Thursday, May 7, 2009

First Friday Alley Cat - May '09

I went into May’s first Friday alley cat race with an amount of pressure on me from some of the racers to win. With a string of top finishing positions some people had begun to express their concern for me ability to not actually take first place. The biggest push came from Eric of Breakaway. Wednesday before the race I ran an errand for my wife after work and ran into Eric while doing so. Our meeting was brief and in that time span he told me I had better win the race.

Friday was set to be a nice day, earlier in the week there was the threat of rain but as the week progressed that was found to be untrue. The wind and temperature was mild. I departed from my house and tried to keep my pace easy. I had been riding pretty hard all week and had not had the opportunity to stop riding. I had thought about how unbalanced the races really are. I usually taper off my training coming into the races so I’m not worn out, while the messengers race after putting in 10 hour days of grueling labor. Some may say, but they also have the advantage of having all that time in the saddle, which is true, but I think their physical exhaustion out weighs that aspect. So even if I do win, I don’t feel it would be a complete victory, as I would be competing, as always, against weary foes.

Danny was set to race as well and I was anxious about his speed, but knew he would be riding a good gear and had been getting back on the bike. He has good natural talent and a good background in traditional racing so I wasn’t concerned with being held back by him in my bid for 1st. I liked doing the races with other people, it seems more entertaining that way and more than once they have helped cover my mistakes. It always pays to have multiple eyes and brains available.

I arrived at the bar and already noticed some people I hadn’t really seen before, which was a good sign. I went in and greeted people I knew and ordered a beer. While I was talking to one of the messengers Danny rolled up and the first of many questions relating to the ‘kid in lycra’ started as everyone realized that Danny was wearing bike racing gear for the first time. Through out the night I was asked a few times who he was and I told them who he was and that he had raced a few time already and that he usually wore his race kits. Not to long after he arrived one of the guys putting on the race, Waldo, started registration. He handed out the manifests and we sat down at the bar to go over the race.

This one was a points based scavenger hunt, with only 3 listings on the manifest being actual locations. As I started to pour over the info one of the old timers at the bar started going over it with me and pulling items out of his pockets. He put out a few items I needed on the bar and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was hoping no one racing was catching this and I noticed Eric grinning from down the bar as this was happening. I started to think he put him up to this. The old timer kept coming back to check off more things and soon I had a small pile of stuff in front of me. It was a nice gesture for the help, but I didn’t want to win unnaturally and I still had to help Danny get his items too. As a last resort I grabbed three items, a Walgreens receipt, a cork and a rusty nail, and shoved the rest into the garbage so no one else could take them. I knew finding a rusty nail was going to be a pain in the ass and I wasn’t concerned if Danny didn’t have one out of the entire list, that also helped guarantee me the top spot if possible, I’m a bastard aren’t I.

Soon afterwards we were called outside and were ready to start the race. It was a small crowd, 6 racers only and some of the messengers opted not to ride, which makes me think they chose not too to help me win. One excuse I heard was from putting in a long day, another was too much to drink…I wasn’t totally convinced but whatever. I have proven my skill against everyone anyways and a win is a win right? We ran over the rules of the race. We had an hour to get all the items, or as many as possible, on the list and get back to the bar. There were point deductions for time over the hour. Danny and I had plotted out a basic course but before we took off one of the questions on the manifest were removed because it had been used before. The question related to the number of cables on the Art Museums Calatrava wing, the answer is 9. With that I had to mentally scramble our course and we took off, with Danny leading the way to the Chipotle near MSOE.

Our first target was a business card from a Mexican Restaurant. Before the race started I asked Waldo if it had to be an ‘authentic’ restaurant and he said I could get one from Taco Bell if I wanted to. So Danny came up with Chipotle near MSOE after I was trying to figure out a nearby Mexican restaurant on the north side. He was vague with his directions of where it was and I couldn’t picture its placement myself so I let him lead the way. We took off from the bar and turned north onto Water Street ahead of traffic. I could feel the wariness in my legs from all the cycling I had been doing for the week. At Wisconsin we ran into a red light and not wanting to delay our advance I signaled to Danny and turned right onto Wisconsin between pedestrians. I spotted a block ahead of us Newsie and his flapping cape. For some comical reason he decided to wear a flowing cape during the race.

Spotting him so far ahead of us spurned me forward and I pulled into the left lane after checking to see how far back traffic was. At Mason we ran into a red light, I pulled left to the curb and headed north, squeezing between a stopped bus and the sidewalk. After clearing the bus I pulled over to the correct side of the street and spotted Newsie turned right on Well’s. Danny caught up and passed me as we pounded down the street. As we rode on I asked him more specifically where it was, after a few more questions I realized I knew the vicinity and was more confident in our course. We zig zagged up to the East Pointe Pick’n’Save complex and I asked him exactly where it was. At the next block I pulled onto the sidewalk, dodged a couple and hoped off of my bike. Danny was right behind and I told him to go get the business cards while I poured over the manifest.

A short while later he came out, handed both to me, and we took off. I told him we were headed to the stop on Brady Street and we continued east bound on Ogden. At Astor we hung a left and pounded down the residential streets until we hit Brady Street. At Brady we turned right and I began searching for the addresses. The next block was the one we were looking for and I pulled onto the sidewalk just in time to see Newsie pull away from the stop. I bypassed the stop and had to slow down and turn around. As I did Danny caught up with Newsie at the red light at Humboldt. I turned around and went back to the stop. I mentally noted what was written in plain block letters on the air conditioner above the door to the business and took off again, headed east. I passed by Danny, who was waiting for me at the stop. I yelled out to him to head down the street to Walgreens.

Before we had taken off I had given Danny two dollars, since he only had his debit card on him. The plan was for him to run into Walgreens, guy a package of bubble gum and ask for 2 plastic bags. This would eliminate 3 items on the list that we had to get and since I already had a receipt we would only need one.

I pulled ahead of everyone as I built momentum going down the small decline on Brady as I headed east. I instantly changed my plan of action and pulled to the north side of the street and mounted the sidewalk after Brady Street Hardware. As I slowed down to dodge a pedestrian and to get off my bike I turned to see Danny following me, I yelled at him to keep going and that I would meet up with him at Walgreens. He took off down the street and I hopped off my bike and leaned it against the stair leading into the bar Hi Hat, of which I used to work. I ran inside and down the stairs to the bar. For being early evening it was decently filled. I ran down to the opposite end of the bar and stopped heavily. I made enough of a commotion for the guy seated near me to comment that I must have had a bad day. I asked him to repeat himself and when he said it again I smiled and told him I was doing a race.

The bartender was busy with a complicated order; I spotted a waiter by the bar and asked him if I could have a cork, I already had one so only needed one for Danny. He said sure and to my surprise dug one out of a small container right next to him and handed it to me. I thanked him and ran out of the bar and to my bike, which was thankfully still their. I mounted it and crossed the street, keeping to the sidewalk as I had to stay on the same side of the street. As I neared the end of the block I pulled onto the street to avoid a large cluster of tables and chairs in front of Jimmy Johns. As the next sidewalk was filled with pedestrians I chose to stay on the street and face on coming traffic for a short while before I was able to turn into the Walgreens parking lot. I pulled into it right before a car was able to start pulling out and hopped off at then entrance. I spotted another racer as well, who was glancing into a garbage car nearby. He also started asking some of the foot traffic nearby a question, possibly about a receipt or a bus transfer, which was another item on the list.

I glanced into the store and couldn’t see Danny among the people lined up at either register and got worried over the large lines. I pulled the manifest out and wrote down the answer from the air conditioner, Frigidaire, and started to scan the rest of the stops we needed to make. We would have to move into Riverwest for my plan to keep going, there were a few stops there I needed to do, one being a mandatory stop. After I scanned that and set the game plan for the next few items I glanced into the store and couldn’t see Danny again. I decided to call it quits at the store and pull him out before we wasted too much time.

I leaned my bike up against a pole and hoped no one would steal it. As I ran into the store I spied a receipt on the ground and grabbed it, now all we would have to do is get bags elsewhere as well as gum. I ran into the store and found him in the candy isle. I quickly glanced at the rows of sugary sweetness and didn’t see any gumballs. I told him to forget it, that I had a receipt for him and we would get the other things elsewhere. He put a pack of gum back and we ran out.

We pulled out of the parking lot and on to Oakland. I told Danny we where heading to Locust, but as we cruised down the empty street I realized we were closer to North. At North I pulled behind left turning traffic just as the green arrow showed up, signaled to Danny and sprinted westbound on North. I briefly contemplated hitting our next mandatory stop as it was behind the Pick’n’Save we were passing, I decided not too as the stop was down along the river and we would be back in this area on our way back into downtown. At Humboldt we hung a right and pulled into the left hand lane ahead of traffic. Our next stop was another actual location and I knew it was close by but wasn’t completely sure of where the street we were looking for was.

The block north of North we turned left in a brake in traffic and continued deeper into Riverwest. The next stop was on the 2400 block of Pierce and as we crossed each side street I scanned the signs for which one was Pierce. After 4 blocks we found it and hung left. I pulled out the manifest to double check the address and told Danny it was on the west side of the street. We found the house and I pulled out the manifest to get the detailed information about the stop. Danny found it first and we jotted down the answer. We had to write down what kind of animals were found on a crest on the house, the answer were lions. From there the next few stops were gambles on my part.

The next two items I planned on acquiring would need to be paid for because I knew it would be easier then trying to find them, they were; an empty can of Steel Reserve and a sticker from a known Milwaukee establishment. As we headed north to Center Street I told Danny the plan. At Center we would split up, he would head to a café called Fuel where he would buy two of their cheap bumper stickers. I would head further down the street to a liquor store and buy two cans of Steel Reserve. As we discussed this we passed by a huge street festival on Wright street. I smiled and chuckled as I spotted all the Riverwest hipsters hanging around with their ironic tee-shirts and the pile of fixed gear bikes. I wondered why some of these people weren’t out racing.

As we neared Center I gave Danny more details as to how to get to Fuel. Once we hit the street I told him to head right and I turned left and pounded the two blocks to the ghetto liquor store. I leaned my bike against the bike post and ran inside, remembered the last time I had been at this store was during a race where I had to buy a bottle of Night Train. That race I had bombed pretty horribly and had misread my manifest. Inside I found the beer cooler quickly and began to scan it for what I was looking for. I was just about to ask where they kept Steel Reserve when I found it and grabbed two cans while noting the low price. I ran to the enclosed and bullet proof cashier and greeted her warmly. While she was ringing me up I asked if I could get two bags and she proceeded to put one can each in a small brown bag. I should have asked for two larger bags but decided against it and thought it was funny that it looked like I was planning on spending a night with a buddy down by the river drinking a can of nasty malt beer out of a paper bag. I ran out and put a can in either cargo pocket and mounted my bike to meet up with Danny.

As I cruised down the street, headed east bound, I contemplated how to go about completing the Steel Reserve task; the cans had to be empty. I entertained the idea of emptying them out while biking but knew that would be unwieldy to do. I put that thought aside as I spied Danny waiting for me on the corner. I picked up speed and waved him on to follow me as I sped towards Humboldt. Our next stop was Pick’n’Save. I pulled hard and fast onto the street and sprinted as far as I could. I dropped back into the saddle as a car honked at me to make its presence known. We came on North Ave at a green light and after checking behind for upcoming cars pulled into the left lane. A truck heading northbound was trying to turn west but saw me in time and gave me the right of way. I slowed down as I hit the hill that lead into the East Side and pulled all the way over to the left as soon as traffic was clear enough. I then pulled into the parking lot. I stopped in front of the closest entrance and as Danny pulled up I started to ask someone pulling in carts where a gumball machine was when I spotted it through the glass. I leaned my bike against a pillar and ran in. I fished two quarters out of my pocket, hopping they had a gumball machine that only require quarters, found it and plugged the first one in. With out taking the ball out, I plugged in the second one. Upon opening the drop 4 balls came out, oh well. I threw them in my pocket. I tried to make it back out before the automatic door closed but to no avail. I tried to get Danny’s attention but he had his back to me. When the girl brining in the carts saw me try to get out she told me I would have to pull the door open, at which point I noticed a hand hold and grabbed it, opening it just as Danny noticed me trying to get out.

I ran to my bike and told him that our next stop was nearby. We pulled out of the parking lot but had to wait for a car heading our way to stop, we followed it but had to almost stop as it waited at the next turn for a second, even though it had the right of way. In order to get away from the idiot in front of us and the guy behind us who was getting antsy I lead us down the street on the wrong side. This would leave us in place to turn to the next stop, which was on Riverboat Road, which runs under Humboldt. As we rounded a short bend I spotted a Jeep heading towards us. The problem with this is that traffic was heading our way on the correct side and the street was also jammed with the parked cars we were riding along. The Jeep would have to do two things, stop and wait or plow through us. He thankfully was paying attention and I took the opportunity in a brake in the parked cars to pull closer to the sidewalk and swing a hard left onto Riverboat Road. Danny followed suite and we emptied out into a wide open road.

The next stop was on a foot bridge that crosses the Milwaukee River. This bridge has been used a few times in races before and a lot of people don’t really know of its existence. As we passed a house party I thought I heard someone yelling out to us to stop but ignored it and kept going. I forewarned Danny were we would be turning and lead him into a parking lot. Right in front of the bridge was a guy and a parked car, his trunk was open. I knew this was the stop. We pulled up and greeted the guy. I started to unpack my pockets and load the items into my bag as he was asking us if we wanted a Steel Reserve of a soda. We had to slam the can of what ever we chose and I swore for the fact that he had the beer with him and I didn’t necessarily have to buy it. I wasn’t actually concerned with that though as I never want to drink that beer ever. I grabbed a can of soda and started to chug it. At the same time I started emptying out the cans of beer I bought. Danny was questioning him about other racers. He said we where the 5th and 6th people he had seen and that someone else had bought a can of beer as well. He asked if someone was racing but I didn’t know who he was and we told him it was only 6 people racing. I chugged my soda, a warm cola and Danny was still working on his. I took out the manifest and reviewed the items. We only had a few to go, we were almost done. Even though we were the last to show up at this stop I wasn’t concerned that we were last.

At last Danny finished his soda and we took off. I told him we only had something pink, a book of matches from an Irish bar and the final destination stop left to do. As we pulled back onto Commerce I pulled the manifest out to do a quick double check. We were almost done, maybe 10 minutes at the most. Danny came up with the idea of stopping at Trinity Irish Pub, which he explained was on Water Street. I had a different bar in mind. Originally the plan as to hit Mo’s Irish Pub, but I pushed that idea aside in favor of an Irish pub on the south end of Third Ward, since we had to hit that section of town for one of the location stops. Now the only thing we had to look out for was something pink, which was going to be a chore.

As we rode on I kept quickly scanning the surroundings for pink, to no avail. As we passed the Lakefront Brewery building a car tried to pull out of its parking spot into us and we both yelled at the beleaguered woman. At the end of Commerce we pulled onto Walnut, bypassing a line of cars waiting to turn left on the red and turned left, heading to Water Street. We hit Water just as the light turned red and took a hard right in front of traffic as it started to take off. I heard a car honk and I sprinted to get a lead on it. About a block further I had to quickly and blindly pull into the right hand drive lane to avoid a messy patch job that covered the entire bike and parking lanes. I pulled out far but not far enough and had a rough ride through the patch job. After I passed it I thought of two things; I pulled pretty far out in front of traffic with out looking and I hoped I didn’t pinch a tube. Danny hit the same patch and shouted out in surprise. We recovered and took off again.

As we pulled into downtown proper Danny mentioned about the Irish pub, I told him there was another one and we kept going. The trek to the Third Ward was uneventful but we had to stop at a red on Wisconsin as a cop was also in the intersection. As we passed Michigan I glanced at the bar and saw very few bikes parked in front, I was still satisfied that we were doing well. I told Danny we would be splitting up again. I gave him detailed instructions on how to get to the location stop located on the 300 North block of Broadway and told him I would meet up with him there. We split at St. Paul as I headed further south and he turned east. I cut through traffic and pulled over to the opposite side of the street and up to the bar. I leaned the bike up against a light poll and ran inside. As I went through the entrance I spotted a flyer in the window with pink. Inside I grabbed two copies of the flyer which was for a cancer run. I shoved them into my pocket and headed to the bar. I asked the young woman if I could get two match books. When she handed me generic blank white ones I got depressed. I asked her if there was a menu or something I could take too that proved I was there. She looked a little pissed at my request but another bar tender quickly grabbed me a flyer for a special of there’s. I thanked them and wasn’t about to ask for a second one and headed out the door. All that was left know was to meet up with Danny and get back to the Swinging Door.

I pulled around and got back onto Water Street, headed northbound. At Chicago I turned left and almost ran into a pedestrian crossing the road, I shouted out sorry to her and told her tell someone on her cell phone that she almost got hit by a biker. At Broadway I had to stall for a second as a taxi decide which way it wanted to go. I then pulled north onto the street and pushed as hard as I could, hoping no one was blindly pulling out of a parking spot. As I neared the next intersection I saw Danny waiting at the corner. I yelled out to him to follow me and continued north. At Saint Paul we crossed and headed the wrong way on the small stretch were it was one way. We came to Clybourn and the walk sign was blinking red. Since it was one way heading towards us there was no stop lights, so there was no way of telling if the light was yellow as we neared the intersection. It might be tricky and Danny was a bit behind me. The intersection was also the deposit of an off ramp from the freeway and I didn’t want Danny to get caught in a storm of traffic. Luckily we both made it through unscathed and pulled onto the sidewalk at the next block.

There were still few bikes in front of the bar. I stopped my bike in my normal parking spot, no urgency about me, waited for Danny and headed inside. We still needed to gather everything together and put them in the paper bags. We went in and I emptied my bag on one of the tables and started checking over the manifest. As I checked it I noticed that we had missed the bus transfer listing, but it was too late now and I kept packing my bag. It was difficult for two reasons, the can took up most of the bag and it had gotten significantly wet from emptying out the beer can. I shoved everything in the best I could. Right before Danny finished I noticed Newsie come in from the corner of my eye, I panicked and started stuffing everything in. I got done and noticed that Newsie and Danny were searching the bar for Armahn and Waldo. I joined them and questioningly asked Eric and others were they were. Coyly they all feigned ignorance. I headed towards the kitchen of the bar but didn’t see anything, though about checking the back area that leads into the building next door but decided against it. Newsie checked outside for them and Danny and I headed for the back room. I saw Flynn and Feih at a table and walked faster. As I came around the corner I spotted them and dropped my manifest and bag onto the table to check in. I wrote my name on the manifest and they started going over our stuff. The noted our time when Newsie showed up again. He checked in as well and started complaining about how he had been delayed when his cape had gotten caught in his cog, almost chocking him. He was able to keep his bike under control and had to get off of it, unbolt his wheel and unwind the cape. He had a nasty red mark along his neck as a trophy.

As he started to go through his bag he realized he was missing a few items. When his cape got stuck and when he removed it his bag had torn and some items fell out. He rushed out of the bar to try and get them back as the incident happened in the Third Ward. I was confident in my place, even with missing an item and headed to the bar. I talked with Eric and told him I only missed one item, he told me to go run to the corner of Michigan and Water to try and find a discarded bus pass. I thought for a second and took off down the street. I found one right away and turned the corner to find another one, but was unable to get one for Danny. I ran back to the bar, laughing inside that I did part of the race on foot. I triumphantly ran inside and handed in my transfer. Armahn started to protest but Waldo allowed it and my time got rechecked. Just then Armahn tore up Danny’s Fuel sticker saying it didn’t count because it wasn’t stuck to the back of the manifest. The rest of us reviewed the question and Waldo convinced him to allow us to stick them on and we would reset our times. Armahn relented and we peeled the backings off. I got done and had my official and final time logged down just as Newsie arrived again. I still had the top time and as far as I could recall I had all of the items. Unless some technicality was found I was a shoe in for first place.

I headed back to the front of the bar and thanked Eric for the help. I then ordered a beer and water, waiting for the results. Danny pulled up to the bar and ordered a root beer. Eric headed back by Waldo. More racers showed up and soon Eric came up to me to tell me that I was being summoned. I figured there was some question on an item I had. When I asked them what they wanted Waldo handed me a paper bag with money in it and said congratulations. I had won the race. I headed back to the front of the bar and a few people congratulated me. I handed Newsie a five as he got second and won back his entrance fee. I ordered 4 PBR’s and paid for Danny’s root beer, because I felt bad for not getting more items for him and he did a kick ass job in the race. I took the beer back, gave one to Waldo, one to Armahn and one to Eric. I thanked Eric for the help and headed back to give one to Newsie, when I remembered he didn’t drink. I told him I got the beer for him until I remembered he didn’t drink and he told me to give it to the guy who had manned the stop next to the river, who had showed up. I handed it to him and went back out to the front. I told Danny he would be doing next months race with Matt and Jordan.

I finished my beer, ordered another one and sat down to talk with Eric and Newsie about the race and other stuff. Newsie talked about how he stopped by his house, which was just down the street from the Hi Hat and gathered up most of the items on the list. With that I wasn’t too concerned with my assisted win, after all anything goes in these races. I told him that it was funny that this race I had first and he had second, when the first Friday night alley cat I did he had gotten first and I had gotten second. After a bit more time chatting I took off because I was due at another bar in Riverwest for a friend’s birthday party. Said bye to everyone and took off. As I left Eric told me he was excited to see what my race was going to be like. Now it was time to plan the next race.

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