Bianchi’s Goodwill comeback tour

Hello friends,

Bianchi and I need your help! This June, we’re riding in a 62.5-mile charity bike race through Buffalo, N.Y. and we’re sweating bullets because … well … neither of us has begun fundraising.
Please check out my Ride for Roswell homepage and read my fundraising letter. For those of you accustomed to verbose Lance posts, I promise you this letter is quick and to the point.
I wasn’t going to plug the ride here, but Joe (who has yet to contribute) encouraged me to. He even took these glamour shots of Bianchi and I spending quality time together Wednesday night. 
This cause is so important to me, you have no idea how much it will mean if you donate just $1.
And because I love the U.S. Postal Service (or more-so because I love you) I promise to mail a cheesy Buffalo souvenir to anyone who donates more than $10 to my ride. 
Thank you so much,
PS. I really do love post offices. I patronize them at least twice a week. At a bar one night in Sarasota, a male postal employee, whom I frequently deal with, bought me a drink and asked me to dance. (I did and he had very stale moves.) Now whenever we see each other it’s awkward. Actually, it’s so awkward I avoid his post office. 
PPS. Yes, Bianchi has pink handlebars now. I figured a new pink wrap-job would compliment her svelte green frame.

Fan mail

Dear Heelya’s students,

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to return your letters. They’ve sat in a pile on my kitchen table for days now.

I’ve read them and re-read them so many times while eating my morning cereal that I’ve memorized many of your sentiments.

Per your request, I’m posting your last correspondences on my Lance. Per your teacher’s request, I wont use your names.

(FYI: I’m pen-pals with my sister’s students in Buffalo. They’re elementary school kids and I love getting letters from them. They like to ask me about the pug, the weather, Joe and random things like: Do you drool? Do you like people in your town? Do you like snakes? Or, do you eat Snickers bars? I like to nickname them and ask them how they spend their weekends. Sometimes I draw them maps of Florida and explain where poisonous snakes lurk. One time I drew them a map of my living room with an arrow identifying where Joe usually sits on the couch and where the pug sleeps next him. Sometimes Joe writes to them. Sometimes I send them newspaper stories I’ve written or pictures I’ve taken. I like to tell them stories about Ro and I, because Ro is the speech pathologist at their school and they’re always blown away by the fact that we know each other. And I always, always tell them to keep writing. Their letters are awesome! They make my heart sing.)
Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

Can you come and visit my classroom? I like Spiderman soo much!
Me and my brother went to Disney on Ice. My mom didn’t go.
October the 12th is my birthday and then comes Halloween. My hair looks crazy today. My mom didn’t finish it before school so I took it out and shook it. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Are you glad about your mom? Do you like the people in your town? I like the people in my town.
I can’t wait to hear back from you!


Hi Ms. Kurpiela!

I like your dog Cubbie. Yes, I am a clean person. Every day I wear a button up shirt tucked in. I have boots and dress pants. I get in the tub every day, sometimes in the morning. Sometimes at night.
I got new glasses! They are tinted blue. Do you have glasses?
What do you do for fun?
I like to play PlayStation 2. My dad has PlayStation 3. My sister has a Wii. My brother has a silver PlayStation 2 like me. It is so much fun playing it!
We’re growing beans in the classroom, but mine didn’t grow. Everyone else has beans that are growing besides me.

See ya later, alligator.

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

I am a new student in Ms. Kurpiela’s class.
Do you have any dogs? I have a dog. She is a Beagle and is 10 years old.
My sister likes monkeys.
How are you doing today? Do you work?
I love cars.
I am Native American.
I listen to drum CDs and my favorite artist is Johnny Cash. My favorite Johnny Cash song is “When You Get the Blues.”
Who is your favorite artist?
I am 7 years old. How old are you?
What is the weather like in Florida during the winter?
Today in Buffalo it is seven degrees! It is freezing!
Nice to meet you.

Your friend,
Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

How are you? I am doing good.
I went to a Build A Bear workshop. I made a brown bear. I love him. His name is Chocolate. He has a red bow tie and a book. We got lots of snow yesterday. I like to stay inside when it snows so I don’t get cold.
How is Joe and your dog?
You should come visit sometime at school.
Last week I went to Disney on Ice. I saw Mickey, the Ducky, Aladdin, the mermaid, Woody and Buzz and the Chipmunks.
I had pretzels, popcorn and a drink. It was yummy!

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

I like to say hi to parents, not teachers, that say good morning.
I’m looking at a Monster Inc. Book. Could you send me a Hero coloring sheet?
Do you ever take kids to a playground?
I went to a zoo and the elephants weren’t there. I wanted to see if they were falling in the water.
I saw a book about skating at my house and I hope we go soon.

Good day,

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

I like to ride my bike too. I have a big blue and red bike. I ride it really fast, but stay out of the street.
I am in a new class. Write me back still.
Do you watch TV a lot?
My favorite show is SpongeBob. I hope to hear from you soon!

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

I am a new student. I like my new school and my teachers too.
My favorite subject is math. It’s my favorite because I am really good at it.
I am good at drawing too!
When I am not in school I like to play in the park. It is sooo fun!
One of my favorite things to do is play Hide and Go Seek and run around.
My best friend is nice and I like her a lot.
I have seven sisters and brothers. They are really cool!
I like Keyshia Cole! I can sing some of her songs.
It is really nice to meet you. I can’t wait to get a letter back.

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

Your job is cool!
There is drool on the floor.

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

What did you have to eat yesterday?
Do you like snakes?
Are you sad?

Dear Ms. Kurpiela,

Do you have a pool?
I like school.
I do not like tools.
I do not like drool.
I am cool.


For red-headed pug lovers and hometown farmers

This ain’t me, but if it were, I’d be fine with it.

The hair! The pug! The ankle socks! The Mary Janes! I wish this chick lived in St. Pete so we could kick it over beer and peanuts. I wish I hadn’t just happened upon this picture while randomly searching for PUGS on Flickr.
Today I’m word-loose and Lancey-free, basking in the kind of deep relief that comes with turning in a story at 1 p.m.
When he’s in the middle of an assignment, Joe, my fiancé, who’s an associate editor here, likes to say: “The story’s done. I’ve just got to write it.”
On most days, that’s usually where my head is. Floating somewhere between Story’s Done and Just Got to Write It.
But not today! Today I turned in a big story – a cumbersome but interesting one – then I took the pug to Coffee Pot Park and I sat on a bench by the bay with my eyes closed for 20 minutes and daydreamed.
It was glorrrrious. 
I called my Nana, and then my mother and I sat for awhile longer on the bench and listened to water lapping at the break-wall. The sloshing reminded me of my childhood spent on a sailboat in Lake Erie, so I closed my eyes again and willed memories into focus.
The pug, happy to be in the shade under the bench, was so quiet and grunt-less I forgot he was with me, so I let the leash go slack.
Then I walked back to my house off Coffee Pot Drive, scheduled a few interviews and retreated to the backyard, where I sat in my Sky Chair and contemplated something my mother had said:
One house down from the house I grew up in, lives a man named Norm who owns the grape fields stretching up and down Langford Road.
He’s about 90 years old, dour as hell and drives a rusted truck. When I was a kid he used to pull into our driveway and lay on the horn whenever he wanted to talk to my dad. According to my parents, he still does this today except lately his visits are fewer and far between.
My parents say it’s been years since the red-headed goose-haired farmer stopped in, so when his pick-up truck pulled into the driveway yesterday my mom kind of did a double-take and my dad kind of sat back and waited to hear a horn-honk.
When that didn’t happen, my dad went out to the truck to see what was up and a few minutes later walked back in the house with a bemused look on his face.
“Do we have any masking tape?” He asked my mom.
“MASKING TAPE?” My mom yelled from the kitchen.
“Yeah,” my dad said. “Norm needs a piece of masking tape.”
“MASKING TAPE? What?” My mom asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” he sighed. “Just rip him a piece.”
So my mom ripped my dad a piece of masking tape and my dad brought it out to Norm, who was waiting as usual in his jitney truck, and the two sat in the driveway for awhile catching up on stuff.
That night, my dad wondered out loud if maybe Norm just wanted someone to talk to. He apparently needed the masking tape to adhere his crumbling car inspection sticker to his windshield, but my dad has a hunch the old man’s just lonely. His wife died not long ago and since then, Norm’s been up to all sorts of nice things. For one: he reconciled with his estranged brother Carl, who lives one door down from him on Langford Road, and whom he hasn’t spoken to in 25 years.
Turns out Norm’s leaving the country for the first time this summer. His daughter is taking him on a Caribbean cruise.
Well, my dad said, wouldn’t ya know the old bugger doesn’t have a birth certificate! He’s come across nothing but trouble trying to get a passport for this cruise. He tried talking to the town clerk about it and she suggested he talk to someone in New York City.
The Office of Vital Records in New York told Norm they only deal with ancient birth certificate requests in person. So next thing Norm knows, he’s flying into LaGuardia to deal with the matter face-to-face.
When he got there, the agency suggested he find someone who was at least eight years old when he was born to prove he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on the government.
“That’s gonna be tough,” Norm said. “Nobody that age is still alive.”
So the agency let it slide, using testimony from Carl, who’s three years older, to prove that yes, Norm was born in the United States and has lived in North Collins, N.Y. since the Paleozoic Era.
“All of this to go on a cruise?” I asked my mother.
“Hell,” she said. “It’ll probably be the first time Norm’s left the state!”
PS. Lance turned one year old on Friday. Happy belated, pal.
PPS. R.I.P. Dorothy Zbornak.
PPPS. Pug-walking photo by Zen. For his photostream, click here.

I’m still here!

This is my 100th post. It’s a post I started at midnight about two weeks ago but fell asleep in the middle of writing. When I woke up the next morning, I was 27 years old, had a 9 a.m. phone interview with a mathematician from Maine, a cover story due about a ballet dancer from Houston and plans to go to the beach (see left) with my best friend Ro and sister Heelya.

I didn’t know I had it in me to stick with the Lance. I figured I’d get bored with it. Tire of writing about myself, my friends, my family, the odd ducks and lovable strangers that cross my path and make me laugh, cry, whisper and cuss.
I thought I’d get distracted. Find a new way to spend time while Joe was asleep. Take up abstract painting. Join a knitting circle. Volunteer at a nursing home. Start trading stocks online.
But here I am. Still Lancing. Truth is, I can’t shake it. I find a story in everything. So much so that’s it’s annoying. If you were to ask me to write 500 words on the sound a potato chip makes when it’s chewed, I’d give you 600 words and a sidebar on the texture of french onion dip.
In the picture above you’ll find me on the left, Ro in the middle and Heelya on the right. Joe took it the night the girls arrived from Buffalo, just before we unfolded the pull-out sofa in his Man Cave and the girls fell asleep in a cocoon of down-filled blankets.
Ro and Heelya like nests. They like to burrow and they like to snuggle. I know because I spent many nights curled up beside either one of them, prattling on about things girls prattle on about.
Ro sleeps with her mouth open and Heelya talks and eats in her sleep. One night, when we were teenagers, I heard Heelya murmur something about French fries. Another night I caught her in the refrigerator, rummaging through the crisper for cheese slices.
Growing up, Heelya and I slept in bunk beds, alternating between the top and bottom bunk every few months. Whenever Heelya slept on top, I’d lay on the bottom with my feet planted on the planks of her bed, kicking her up in the air a good three inches just to aggravate her. One night when I was on the top bunk and Heelya was on the bottom bunk, my mattress fell through the weakened planks and landed on top of her head.
Basically Ro, Heelya and I spent the weekend laughing, catching up on nonsense, drinking beer and telling old stories around the campfire. There’s much more of course, but I’d be here all day if I were to write about it all. So I guess I’ll write about April 10, my birthday.
We had plans to go out to a Japanese steakhouse – me, Joe, Heelya, Ro and my sister PK – when around 7 p.m. PK, who lives an hour away, called to tell me she got in a car accident.
“Don’t freak, Heid. I’m fine,” she said, explaining that her car was towed from the scene and that the cop gave her a ride back to her apartment, and that for every day her car was in impound she would be charged a grotesque $100.
To avoid this monetary raping and to get PK up to St. Pete for my bachelorette weekend, I had no other choice but to load everyone in my car, drive an hour south to Sarasota, free the crinkled Escort from the impound lot and pick up PK – birthday or no birthday.
So at 9 p.m., with Joe in the front seat and Ro, Heelya and PK in the back, I pulled off a desolate street in North Sarasota, into a gravel parking lot guarded by angry dogs with no manners, where a Bubba with a belly like a bass drum unlocked a prison-high fence and mumbled that my sister’s car could be freed for $250 cash.
(Note: Heelya is in a Sophia Loren sun dress. Ro is in a Doris Day skirt. And Joe is wearing the faux suede gentleman’s blazer he reserves for television appearances and birthday parties. Remember, we were supposed to be at a Japanese steakhouse, sipping sake and watching a chef chop onions in the air using a Hattori Hanzo samurai sword.)
So at 9:15 p.m., with dapper Joe in the front seat and Ro, Heelya and ATM card-less PK in the back, I pulled into a SunTrust bank and withdrew enough money to recover a bent 1998 Ford Escort.
PK was pouting. I was bitching. Joe was deciding whether we should refuse to pay the after-hours fee. Ro was insisting the charges be itemized and Heelya was bitching about my bitching, suggesting I should just be happy we were all together.
And to be honest, though I was irritated and driving with night-blindness through a ghetto on my birthday, I was, actually, ecstatic we were all together.
When we returned to the impound lot with money in hand, the Bubba behind the gate barked at another Bubba to, “chain up the Escort and move ‘er out,” at which point Joe lost his cell phone in the dusty abyss.
As we followed the tow truck driver back to PK’s apartment, and as Joe began frantically searching the car for his cell phone, I remarked that my 1997 Honda Civic was dogging it with so many bodies weighing it down.
“Shit,” Joe muttered. “I must have dropped my cell phone in the parking lot.”
“You sure it’s not under the seat?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I checked there.”
“You sure it’s not in the glove box?” Ro asked.
“No, I checked there.”
“What about in my purse?” I asked.
“I looked through your purse.”
“Did you check in the door?” Ro asked.
“It’s not there.”
“What about under the seat?” Holly asked.
And then the car fell silent until we got to PK’s apartment …
Around midnight, after PK’s car had been towed to her apartment and after we had returned to the impound lot for a third time to comb the dusty abyss for Joe’s cell phone, and after we had returned to St. Pete, ordered two large pizzas, nibbled on leftover ice cream cake and opened presents, I settled into bed, exhausted, content and three years away from 30.
You see, I’ve been a little stressed lately. I’m not exactly sure why. I seem to be working things out in my dreams though, because every day I wake up a little less wound. I wonder if it’s wedding stuff. Work stuff. Money stuff. The fact that I just paid the government $1,400 in taxes – half of my pathetic life savings. Or that I still can’t clear up the pug’s eczema, or stick to the novel I suck at writing or finish the novel by my bed I suck at reading.
One things for sure. My friends, my family and my fiance keep me grounded. Without them, I’d lose my head.
I tend to digest life better when I’m driving. I think it’s because it’s the only time I sit still and concentrate on getting from point A to point B. On my way home from the Tampa airport after I had dropped off Ro and Heelya at Southwest Airlines’ curbside check-in, I started sobbing so much my temples hurt.
When I got home, Joe walked with me to the bike shop to pick up my Bianchi and I cried some more. I told him my heart breaks every time I have to say goodbye, and he told me to keep my chin up and sang me a stupid pop song to make me laugh.
And it worked I suppose, because on the walk home I saddled up my Bianchi like Lance Armstrong and pedaled fiercely from point A to point B; Joe running like a bull behind me with my purse slung over his shoulder, trying to keep up, looking hysterical and lovely at the same time.
PS. Ro & Heelya – I miss you and love you. See you in June when we ride 62.5 miles in The Ride For Roswell.
PPS. To my succulent readers – I’m alive and well. Thank you all for checking in on me! I received e-mails, Facebook messages, TWITTER greetings, younameit, wondering where the hell I’d gone. Thanks to yesterday’s deep tissue massage, I’m back to my narcissistic self. I plan on catching up on all your blogs this weekend from my new Sky Chair.

Cheap thrills.

Meet my new wheels. She’s a real Bianchi.

Light as a feather and the color of a robin’s egg, my Bianchi came from Salvation Army. She’s got pizza-cutter tires and handlebars shaped like my pug’s tail.
When I wedged her into the front seat of my Honda Civic, she contorted into a kind of fetal position, which made me think perhaps Bianchi was scared or sad, having just been pulled abruptly from the bike pile at a tidy Salvation Army store on 4th Street in St. Petersburg.
She’s a 23-year-old Italian with a stubborn saddle, caged pedals, soft tires and a nervous tick. I think her rear break might be chaffing against the rim, but with the proper tools and gentle touch she’ll be prime for riding long distances.
I hadn’t intended to get a 1986 Italian racing bike. My sister Heelya and best friend Ro are visiting next week and I wanted a third bicycle so we could pedal the Pinellas Trail together. I’ve been eyeing a tricked-out mountain bike for a month now and was fixing to shell out $500 for a better (and I mean way better) bike than the one I pedal now, but today’s little lesson in negotiation and good will has prompted me to forgo a new model in favor of a more seasoned cougar.
I pulled into Salvation Army today with two $20 bills in my wallet, feeling good about myself, my friends and the world. I’m on a new cash-only budget thanks to $3,000 in fraudulent charges at a Panama stereo store. My debit card number was stolen last week (perhaps in cyberspace) and when the bank told me I’d have have to wait a week for my new card, I decided now was as good a time as any to pay homage to my parents by paying for everything in cash.
Peering into the back stockroom at G.W., I asked one of the employees if there were any decent bikes for sale. One guy perked up and said, “Sure. We got a Tour de France bike out front.”
I figured he was pulling my chain, (bike pun!) but as I followed him out front to the parking lot where the robin egg blue Bianchi was parked, the vintage bike stuck out like Christie Brinkley

… in a sea of Tonya Hardings.

“It suits you,” the guy said.
“I’ll take it,” I replied, not knowing how much it would cost, but assuming not much.
So I wheeled it into the store and up to the counter, where an employee with a name tag that said JAYME asked, “You buying that bike?”
“Yup,” I said.
“Do you know how much it costs?” He asked incredulously.
“Um. No. How much does it cost?”
“Fifty bucks,” he said.
Before I could even get a word out, the man in line behind me said, “No way is that bike worth fifty bucks. Man, you’re rippin’ the girl off. Give it to her for 25.”
A woman standing in line behind the man chimed in:
“Fifty dollars! She’s gonna have to put new tires on that bike!”
“It’s an expensive racing bike,” the Salvation Army clerk snapped.
“It was an expensive bike,” scoffed the man behind me. “Man, that thing is old! Being that she’s a girl, she’s gonna have to pay someone to fix those tires.”
Slightly embarrassed by the attention I had drawn, but thrilled by its sitcom appeal, I quietly said to the clerk, “It’s OK. I came here thinking I’d get a deal. No biggie.”
Upon further inspection of the name tag, I noticed that JAYME was the store manager and as I turned to push the Bianchi back to the bike pile, Jayme sighed and said, “Alright. $35 and that’s as low as I’ll go.”
Forking over my money, I nodded at the male chauvinist behind me, grateful for his cojones. Although I don’t usually take kindly to being treated like a damsel, in this case I curtsied, grabbed my bicycle and headed home.
This isn’t my first love affair with a 1980s bicycle. I was once infatuated with a clunker 10-speed named Ross. For more on that torrid romance click here.