The Tale of the Purple Bike of Sumatra

(With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

After a long winter’s idleness, I decided that the time of exercise has finally come. To be honest, that time came several months ago. But what has come was a refund check sizeable enough to buy a bicycle.

As much as I prefer to do business with locally-owned shops, there is no way I could afford the prices at the local bike shops. This isn’t so much a reflection on their prices as my own penury. So after researching local prices, I decided to look at Walmart’s offerings.

I found The Perfect Bike on Walmart’s web site. It was a price I could afford, and so I chose the option of having it delivered to my local store, thus saving shipping costs.

The Nightmare Begins

I was notified the next morning that my order had arrived. Stacey kindly drove me to the store so I could pick it up.

I signed in to the system and was quickly approached by a clerk (what Walmart so magnanimously call a “Sales Associate”), who located my order and brought it out to me…still in the shipping carton…and then left. Didn’t offer to carry it out to my car, so Stacey and I managed to wrestle it into a grocery cart, haul it out to her SUV, and load it inside.

When we arrived back at my place and opened the carton, We discovered that the bike was only partially assembled. Examining the assembly manual, we discovered that we could have taken it to a Walmart cashier and had it assembled for free.

Because of Stacey’s schedule, it was a few days before we were able to take the bike back to the store to have it assembled.

Yeah, right.

We Don’t Service What We Sell

When I took the bike to customer service, we were told that they didn’t have anyone who could assemble it. Instead, they contract with an outside company to do that—and nobody knew whether it was once a week or once a month. They did, however, make an attempt to find out which it was.

Finally, after 20 minutes of waiting and discovering that no one in the store knew the schedule, I decided to return the bike and look at the ones they had in the store.

Partial Success!

I didn’t find anything I liked, but I did get a helmet, a lighting system, and a bike lock. Oh, yeah: Stacey fell in love with a bike. Unasked, I offered to buy it for her. After checking the tire pressure, Stacey inflated the tires to the recommended PSI (206 kilo pascals for you metric fans), I paid for the bike, and we were done for the day.

Or so I thought.

Stacey reminded me that there was another Walmart that we sometimes shopped at, so off we went to see what they had in stock.

There, in the bike section, was my Perfect Bike™!

my bike

So we located a sales associate who kindly offered to adjust the seat and handlebar heights, and to inflate the tires to the proper PSI. We paid for the bike, loaded it into Stacey’s SUV, and headed home.

Stacey dropped me off, and I was ready for My First Big Adventure! I even knew what that would be: I had a doctor’s appointment in a couple of days, and my bike could get me there in just a few minutes (it was only a half-mile ride).


Okay, it was my fault. I should have double-checked everything before my first ride. Turns out the handlebars hadn’t been tightened securely, so they kept rotating down to the point the bike was unrideable. In addition, the seat hadn’t been tightened properly, either.

So after trying for 3 blocks to ride the damn thing, I finally gave up and walked it the rest of the way to the doctor’s office.

After my appointment, I texted Stacey what had happened. She kindly came and picked me and the bike up and drove us home.

Mikey To The Rescue!

As the bike and I were sitting in the back yard, my friend Mikey came by for a visit. When I told him The Tale of the Purple Bike of Sumatra, he showed me exactly how to fix all my woes, and adjust the bike properly. Thank you, Mikey!


So now the bike is sitting—locked, of course—in the shed, awaiting my test ride (it’s too rainy today). I’m going to stick to riding up and down our street until I get readjusted to bike riding. After all, it’s been nearly 20 years!

Chips & Dips

There was a time in my life when there were two questions you could ask to determine if someone was truly from the Texas hill country or thereabouts, or if they were only faking it. The first was, “Have you ever been to Stinky Falls?” and the second was “What’s your favorite recipe for Ro-Tel tomatoes?”

The first question was the clincher. Stinky Falls (it’s official name is, I think, Landa Falls) is caused by a small dam across the Comal River in New Braunfels, Texas. It got its name from the fact that you had to walk past several sulphur springs to get there. And if you’ve ever been near a sulphur spring, you’ll understand the why of Stinky Falls.

Ro-Tel tomatoes were once almost unknown outside their home state of Texas. But the, in 1963, the wife of a certain Texas President told the country that her favorite dip recipe was made with Ro-Tel tomatoes. The rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t know if it’s still true, but when I lived in Alaska in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you couldn’t get Ro-Tels. Maybe it was because that President was a Democrat, and Alaska is traditionally Republican, but whatever the reason, whenever we’d go on vacation to visit my folks in Texas, I’d always stock up on cans of Ro-Tel.

All of which is background to this entry.

I went grocery shopping today, with the express purpose of getting (among other things) Ro-Tel Tomatoes, dipping chips, and ground beef. You see, I rarely stick to the original recipe when I’m cooking, and had decided that some browned ground beef would add a protein kick to the dip. However, while I was shopping, I saw a couple of cans of Hormel Chunk Chili. Well, if ground beef would liven things up, how about chunk beef already spiced?

So here’s my recipe. The ORIGINAL Ro-Tel recipe (which is also on the can) is marked with asterisks (*):

*1 can Ro-Tel Tomatoes (original or new Habanero
*16 ounces Velveeta, cut into 1-inch squares
A 16-ounce can of Hormel Chunk Chili

Put all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Stir constantly for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

The only other change I made was to use Wal-Mart’s brand of dipping cheese, which is functionally equivalent to Velveeta, but cheaper.

Use your favorite chips for dipping.

Total time: less than 15 minutes, including preparation time.


The Great Food Mystery

Or, How Can Walmart Sell A Roasted Chicken For Less Than It Can Sell The Same Chicken Uncooked?

Here’s the conundrum:  I can buy a roasting chicken at Walmart for $1.56 a pound.  I can also buy an already-roasted chicken as a meal-to-go at less than the price-per-pound for the raw one.  So what’s up with that?  I mean, if I buy the roaster and cook it myself, I’m already paying a higher price.  Add in the cost of spices and herbs, plus the electricity I pay to run my crockpot for the 6 to 8 hours it takes to cook it, and I just have to wonder: why the hell am I even cooking my own chicken?

A rhetorical question if ever there was one.  I cook it because nobody makes the exact mix of spices that I like.  Not that I have a set recipe: I like variety, and except for the chicken and the crockpot, I never make the same recipe twice.  The chicken goes into the crockpot, and then I throw in some onion powder, maybe a little garlic, a couple of tablespoons of dried rosemary, salt and pepper, and whatever the hell else sounds good.

That’s it.  Set the crockpot to low, and that’s it for the next 6 to 8 hours, depending on whether or not I thawed the chicken in the first place.

But I’ve found you really have to be careful when shopping at Walmart, because their pricing is tricky.  And not just on chicken.  I can buy a single roasting chicken for right around $5.50 ($11.00 for two, right?), or I can buy a package of 2 roasting chickens—for $18.00 ($9.00 each).

I’ve also seen fresh orange juice priced at $3.25 a bottle, or $6.98 for two.  This seems to be a standard practice:  relying on customer ignorance (lack of basic math skills) to overcharge for larger packages of the same product.  And by overcharging, I mean a 32-ounce bag sells for a higher price-per-pound than the exact same product in a 16-ounce bag.

I suppose in a perfect world I wouldn’t even shop at Walmart, but the reality is that I’m on a limited fixed income, so I really don’t have much choice.

Still, when I’m feeling naughty and decide that a quart of Rocky Road ice cream is just the thing to augment my antidepressants, Sam’s Choice is every bit as good as Ben & Jerry’s or that pseudo-Scandinavian brand…and a hell of a lot cheaper, too!

And where else can I go grocery shopping when my Social Security check is deposited into my account…at 3 o’clock in the morning?

So I’m not completely down on Walmart.

Just their weird pricing.  And their “fresh” produce that always seems to go bad by the time I get it home.  And the last 3 gallons of milk that were sour the day I bough them.

Walmart: Always Low Prices!  That is Arkansas-speech for “Caveat Emptor.”