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The Maltese Mountain Bike

or Why the Poker Run Was Such a Success

By Michael Barath

Look, Sweetheart, this piece first appeared in Spokin' Word, the newsletter of the Stark County Bicycle Club. Read further information on The Poker Run following the article.

The following article must be read with a Humphrey Bogart accent. For those of you too young to know who Bogie is, it may help if you put on a slouch hat and trench coat, tighten your jaw muscle, clench your teeth, and pronounce any "S--" sound as "Sch--" Let's try it: "Lischen, schweetheart." Good. Don't let your voice get too high or you may sound like Peter Lorre. Don't let it get too low or you'll sound like Sidney Greenstreet. If you have to ask who Peter and Sidney are, forget it.

I was sitting, or should I say seated, under the picnic shelter at Canal Fulton Community Park, right on the edge of the Ohio Erie Canal. Canal Fulton is a small town nearby Akron and Canton. It was a Saturday afternoon, the 26th of October. I was minding my own business drinking coffee and chewing bubble gum, as if caffeine and Bazooka Joe were going on a permanent vacation to Rio. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew Fate was riding towards me.

She turned her ankle as she stepped up to the registration table. "Easy, sweetheart," I said. "There's no hurry. This isn't a race. Now what's a dame like you doing out on a day like this?"

"What do you mean this isn't a race?" she asked, as she rubbed her shapely ankle in a way that reminded me of Paris in the old days. Her voice was deep, and sounded like new gravel in an old hubcap. She licked the chapstick off her lips. "I came here to gamble." I knew the deck wasn't the only thing stacked. I blew a bubble.

"Oh, you can gamble, doll. You can gamble all you want. Ride the whole 14 miles along the canal towpath if you think you can. Stop at the five checkpoints along the way and take a card. Any card. Best poker hand wins." I looked at her with my best poker face. She knew I wasn't bluffing. "But I'll tell you right now, sweetheart, you're up against some good players."

She shot me a smile that could drop a rhino at 200 meters. "Honey," she started to say, then mounted her bike and was gone.

Two hours later she rode back in. She looked like a goddess as she rode up to me. She reminded me of a bike mechanic I once met in a Massillon trailer park. Hair was lashed to her forehead. Eyes shone like comets behind her glasses. Her lycra flexed like a steel span. She could have sung karioke for me any day. She winked at me slyly, then slid her cards down the front of her jersey. "Wait a minute, doll. You gotta show me what you got."

"Uh, uh," her voice purred like an Oldsmobile V-8. "I only show my hand where and when I want. Besides, when you know you're good, you don't have to prove it."

She got on her bike and started to ride away. Then she looked back. "If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you? Just put your lips together and..." Then she was gone.

I never saw her again. See, I had my front teeth knocked out during a brawl in a Barberton chicken joint. I was trying to defend the honor of some dame who told me to mind my own business, then hit me in the mouth with a bowl of sauce. I've never been able to whistle since.

I looked at Ernie and Tom, two of the sponsors who had witnessed the whole thing. "Well," I said, "You win some and you lose some. Maybe I'll see her again in the spring when we do this again." I could tell they felt bad for me. They exchanged a glance and muttered something, something about "lose her", or maybe it was "loser."

The rest of the riders came back in. There were over a hundred. They had raised over $500 for the Ohio Erie Canal Corridor. And they were excited about the prizes they won. Gift certificates to restaurants. Water bottles. Biking gear. Fresh honey. And Ohio Erie Canal Corridor Coalition sweatshirts. But no matter what cards they had, they couldn't beat me. I had a flush, and all my hearts were breaking.

I looked at the winning hands spread out before me:

Nancy Ott of Massillon, full house.
Jill Leo of North Canton, straight.
Joyce Morris of Cuyahoga Falls, three aces.
Tom Eshelman of Canton, three tens.
Ray Ott of Massillon, three tens.
Jack Hall of Canal Fulton, three eights.
Dan Otto of Massillon, three threes.

I sighed. Lucky in love, I thought. If I only had teeth.

THE END, SWEETHEART

EVENT INFORMATION: The Poker Run, conducted from the Canal Fulton Community Park, Canal Fulton, OH, benefits the Ohio & Erie Canal Corridor Coalition (OECCC). The OECCC, established in 1989, seeks to create an 88 mile ribbon from Zoar to Cleveland along the route of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal. Connecting urban areas to the rural countryside, the Ohio & Erie Canal Heritage Corridor seeks to preserve the natural, historical, and recreational assets of the corridor to stimulate economic development and improve the quality of life for the region. For more information, or to become a member, contact the OECCC, 520 South Main Street, Suite 2541-F, Akron, OH 44311. Or call 330-434-5657.

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