. He didn’t drink, and he had a feeling that someone would need to be sober before the night ended. After about thirty minutes, Joel popped the hood. “Dry as a bone!” he said, scooping up the beach weed.

Bill pulled some Zig-Zags out of the glove compartment, rolled up a fatty, and fired it up. He took the first drag, a big one. “Oh, boy,” he coughed. “That’s some nasty shit.” He handed it to Clem, who followed suit.

She gagged. “Ugh. Ugh. Gross.”

Joel was next, sucking away for all he was worth and cursing at the same time. “It’s like smoking poison,” he said. “Or smoking a skunk’s balls.”

Next the joint came to Turner. He hadn’t smoked since he was in junior high school. It had been while waiting for the bus on the way to summer school with Wayne Dokes and Julio Martin. They had all failed science class and been consigned to six weeks of purgatory at Sharpstown High School, where all the junior high fuck-ups had to go make up classes in order to get to the next grade. Turner still had nightmares about that particular day.

Joel’s hand still proffered the joint. “Ah, fuck it,” he thought, and took a drag. “What could possibly not go wrong?”

The smoke burned his lungs but even worse was the taste, some hideous mixture of seaweed and sea water and salt and tar and the general chemical filth that was the Gulf of Mexico all rolled up in one fiery, smoky taste of … skunk balls. He held in the smoke as the witches’ brew of spilled petrochemicals  and tetrahydrocannabinol did their dirty work on his tired and capitulated brain.

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Pelicans and pistols (Part 26)

March 2, 2014 § 4 Comments

By the time the big Chevy nosed its way onto the Bolivar Ferry, it was well past 8:00 on a Sunday night. The ferry only had a handful of other cars on it.

“This is where I made my first mini-fortune,” Turner said.

“Oh, really?”

“Yep.” He told her about selling school chocolates with his brother, but the only part she liked was the part where he extorted money from Cason in exchange for not snitching.

“You’ve got a killer’s instinct,” she said. “We just have to sharpen it up a bit.”

Off on the left loomed the big lump of Pelican Island. “See that?” said Turner.

“Yeah. What is it?”

“It’s a spoil island.”

“What’s that?”

“When they dredged the Houston Ship Channel, they had to put all the muck somewhere, so they heaped it up into an island. That’s it. Pelican Island.”

“Pretty name for something so nasty. What’s on it?”

“The most amazing thing no one’s ever seen.”

“What does that mean, Turner?”

“It’s a breeding colony for laughing gulls. Zillions of ‘em, right there on the ground with their eggs and their chicks. Stinks like shit, and birds everywhere.”

“Sounds gross.”

“It is. But it’s really hard to get to and there aren’t any roads on it, and so it’s protected, so the birds roost and lay their eggs and raise their chicks on it. It’s kind of a sanctuary.”

The moon was rising and it shone down on Clem’s face. Her black hair was shiny in the moonlight. She turned towards him as the boat cleaved smoothly across the calm waters of the bay. “What’s with you, Turner?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what’s with you? You’re the least curious human I’ve ever met.”

“You lost me, Clem.”

“I did? Have you noticed that you’ve never asked me anything about me? Like it’s just normal for a smarty-boots philosphizer  college student who rides a bicycle in his underwear to hook up with a hooker and never ask her anything about her life. Nothing ever. Not even once.”

“What do you want me to ask?”

“That’s just it! Most people don’t need a checklist, Turner! They ask! They’re curious! But here you are, sitting on a damn boat about to go make a major drug run and maybe get thrown in prison for life and you’ve never even asked me anything about ME. That’s weird, Turner! That’s fucked up!”

Her legs were up on the dashboard and her skirt had fallen down so that the white “v” of her panties were showing at the intersection of her crossed legs. The boat’s engines churned.

“Well, Clem, I’m very curious. Just not about the things that other people are curious about. That’s all.”

“Like what?”

“Other people, you know, if they have a girlfriend, they want to know about her vagina, and who’s been in it, and how she uses it, and how many times she’s used it, and whether she plans on using it with someone other than them, and they get all into that, you know, I call it ‘pussy politics.’”

“Yeah?”

“But I don’t care about that. It doesn’t have an odometer on it, Clem … “

She giggled. “If it did, I have flipped it twice by the time I was eighteen.”

“Right? But it doesn’t. So what do I care how you use your vagina, or who’s been in it, or what and how and when and why you plan to use it next week? I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you do with your elbows, do I? So why should I spend my waking time worrying about the crack between your legs?”

Clem looked out the window. “So if you came home and I was screwing some guy, you wouldn’t be mad?”

“I probably would be, but that’s your business, Clem. We aren’t married.”

“What if we were married?”

“I’d be really mad, then.”

“Would you kill him?”

“You’re joking.”

“Hell I am.”

“Of course I wouldn’t.”

“How come?”

“Because I don’t think I could kill another human being. Especially for something like fucking. Fucking’s natural.”

“You know what I’d do if I came home and you were screwing some woman?”

“What?”

“I’d blow your fucking brains out. Like this.” She made a pistol with her thumb and forefinger, switched off the imaginary safety, pulled back the hammer, and pointed it at the side of Turner’s head. “If you were fucking someone in my bed, I’d squeeze this trigger until your goddamned brains came out the other side of your head.” Then she pointed the finger gun to the floorboard, let the hammer gently back, and clicked on the safety.

There was a long silence as the water hit the sides of the ferry and the diesel engines chugged away in the moonlight.

“What about the woman I was fucking? Would you shoot her, too?”

“Only if she was really cute. But otherwise, no. I can’t blame her. She’s just doing what I would have been doing.”

“You say all this like you’ve shot somebody before,” Turner said.

“Maybe I have. But I didn’t kill him too badly.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You didn’t kill him ‘too badly’?”

Clem laughed, then frowned. “I shot him good enough that he stopped doing what he was doing.”

“What was he doing?”

“What he wasn’t supposed to. Haven’t seen him since and don’t miss the bastard one whit and hope he never shows his ugly face around my house again. You better hope not, either. He’d shoot your narrow ass just for living.”

“You’re crazy, Clem.”

“I’m crazy? You’re the crazy one, Turner. Normal men kill other people for fucking their women. But you, you’re just kind of like ‘Oh, well,’ like she’s making some guy a cup of coffee. Are all philosophizers like you?”

“I’m not a ‘philosphizer,’ whatever that is.”

“Sure you are!” She dropped her voice an octave and scrunched her face up in a mock serious expression. “What is the meaning of justice? How do we know what we know?” She started giggling. “All your philosophizing crap is so dumb. I tried to read one of your books while you were at school and it’s the stupidest crap ever. It doesn’t even make any sense, except the part about the old man trying to fuck the young boys. Why do you care about that shit? Why don’t you just get a business degree and learn how to make money like everyone else? Who gives a shit about ‘What is justice?’”

Turner looked at her. “You know why I’m not curious about you?”

“Why?” She was so eager that her eyes seemed to flicker with electricity.

“Because the easiest way to kill what I feel about you is to examine it.”

The silence filled the car. They sat there.

After a while Clem spoke. “You see these other cars on the ferry?”

“What about them?”

“Any of them look funny to you?”

Turner surveyed the handful of vehicles. “No.”

“Why don’t you try to tell me what each one of them is here for?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“See that pickup? Guy and his wife and two kids. They’ve been on the island for the day and are headed home, somewhere on the mainland. The big Buick with the two old people? What are they doing?”

“I don’t know. Same thing?”

“Probably. What about the two Mexicans in the Pinto?”

“Working on the island? Going home after a day’s work?”

“Yes, I’d say so. What about that one?” She nodded over towards a rusted out Chrysler 300. “What are they here for?”

Turner looked. The car was really beat-up, with a huge dent in front chrome fender. The driver had a scraggly beard and was wearing an Astros ballcap. The passenger was slouched low, wearing sunglasses, but evidently not asleep. “I don’t know. They aren’t fishermen, that’s for sure.”

“No, Turner, they aren’t.”

“Tourists?”

Clem laughed. “Yes, probably birdwatchers finishing up a day over on Pelican Island.”

“Who are they, then?”

“I’d say they’re drug dealers.”

“Like us!”

“Yes, like us. Which means … ?”

“You think they’re going the same place we are?”

“I do.”

The ferry’s engines strained as they reversed the screws, slowing the boat as the captain guided it perfectly into the ferry landing.

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