The fed state

October 19, 2019 § 8 Comments

There I stood, pink smoothie in hand, alternating between freeze headaches and the pleasure of the cold drink on a hot day. The inside of the McDonald’s had been too cold, and after the glorious reward of a Big Mac, large fries, and DP, There was no better place to bask in the sun and slurp than outside the entrance, next to my bike.

I’d been pedaling for four hours and had earned that Big Mac. The sugar, the salt, the thick grease, the fake vegetables piled into the fake bread were so glorious, a sensation of lovely poison that few things will ever equal. Ravenous hunger slaked with fast food is the second best feeling there is.

As I stood there, a minivan pulled up from the drive thru window and stopped next to me instead of going straight and exiting onto arrow highway. I looked at the driver, who had her arm draped in the door, and her passenger. The lady’s forearm was larger than my thigh and her multi chin spilled onto the enormous pillow growing out of her chest.

Rolls hung off her forehead, and tiny eyes, deeply sunk, briefly took me in. She was about my age and her passenger, perhaps her mother, was equally covered in blankets and layers of natural insulation.

In short, typical McDonald’s customers.

I finished my smoothie and leaned over to unlock my bike. That’s when the front door to the McDonald’s opened and a worker staggered out carrying what can only be described as a modified McDonald’s garbage bag with a big plastic handle. It took both hands and she groaned under the weight of her load.

That’s when I understood what was going on. The lady had ordered so much food that it couldn’t be handed off through the drive thru window, windows that are basically big enough for a horse to walk through. Indeed, the bag was so large that the employee could barely get it into the open window, and it wasn’t helped by the lady’s huge arms.

A wrestling shoving pushing match ensued where they thrust and crammed the bag in between the dash the breasts the arms the chins and the windshield so violently that I actually felt sorry for the dead meat inside the bag.

Of course it could have been accomplished with much less violence by simply opening the massive sliding door and setting the trash bag on the seat but then the patrons wouldn’t have been able to do what came next: shove their fists, and practically their faces, into the trash bag and begin strangling French fries, which they did with the gusto of prisoners breaking a fast.

The implications staggered me. The trash bag meant that this was a regular thing for countless customers. And it was 11:30 AM; there was no way this was their first meal of the day. And the contents had to have cost at least $70. And it’s wasn’t going to be their last meal of the day either, or even of the afternoon.

Our eyes meet ever so briefly, mine shocked, hers defiant. “What are you looking at, boy? Haven’t you ever seen someone eat a trash bag’s worth of junk food?”

When I recounted the story to Wily, he said, “You don’t just get like that. It takes years and years of hard work and tens of thousands of dollars. And you know something else? They have never been hungry.”

“How do you figure? They almost chewed their own fingers off getting those fries into the glory hole.”

“They have never exited the state off being fed. There is never a moment in their lives when their stomachs and intestines haven’t been filled, absolutely filled, with food. You can’t feel real hunger that way, only the psychological craving of the drug.”

“Can we change the name?” I asked.

“Of what?”

“California.”

“To what?”

“The State of Fed.”

END

Bikes can make you Belgian

October 18, 2019 § 2 Comments

We have given out the Belgian Award at our annual award ceremony for several years now. It has typically gone to the man or woman who evinced the kind of relentlessness, toughness, and big miles that bike racers associate with the one-day classics like Paris-Roubaix Tour of Flanders.

This year the award went to a guy named Gary Washington. Gary’s a new kind of Belgian in that he wasn’t chosen because he rode 20,000 miles a year through rain and sleet, or because he pounded for hundreds of miles across dirt and gravel in Dirty Kanza, but because he showed the kind of resilience, commitment, and desire to change his entire life by becoming a committed rider, which is probably the toughest thing of all.

Gary started riding five years ago, after more than thirty years had passed since he pedaled around as a kid on a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed.

He was talking with some friends at the race track when one of them, Gerald Bond, mentioned that he rode a bicycle. Like most non-cyclists, Gary laughed and kidded Gerald about his avocation. “Man, you’re in your 40’s and riding a bicycle? For real?”

But something about his friend’s cycling struck him, so a few months later, after a day at the track when the horses had been especially good to him, Gary went to Sports Authority and plunked down $200 on a Columbia mountain bike. After a little bit of practice, Gary took Gerald up on an invitation to “go for a pedal.”

And we all know what those “friendly invitations” mean …

The two friends rode together for a bit until Gerald decided it was go-time. “Come on,” he said, upping the pace suddenly and then easily riding away. After a long time Gerald slowed and let Gary catch up, exhausted and embarrassed and beat to hell, and at that moment Gary had the realization that so many of us have had at the hands of a “friendly” beatdown.

“NEVER AGAIN,” he said to himself.

Knowing that the only way he’d improve was through practice, Gary took up riding full bore. For the next one hundred consecutive weeks he logged a hundred miles minimum every single week, an astonishing feat of consistency and commitment for someone who had just taken up the sport. The fact that he did it on his $200 MTB showed even more clearly how dedicated he was, and his passion was evident to others–his buddy who’d gotten him into cycling was now suddenly too busy to go out and try to repeat the “friendly” invitation.

Soon another friend began pushing hard for Gary to get a road bike. This friend, Anthony Griffin, also encouraged him to join the local Cali Riderz club, which he did. “Best $1,800 I’ve ever spent,” is Gary’s verdict two years later.

“This sport/hobby has improved my life tremendously,” Gary says. “I used to get the flu between September and March anywhere from 2-3 times every year, but since I started riding I haven’t been sick with the flu in over five years. I used to be quiet and reserved, but I talk all the time now. I used to just go with the flow, but now I’m dedicated to inspiring and motivating others.”

It’s this last part that has taken on a bigger and bigger part of Gary’s life, because he knows that our communities are filled with people who are desperate to change their lives with exercise and better habits, they just don’t know how or where to begin.

“I used to ride to get myself better, but now I want to coach and mentor others so that they can improve and change their lifestyles, like my friends helped me change mine.”

In 2019 Gary is on track to rack up 7,500 miles, and it has been a major commitment on his end because he works evenings and even though that lets him ride in the day, it means he has to go from ride workout to work grind, a tough combo if there ever was one.

With hardman rides like Crystal Lake under his belt, and a 163-miler to San Juan Capistrano and back, he shows no sign of letting up. As with so many people transformed by the bike, Gary’s friends and family support him as well. But unlike riders who will tell you that the hardest part of cycling is increasing wattage or performance gains, for Gary the hardest thing is cycling is “To get others to start riding.”

“That’s the hardest part,” says, “but the part I enjoy the most.”

With mentors like Gerald Bonds, Anthony Griffin, Mike Thompson, Glen Banks, Mark Trumbach, Marty Blount, and countless others who have helped him on the way, Gary keeps pushing on to spread the gospel of the bike. That’s a Belgian tough guy, make no mistake.

END


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The fake cave

October 16, 2019 § 15 Comments

For some reason cyclists have a variety of descriptors that purport to show how badass they are. “Pain cave” and “in the box” are two of the most common, along with “beast mode,” one of my faves.

However, I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between the use of such terms and the actual badassedness of the rider using them. In fact, the riders who truly do dwell in the “pain cave” never talk about it. They simply post up their ride and let the stats do the talking for them. Or, they don’t post anything at all … you just go with them on a ride and find out that what they’re doing is different from what you are doing.

To go along with truth in advertising laws, I’m recommending that cyclists start using the following phrases to indicate what their ride was really like so that co-workers, family members, and people standing in line at the convenience store won’t mistake them for anything more than what they are: Ordinary middle-aged men riding overpriced plastic toys in expensive underwear.

  1. Cupcake Mode. This is the mode you are always in. You crumble easily, you are prettily decorated, and you contain zero hard minerals.
  2. Candyass: Whenever you get the urge to say “badass,” say this in its place.
  3. In the Gentleness Cave. This is what happens the moment you feel any discomfort: You begin to pedal gently, or better yet, stop and have a Gu, check your text messages, snap a selfie.
  4. To smurf (v.): Use instead of the verb “suffer” to describe the slowing, cutesy pace you default to whenever the speed picks up, the road tilts up, it starts to sprinkle, or one of your gadgets begins beeping because you might eventually leave Zone 6.
  5. Quarter gas: Replaces “full gas,” a term you normally use to describe those efforts when you are being pummeled trying to keep up with some grandpa in floppy dickhiders and tennis shoes on the bike path.
  6. On the sofa: Cyclists who have never ridden a saddle with rivets love to say “on the rivet” to indicate how hard they were going, when instead their data shows they did a 22-mile pancake ride, took selfies, fiddled with their water bottles, and got a flat.
  7. Slob: Ersatz for “Clydesdale,” a word that obese and unfit riders use to describe their bad condition by making it sound like they are mighty draught animals doing heroic labor.
  8. With the wankers: You’ll often hear someone who got shelled hard and early from the group ride drag ass up to the regroup and say they were “in the grupetto,” as if the gaggle of quitters he was riding with are somehow analogous to the Tour riders who, after getting dropped on Mont Ventoux, band together to make the time cut.
  9. Tweezle: “We hammered” always means “we rode weakly in little gears.” Tweezle is the word.
  10. Slug season: Use this instead of “off season” because either a) You don’t race so the whole year is “off season,” b) You are “peaking” for a masters race in June and pretending that the remaining 11.5 months are part of a training plan, or c) Bacon.
  11. NSS: Tell people about your “Narcissist Strava Score” instead of your “Training Stress Score” because all that time on #socmed is, well, you know exactly what it is.

I’m sure there are lots more, feel free to add!

END


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Fear the Schier

October 15, 2019 § 4 Comments

The thing about cycling is that you never know what you’re going to get, besides an ass beating.

It was 5:30 AM, pointy-sharp. There was exactly one person with bad enough judgment to be waiting on the stoop of CotKU. “I heard there was a ride,” he said.

I peered into the backlight thrown out from the coffee shop. All I could make out was a shaggy beard, a shitty bike, hairy legs, and a friendly voice. If it had been lighter I would have instantly noticed the worn handlebar tape, the scuffed shoes, the not-so-clean chain, and all the components that shrieked “We are ridden.”

We picked up Marc Coralle and Todd at the bridge at exactly 5:50. By “picked up” I mean we kept on riding and they scrambled to catch up. Shaggy at least knew a few things, or at least one thing, which was the only thing worth knowing: Shut up and stay at the back.

Marc is a lying Frenchman, redundant, and funny af. He had been trash talking the ride on the ‘Bag and insisted that the first person up Deer Creek was going to get the other guy’s light.

“What do you mean ‘other’”? I’d asked. “Sounds like you think it’s just going to be you and me.”

“It’s just going to be you and me,” he said confidently. “And I like your light. I need a new one.”

The last and only other time we’d gone up Deer Creek, a 2.5-mile, 11% monster, I’d had to turn myself inside out to catch and drop him. That boded poorly for today because the prior week I’d had the advantage of knowing the climb.

Marc’s lying was exceptional. He pretended to be a new cyclist and to his credit had a bit of the Freddie in him. But the more you quizzed him about his background, the more you realized he knew his shit, something confirmed by even a casual glance at his legs. His dad had been a “serious amateur” in France who had won “16 pretty major races” and who was headed for a “professional team” before he made a “different career choice.”

In other words, Marc had grown up from earliest infancy in and around bike racing in Brittany, the home of Bernard Hinault, though Marc pretended to know nothing about it until you got him talking, which I had. “So did you ride much as a kid?”

“Oh, never, I mean just a little but never competitively or like racing or anything.”

“That’s funny, your dad being a top amateur and everything. In France.”

“Well we rode a little.”

“A little?”

“Yes, just a little. My first time out we were coming down a hill and he started sprinting me. We were almost at the finish and he slammed my bars hard and sent me off into the ditch.”

“Sounds about right.”

“I was scared and mad but you know what he said?”

“What?”

“If you want to win a bike race you better be ready to kill your own mother.”

“Not to mention your son.”

“Exactly.”

So inexperienced Marc only knew about sprinting, ditches, and competition to the death, and after getting worked over the prior week I knew that this morning would be more of the same.

Todd and Marc took turns sitting with me on the front while Shaggy, whose real name is Michael Schier, sat at the back. At Trancas Todd realized he had a very important 10:00 Saturday morning appointment he had to get back to.

“Shaggy is sandbagging,” Marc advised, an interesting insight from someone who knows nothing about cycling. “When we hit Deer Creek he will leave you like a stranger drowning in a bog.”

We hit Deer Creek and in fact, that is what happened, only Marc left with him. As they zoomed by I noticed that Shaggy had a gear combo just about perfect for the climb, maybe a 32 on the front and a 28 on the back. I don’t think his cadence ever dropped below 80.

About a quarter of the way up I saw Michael shake Marc loose.

I went as hard as I could which wasn’t nearly hard enough, but it was nonetheless a happy moment to watch Marc hand over his light to Shaggy, who didn’t even have a headlight but instead had been riding in the pitch dark with a tiny white blinky strapped to his handlebars.

On the way back we suffered like dogs.

END


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Poke the bear

October 11, 2019 § 6 Comments

There are lots of rules in cycling. One of those rules is, “In the sprunt, get out of the way.”

This is the rule for 99% of riders. If you are not leading someone out or getting ready to unleash your killer sprunt, you are in the way. You are a “clogstacle.”

As a career clogstacle, I understand how this works. On the last lap of the NPR #fakerace, I tenaciously grab the wheel of EA Sports, Inc. People try to horn in but I elbow them out of the way.

With 1k to go the pace goes from torrid to unbearable. People are now fighting like mad for any shelter from the wind and are ready to kill in order to latch onto the wheel of EA Sports, Inc.

This is when I stand up, take my briefcase off the overhead rack, and quietly shuffle to the back of the bus while the real racers do their thing, i.e. risk death and catastrophic injury for the massive jolt of hormones that are released when you kill the mastodon with your sharpened stick.

Fortunately, there is constant churn at the #fakerace, and someone is always having to learn the Rule of Clogstacles. Last Tuesday the scholar-in-training was Aaron Somebody in a USC team kit.

There were a mere 400 meters to go and hardly anyone was left in the tattered front group. EA Sports, Inc., was locked onto the wheel of Dante Young as Davy Dawg wrapped it up so that the tires were whining like a cur getting beaten with an iron rod.

At this very inopportune moment, the USC rider decided that where he really wanted to be was where EA Sports, Inc. was, and physics not readily allowing two bodies to occupy Dante’s wheel at the same time, USC Boy did what any self-respecting sprunter would do. He leaned into EA Sports, Inc. to nudge him off the wheel.

Unfortunately, dense masses of muscle and ice cream do not nudge easily, and EA Sports, Inc. nudged back, sending USC Boy off on a somewhat different line of travel.

Undeterred, USC Boy came back to the buffet line to see if he could get another helping. This time the nudge was more of a hard bang, but dense muscle and ice cream and a 20-lb. weight advantage and a 150-lb. meanness advantage weren’t impressed.

EA Sports, Inc. moved his bars forward and then drifted back a few inches so that now the two gentlemen’s handlebars were locked together. “What do you think you’re doing?” EA Sports, Inc. politely inquired.

“That’s my wheel,” USC Boy said.

“I don’t see your name on it,” EA Sports, Inc. replied.

As the speed hit the mid-30’s and the actual sprunt was about to occur, and as EA Sports, Inc. was in the clear position to slightly twiggle his bars and send USC boy somersaulting atop the pavement, USC Boy relaxed on the pedals, the bars unhooked, and EA Sports, Inc. went flying around Dante for the immortal, unforgettable, legendarily mythic NPR #fakerace #fakewin.

I quit observing, folded up my Hubble telescope, and caught up to the scraggle at the light. EA Sports, Inc. and USC Boy were having what is often called an animated discussion but in cycling means “almost coming to blows” about who did what when how and why.

USC Boy tried to explain that he wanted to improve, that he was seeking instruction from the master, that he only wanted to rectify misunderstandings, but at the same time was insisting that EA Sports, Inc. had opened up a bit of a gap that he was merely trying to exploit.

“Dude,” EA Sports, Inc. said, “there was a massive gap all right.” He pointed his thumb at me. “But it wasn’t at the sharp end of the spear.”

USC Boy considered that for a moment, nodded, and went off to the university for what was presumably his second round of schooling for the day.

END


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Cheaper than a Lambo!

Obstacle course

October 10, 2019 § 3 Comments

When I post an upcoming ride, someone invariably posts the following:

  1. Pace?
  2. How much elevation?
  3. How far?

I usually try to be honest:

  1. You’ll be tired at the end.
  2. It won’t be flat.
  3. Bring your passport.

What is it with people who want to know everything before they start? Look, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be long. There will be climbing. Will you get dropped? Hell, yes. Will you be miserable? Hell, yes. Will you rue the day you were born? Hell, yes.

But that’s not all. You’ll get stronger, we’ll almost certainly wait for you, you’ll feel like you accomplished something, and most importantly, you’ll be home before noon.

Back in the day you never asked that kind of stuff. First, no one even had an odometer, much less a way to measure elevation. Rides were either hilly or flat. Long (100), medium (70), or short (30). Fast or slow. And crucially, the ride was typically decided at the start.

We didn’t have the ‘Bag, the ‘Gram, or the Stravver, and it was too complicated to pick up the phone and call a dozen people, so we had predetermined start times on days of the week, and as we rolled out of town we chose the day’s route.

I say “we” but it was never “we.” The chooser was Fields, and he rarely told you where you were going. He made turns and you deduced from the turns where the route most likely was. Guadalupe towards the river? Probably San Marcos. MLK eastbound? Manor and parts northeast, or maybe Webberville and parts east. Bee Cave/Loop 360? Volente or Marble Falls. One thing’s for sure. You never, ever asked, “Where are we going today?”

Why not?

Because it was a sign of weakness. WTF did you care where we were going if you had good legs? Because you had to be home at a certain time? Then you didn’t belong on the ride anyway. Because you had some specific plan you were following? Then you didn’t belong on the ride anyway. Because you were scared? Oh, okay. That will be used against you later.

In short, if you were talking you were losing. Every word was parsed and fed into the calculus of “Who’s going well and who’s going to get dropped and who’s going to tear my legs off?” Riding was mental as much as physical; there were no ersatz measuring sticks like TSS or FTP or IDGAF. The ride was the yardstick, and where you came unstitched was how well you did, and the focal point for all the harassing you had to put up with the rest of the week, and the nucleus around which you could build out your pathetic excuses.

Scott Dickson was a master mathematician of this sort of ride calculus and would vary the ride en route depending on how bad or good you felt. If you felt good he’d make it longer and harder, whereas if you felt bad he’d make it longer and harder. “Let’s turn here and add a couple of miles,” meant “Let’s turn here and add twenty miles where there is no place to get water because your bottle is empty and it’s 100 degrees.”

Nowadays people just quiver behind their keyboards, and it doesn’t help them ride better. It deters them from riding, or sends them scurrying to some pre-fab ride where there is no surprise of any kind. You’re doing the “team ride” and like every team ride you will never get any better, never go any faster, never do anything this week that you didn’t do the one before. But the payoff is that there are no surprises.

Kind of sad because life is one big surprise, by which I mean obstacle.

From the moment you awake to the moment you die, you are faced with obstacles to surmount, find a way around, have someone help you climb over, or push out of the way. And you don’t get better at navigating obstacles by following the crowd, although there’s apparently security in knowing that when you dash madly over the cliff at least you’ll have lots of company.

Life, as with cycling, is filled with people who think that the easy way is the easy way, never grasping that it’s the hardest way of all.

END

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You will want to do everything in these. Yes, everything.

Carmaggeddon Day 12: Bedbugs

October 7, 2019 § 4 Comments

I rode down to the barbershop and realized that ever since I admitted I was a drivaholic and began biking everywhere, I’ve spoken with a lot more people. Bikes make you speak to people even if you’re introverted, as I am.

I sat down in the chair. “What would you like me to do today?” the lady barber asked.

“Give me some more hair.”

“If I could do that I wouldn’t be standing here,” she said. “I’d be relaxing on my own private Hawai’ian island.”

“In that case make all the white hair go away.”

“It’s not white. It’s gray. And they are highlights that mix in with all of the red, brown, and gold colors naturally in your hair. People pay hundreds of dollars to get their hair to look like this.”

“People,” I said. “You mean ‘women.’”

“Well, that’s true.”

“Guys don’t. This guy, in particular. I just want more hair and less gray, like Willy.”

“Who’s Willy?”

“He’s a homeless guy I met in Santa Monica on Friday.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Now that I ride everywhere, I am tired all the time. So I stopped and got some coffee and this homeless dude wrapped in a blanket came up and asked for a dollar, so I gave him five.”

“Oh my goodness. You know, if you give money to homeless people they just spend it on drugs and alcohol.”

“Kind of like the kids here in PV and their parents. Only their drugs cost a lot more than five bucks.”

“Was he appreciative?”

“I don’t think so. I hope not. But we chatted a bit. He was like, ‘Man, I’m rich now.’”

“’What’d you do before you were homeless?’” I asked him.

“’I don’t remember, it was so many years ago. But the last time I got homeless, you know, I got four strikes and was out.’”

“’Four? I thought there were only three.’”

“’I had a good landlord. Or a crappy ump. Anyway, I was living large. Section 8 right over there, smack in the middle of Santa Monica.’”

As soon as I said “Section 8” all the Trumper barbers tensed up, trying to pretend they weren’t listening. The barbershop got completely silent except for snipping sounds and me.

“’Yeah, my first strike was a couch. I dragged it in off the street but didn’t check it too good. Turns out the bottom was covered in bedbugs and they infested all the apartments. Landlord had to spend thousands to fumigate and exterminate those little fuckers. He wasn’t too happy.’”

“’I guess not.’”

“’Then strike two was, you know, I spent a long time killing all those bedbugs with my thumb. They’d be climbing on the wall and I’d squish ‘em. Problem is the walls was white and the bedbugs was all full of blood, my blood, and they’d leave a big red gooey splotch on the wall. The whole apartment was covered with these brown splotches so my landlord wasn’t too happy about that.’”

“’I guess not.’”

“’Can’t really blame him. He was a good sort.’”

“’Then what?’”

“’Strike three was the cats. We was allowed two cats so I had two cats, right? One was a girl cat and she got pregnant and decided to have the kittens in my underwear drawer. They was pretty cute. I loved them kittens but there was nine of ‘em. Nine plus two is eleven.’”

“’Yes, generally.’”

“’So the landlord comes in one day and I’ve got eleven cats and they had crapped a bunch and he wasn’t too happy about that.’”

“’I can see that. Strike four?’”

“’I missed rent. $35. Couldn’t find it nowhere, so he evicted me.’”

“’How long ago was that?’”

“’Two years ago. But I’m okay now thanks to you!’ He smiled at me and flashed the fiver, so I figured it was okay, you know?”

My barber wasn’t much of a Trumper. “That was nice of you. I hope I get at least a five dollar tip,” she said.

And she did.

END


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