Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cycling with Hector and Maria

Enjoy a quick flashback to February 14th and you’ll remember that Franklin had set out from his house that day to get in a little afternoon bike ride before having Valentine’s Day dinner with his girlfriend. Within a couple of miles after starting, he came across Maria and Hector as they were just finishing their 12-mile ride for the day. Before parting, Franklin had suggested that, since they lived near each other and all three of them enjoyed cycling, they should get together someday and go riding. Well, wouldn’t you know it, they did.

Let’s join them at about the half-way point of their ride. At the moment, Maria is in the middle of saying:

“Do you see that house over there? The one with the pink flamingo in the flower bed to the left of the front porch? That’s where my good friend Karen used to live back when we were in high school. She worked at the Dairy Queen after school and on weekends and we used to hang out there and she would sneak us a free ice cream cone now and again. Well, I actually didn’t hang out there very long after I got my own job working at the grocery store. That kept me pretty busy what with school and homework and, you know, I did most of the laundry around my house. That wasn’t really one of my mother’s favorite things to do. I really don’t remember what any of her favorite things to do were - well, she liked to watch soap operas on TV – she was good at that. She had a friend who liked to run – back before running was popular. I tried running once. I wasn’t really crazy about it. I only did it because Hector thought he’d like it – which I guess he did. He did it a lot more than I did. He ran a couple of 10K’s – was gonna train for a half-marathon but then that’s when he started having all the problems with his knees and that was that – end of running. Didn’t hurt my feelings none I tell you that right now. No sir, not one little bit. Running gave me weird food cravings. Once when I was running, it was just a practice run around my neighborhood, like about three miles tops, all I could envision the entire time was a big ol’ block of cheddar cheese. Strangest thing for sure, I’ll tell you that right now. But after Hector got the knee surgery we got these bicycles. That was about three years ago. Isn’t that right, Hector? About three years ago we got these bikes. Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t remember anyway. Maybe it was a little bit more than three. We thought about taking up tennis. There are a couple of tennis courts at our subdivision club house. Do you have tennis courts in your subdivision? What am I saying? Of course you have tennis courts there. I forgot I went to a Labor Day picnic in your subdivision a couple of years ago – Hector and I rode our bikes over there actually – and I remember they had all the tables set up just right outside the fence to the tennis courts. Anyway, we tried it a time or two and Hector started complaining that it was bothering his knee – it coulda been too soon after his surgery, I don’t know. It was just a little too fast for me. I just couldn’t seem to keep my eye on the ball and it came at me so quickly and most times I couldn’t even get my racket turned the – that’s what you call it, right? Racket? Or is it paddle? No – that sounds silly. That’s ping pong, isn’t it – or does everyone call it table tennis now? When I was growing up, I don’t even remember EVER hearing the words “table tennis” – it was always just ping pong. Funny how things change over the years, isn’t it. Like, remember when people used to say “radar range” when the microwave ovens first started getting popular? And now it’s refrigerator instead of ice box. And diapers – remember when diapers were only made out of cloth? Now we have to call them cloth diapers so people will know that we’re talking about the ancient kind of diaper! And we have to call the old-style phones that we have in our houses “land lines” since almost everyone now has cell phones. I got my first cell phone in 1998 – I still have the same number. I was probably behind the times because I never had one of the big huge mobile phones – what did they call those? Bricks? Yeah, that’s what they were called – bricks. I had a little flip phone. It’s probably in the bottom drawer of my nightstand – with a dozen other cell phones I’ve had since then. Is it okay to call them cell phones still? Or has that changed? I tell you, I can’t keep up with all of this stuff. See this computer I have on my bike. It’s a simple little thing – tells me how fast I’m going and how far I’ve gone and how long I’ve been riding. I think it tells me the time too but I can never figure out to set that correctly so I just look at my watch. But now Hector wants to get one of those fancy GPS thingies that show him the route and where he is and when he gets home he can hook it to the computer and find out all kinds of information about the whole dang ride. Sometimes I just don’t know what’s gonna be next. And have you seen the instruction manuals for these things? My goodness – they’re all like a sixty page booklet or something – and they’re tiny as all get out and you have to use a magnifying glass to read them and only about the first five or six pages are in English anyway and then you’ve got eleven or twelve other languages to deal with. I mean – this is America, right? All we need is English and Spanish right? Of course I’m right. If you ask me, I think it’s a big waste of paper to print all of those other languages in the instruction book. No, but I really used to love to play ping pong – me and my brothers – we were pretty good. My first year of high school I was on the ping pong team – we went all the way to nationals…”

And this was pretty much how the entire bike ride had gone – Franklin riding next to Maria, with her endless conversation, and Hector following a couple of bike-lengths behind. Franklin nor Hector being able to squeeze a word in edgewise, sideways, frontways, backways or whatever.  But, unbeknownst to Maria, Franklin had managed to route their course to a section of countryside near the local wild life game preserve. As they topped the hill, the next section of road was a steep, fast paced, two-mile downhill with an abrupt 90 degree right turn along the cliff-side road that overlooked the preserve.

Yes Dear Reader, I sense that you are already seeing the direction that this little tale is headed.

As our trio of riders shifted into their highest gears, the scenery zipped by on either side with increasing speed. Maria continued to ramble. Franklin looked down at his computer – 28, 29, 30 miles per hour. Maria never missed a beat in her chatter. Hector remained tucked into the draft a few feet behind Franklin’s wheel – 39, 40, 41, 42 miles per hour. Maria’s blather droned on and on and on. As Franklin’s computer showed that they had reached 50 miles per hour, they were within 200 feet of the right turn – 230 feet from the edge of the cliff.

Franklin screamed, “STOP!” and he and Hector slammed on their brakes.

It was obvious that Maria was too busy listening to the sound of her own voice to hear anything that anyone else had to say. Within about 75 feet of the turn, smoke was streaming from the brake pads on Franklin’s and Hector’s bikes. Franklin was expecting the tubes to burst at any second from the heat building up on the rims. And while he was thinking that thought – Maria and her bike disappeared over the edge of the cliff.

As Franklin and Hector approached the turn at a manageable speed, they stopped, walked over to the edge of the cliff and peered down. No sign of Maria. Approximately 150 feet down and about 60 or 70 feet out from the base of the cliff, they could see her bike, laying all bent up on the rocky banks of a lagoon. In the murky waters of the lagoon, four or five alligators were thrashing around – obviously fighting over something. Hector looked at Franklin. Franklin looked at Hector.

Hector said, “I don’t guess there’s too much we can do about that, huh?”

“Nope,” said Franklin, “I think that bike is just way too messed up to even try to repair.”

They walked their bikes back over to the road and then began the trip back home.


As Franklin and Hector approached the outskirts of town, they took a left turn into the Resthaven Cemetery. They followed the tree lined road through the old section of the cemetery until they got to a more open area where the newer graves were located. They coasted to a stop near a fresh grave-site right next to the roadside. The newly placed headstone bore the inscription: PHIL – Beloved Groundhog. Franklin and Hector paid their respects and then they turned and rode back towards the gate.

As they approached the gate, they noticed a tree stump that they hadn’t seen on the way in. A tree stump that was a good three feet in diameter and cut at about two-and-a-half feet above the ground. It had a tiny, little door on the side of it that opened just as they were nearing. Through the opened door appeared a sponge that looked like it had just woken up from a deep, deep sleep. As the sponge staggered a couple of feet from the tree stump, it looked down and immediately saw its shadow.

“Dang,” commented Franklin. “Looks like 350 more years of winter.”

Enjoy the Ride!

And this about wraps it up for
The Groundhog Pentalogy


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Franklin, George and Lawrence Go for a Ride

George Meets Lawrence

Franklin said, “Look, George.
Look down the street.
That is my friend Lawrence.
Do you see Lawrence riding his bicycle?”

George said, “Yes Franklin.
I see your friend Lawrence. He is riding this way.
Let’s ask him if we can ride our bicycles with him.”

“I will wave to him and tell him to stop,” said Franklin.
“Hey Lawrence! Hey Lawrence!
Come over here and stop.
Stop. Stop. Stop.”

Lawrence stopped and said, “Hello Franklin.
I am riding my bicycle to the lake.
It is a nice day to ride.”

Franklin said, “Hi Lawrence.
This is my other friend.
His name is George.

George lives in a tiny house in the backyard with his dog, Spot, because his wife kicked him out of his big house on account of he forgot to get her anything for Valentine’s Day.”
Lawrence said, “Hello George.
HOLY CRAP! Your face looks bad.
Did you get mugged?
Did someone hit you in the face with a bat?

George said, “Hello Lawrence.
We can change the subject starting right about now,
if you don't mind.”

“Okay,” said Lawrence. “Would you like to go
bicycle riding to the lake with me?”

George said, “That would be fun. Let’s go.”

Franklin said, “That would be a lot of fun. Let’s go.”

Lawrence said, “Hey Franklin,
what is that inside the bag on your bike?
It is moving.”

“Franklin said, “Oh,
that is my groundhog.
His name is Phil.
Phil will ride in the bag.”

George said, “Yes,
Phil will ride in the bag.
His legs are tiny and it will take us all day to get to the lake if he rides his own bike.”

Riding Bicycles to the Lake

Franklin said, “Look George.
Look Lawrence.
I am riding my bicycle
without holding on to the handlebars.”

George said, “Look Franklin.
Look Lawrence.
I am also riding my bicycle
without holding on to the handlebars.”

Lawrence said, “Look Franklin.
That alligator just ripped the bag off of the back of your bike.
The alligator is running away with the bag in its mouth.
Phil is still in the bag.
The alligator is running away
with Phil in the bag in its mouth.”

“Oh,” said Franklin, “This is sad.
This is very, very sad.”

George said, “I think I want to go home now.”

“I want to go home too,” said Franklin.

Lawrence said, “Well go ahead and go home.
You can both go home.
Boo hoo hoo you big-ass babies.
Go home and cry.
I am riding my bicycle to the lake.”

Riding Back Home

Franklin said, “This is a sad ride.
That was my favorite bicycle bag.”
George said, “I have one like it that you—
Look out Franklin! What are you doing?
You are heading straight for me.”

“My back wheel is stuck,” said Franklin.
“Oh, oh, oh. I am falling over. I am going to crash!”

“Lookout Franklin,” said George.
“You are going to hit that tree.
Down, down, down you go.
What a goober you are.”

“Don’t call me a goober,” said Franklin.
“At least I remembered Valentine’s Day.
Now help me pick up my bicycle.
Help me see what is wrong.”

George said, “Oh look.
Look Franklin.
You have a big fat sponge stuck in your spokes.
This is why you wrecked.
This is why you fell down.
I will take the sponge out
and you can ride again.”
Franklin said, “Thank you George.
Thank you for fixing my bicycle.
We can finish riding home now.
We can ride our bicycles home.
It is a good day for a ride.
I miss Phil.
I can’t believe you called me a goober.”

Keep Trying to...
                Enjoy the ride!


You have now finished Part Four of
The Groundhog Pentalogy

   Franklin, George and Lawrence Go for a Ride

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day Again

George had just made the left turn onto Lakeside Drive. Up ahead was the right turn onto Robin Hood Drive.  Up ahead also, somewhere in hiding at the last house on the left prior to the turn, waited the gathering of dogs that are always eager to get the adrenaline flowing inside any cyclist who dares to penetrate their self-proclaimed domain. George knows, no matter how much he attempts to cycle in “stealth mode,” those dogs will sense him approaching and give him a good run for his money. And there was no reason for him to expect anything different today.

George and his bike were making no noise whatsoever as they pedaled within range of the property – well, unless you take into consideration the sound of George’s heart beating loudly inside his chest. Then sure enough, with less than a hundred feet to go, the silence of the afternoon was shattered with the abrupt commencement of half-a-dozen yapping dogs making a dash across the yard in a trajectory that would have them intercepting George at precisely the point where he would need to slow slightly to make that right turn. Unable to see around the dense growth of trees at that location, George just prayed that there would be no cars approaching from the north because he knew he would be swinging wide and fast.

As he got closer to the corner, George knew it was going to be a close call. Those dogs were really on their game today. As George began the lean to make the turn, the pack of dogs crossed the drainage ditch and hit the pavement. They were going to be on top of him at any second. George zipped around the corner – being able to see far enough up the road to confirm that there were no approaching vehicles; he stood up on the pedals and gave it everything he had. The dogs were giving it everything they had also – right up until the point where all at once one of them started yelping in an entirely different manner than that of actively chasing an intruding cyclist. It was more like the yelp of it being the attacked rather than being the attacker. George could immediately sense that the game had drastically changed behind him. The barking of the dogs was quickly beginning to fade, indicating to George that they had decided to forsake the chase.

George pedaled a few more feet down the road, then coasted and cranked his head around to take a look behind. At the precise moment that George was able to focus in the distance on the dogs all headed for the safety of their front porch, his vision was immediately drawn downward just as an alligator was leaping up off of the pavement and snapping at the rear wheel of his bicycle.

WHAT THE… ! exclaimed George, as he tried frantically to get his feet once again spinning the pedals with full force. “Where in blazes did an alligator come from?”

In a split second, George had picked the pace up to over twenty-five as he wound his way along Robin Hood Drive – the alligator always within ten to fifteen feet behind him. Several local residents were out working in their yards; children were playing in their driveways or near the edge of the road. George started shouting out warnings, Watch out! Get back! There’s an alligator coming!” Every few yards or so, the alligator would lunge again and snap at George’s rear wheel.

George was coming up on the intersection at Joseph Road. For the last couple of blocks, the alligator had been closing the gap and George could feel the alligator’s breath on his ankles each time it snapped at his wheel. In hopes to increase the gap, George made the split-second decision to make the hairpin left turn onto Joseph Road. Swinging wide and without slowing at all, George ran off the road on the far side of Joseph only slightly as he made the turn but quickly got his tires back up on the pavement. The alligator was quick to see what George was up to so it veered diagonally off-road through an empty lot on the left prior to the intersection in order to intercept George after he had made the left turn. (Obviously a little trick it had learned from watching the dogs.) As the alligator was scurrying across the lot, a groundhog poked its head up out of its hole to see what the commotion was all about. It quickly dove back down just as the alligator came trampling overhead. George was heading west on Joseph Road, once again pounding the pedals in the fiercest of all sprints. Just as the alligator was leaping across the drainage ditch to land on the asphalt right at George’s precise location…


An eastbound garbage truck flattened the alligator right there on Joseph Road.


It was about 5:15 pm when George rolled his bicycle into the garage then walked on into the house. Louise, his wife, was in the kitchen watering the plants on the window sill.

“Oh my God, you are not going to believe what happened to me on my bike ride today,” started in George. He then proceeded to tell the story in great length and detail – the dogs, the alligator, the garbage truck – blow by blow; turn by turn. Louise listened tentatively and didn’t interrupt or say a word until George finished with, “So what’s for dinner?”

“What’s for dinner?” echoed Louise. “What do you mean, what’s for dinner? Aren’t you taking me out for dinner tonight?”

“Am I supposed to take you out to dinner tonight?’ questioned George.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, George. You always take me out to eat on Valentine’s Day.”

“That’s today?”

“Are you kidding me? You forgot that today was Valentine’s Day?

“I’m sorry. Yes, I guess I did. I mean, it’s not like it’s a major holiday – like your birthday or Christmas or something.”

With that remark, Louise threw the watering can, still half full of water, at her husband.  Not expecting such a response, it caught George off guard and hit him square in the forehead with the spout jabbing into his right eye. Louise reached into the sink and grabbed a coffee cup and threw that at him too. George was able to step aside in time and the cup smashed against the wall behind him. As he turned to look at the shattered coffee cup, Louise quickly threw a second cup that caught him smack dab on the side of his head, leaving a big gash across his cheek. She threw a wet dishtowel at him. She threw a spatula. She grabbed the sponge that had been lying in a pan full of bacon grease and she threw that him. She threw the pan at him too.

“Good grief,” thought George, as he was trying to avoid the onslaught of projectiles, “why didn’t I do the dishes from breakfast this morning before I went on my bike ride?”

“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU FORGOT VALENTINE’S DAY!” shouted Louise then she stormed off into the bedroom and slammed the door behind her.

Obviously George was not having a good day and more than likely he did not…

Enjoy the Ride!

You've just read Part Three of
The Groundhog Pentalogy: 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day

Franklin had worked through lunch and then left his office three hours early on February 14th – right at two o’clock. It was a beautiful day for mid-February. The skies were clear and the sun had warmed the temperatures to a fabulous 78 degrees by noontime. What cyclist could pass up an opportunity for a bike ride on a day like this?

After pulling into his driveway, Franklin was a blur as he rushed through the house and into his bedroom where in a matter of seconds his work clothes had been replaced by his cycling clothes. In a non-stop motion, he cruised through his kitchen to fill his water bottles, grabbed his cycling shoes and helmet off the shelf in his laundry room, took his bike off the rack and aired up the tires then punched the code on the garage door keypad and zipped down the driveway and out of his subdivision. Destination: some point about fifteen miles away.

While Franklin was riding up the main boulevard that leads from his subdivision to the Farm to Market road that will take him to the rural countryside, he came up behind a couple, a man and woman, who were also out riding their bicycles. He slowed a bit to say hi as he passed and then he recognized the woman as one of the workers at the Subway sandwich shop near his office.

“Hey! Do you live around here?” he asked, slowing a little more to ride at their pace. “My name is Franklin. I come into your Subway once or twice a week.”

“Oh hi!” she replied. “Yes, I recognize you. I’m Maria and this is my husband Hector.” Then as she points to the right turn a few hundred yards ahead, “We live just a couple of blocks down that road. We’re just finishing up a little ride and then Hector has to get ready for work. He works the night shift at the steel plant over by the airport.  We try to ride at least three days a week before he goes to work. We usually ride about ten miles – today we did twelve. We’re not real fast. Probably not as fast as you but we’re getting better.”

As they approached their turn she paused long enough for Franklin to be able to say, “Well, nice to run into you. Maybe we can ride together some time since we live so close to each other.”

As they made their right turn, Maria shouted, “Yeah that would be fun. We can talk about it next time you’re in the shop.” They waved over their shoulders as Franklin continued straight.

“Hmmm,” he thought to himself. “I wonder if Hector ever gets a chance to speak.”

About five miles further, Franklin  came to FM-2920, where he makes his usual left turn. There’s a traffic light at the intersection. It was red. Franklin pulled into the left turn lane, came to a stop and waited for the light to turn green.

As he was waiting he heard the sounds of drums coming from somewhere off to his left. He turned to look. With squinted eyes, he focused on the distant sight of someone sitting on the side of the road playing a set of drums. Inside his brain, the thought, “Well that’s not something you see every day.”

The light turned green and Franklin  headed to the far side of the intersection and settled into the westbound shoulder. He maintained a slower than usual pace as he neared the young man playing the drums. It was a full set of drums – cymbals and everything. Franklin came to a stop about ten feet away from him and watched and listened for a while.  The guy was good. No idea why he was there though – on the shoulder of this fairly busy four lane road with basically no foot traffic at all. He thought maybe he should offer a tip but he only had a debit card and a twenty dollar bill. The kid was good, but not that good! Franklin clipped into his pedals and headed on down the road – the sounds of the drums ultimately fading into the distance behind him.

Within about six more miles, Franklin  was approaching the turnoff to one of his favorite, local stretches of road. It was the kind of road where the trees on each side grew up and over, forming a series of tunnels. There were no shoulders and the road had deep ditches on each side – usually at least partially full of water. For some reason Franklin had always envisioned alligators inhabiting the drainage ditches – even though he never saw one to give him any reason to think that they were actually there. But, he just figured if you had to have a thought in your head about the drainage ditches on each side of one of your favorite roads, it might as well include something to do with alligators living there too. At the end of the tunnel section, Franklin crossed the railroad tracks and navigated the S-turns past the acreages where the horses seem to always line up at the white board fences to watch him ride by.

From there, it was a series of two-lane roads meandering through rural countryside – past acreages with dwellings ranging from mobile homes to luxurious two and three story mansions. Mom and Pop businesses ranging from grocery stores, to welding shops – from furniture restoration shops to trailer sales and all the way to establishments resembling permanent garage sales. Zoning ordinance freedom at its finest! And, except for the occasional diesel burning dually driver deciding to gun it just as he passes, sending out a cyclist-engulfing cloud of black, it was another one of those stretches of road that Franklin had classified as “favorite.”

As he reached his turn-around point, fifteen miles from home, someone had placed an old, well-worn couch out on the roadside. A hand painted sign was propped up against it advertising that the couch was FREE! Franklin slowed to make the u-turn and head back home. He glanced back over at the couch as he turned and there, tucked into the corner near the left arm and back cushion, was a groundhog - asleep. A thought-replay came on inside Franklin’s brain, “Well that’s not something you see every day.”

For the most part of the return trip, Franklin had a favorable wind which helped it to be a quicker journey than the outbound one. There were no alligators – as usual. There was no Maria, no Hector. The guy playing the drums was gone. Even most of the horses had left their stations along the expanse of white board fence.

Arriving back at his house, Franklin put his bike on its rack and returned his helmet and shoes to their shelf in the laundry room. He took the water bottles to the kitchen sink, rinsed  them out and wiped the road grit off with the sponge. He then went to take a shower and change into some clean clothes. About thirty minutes later, he glanced at the clock and figured that his girlfriend would probably be getting home from work. While looking at the bouquet of flowers that he had bought for her, he picked up his phone and pressed her speed dial number.

“Hey Sugar, Happy Valentine’s Day! I made the reservation for seven thirty at our favorite Italian restaurant...”

Enjoyed the Ride - Enjoy the Evening!

You know, there are four other parts to
The Groundhog Pentalogy: