Erich von Neff: Second Place (A Bicycling Story)

Note to Erich: I may be out of sequence using this story now. Am I? I hope not. Because the living room was turned a hospital room, all my stuff kept getting moved around, and there are so many papers to get back in order. Ugh. No fun.



An Original Story by Erich von Neff


“Racing’s getting too predictable,” Lido said. “Gussie Gatto wins the sprints. Don Peterson and Les Williams win the team races. Rickey Tan wins the criteriums.  It changes around. But little.”

Lido sat on an old orange crate in the back of the Gattos brothers’ grocery store on Taylor Street in San Jose. Mack Sharpy and a few of the other boys also sat on orange crates though of lesser height. They nodded in agreement.

“Now take this here Saint Mark’s day race in a couple of weeks. It’s about twenty-five miles. Right?”

“Right boss. Right.” Mark Sharpy agreed.

Lido lit up a cigar and looked around the room. “Now, how’s a guy going to make a buck betting with a  bookie when the outcome is pretty well known. Rickey Tan will probably clean up. Or, if not him, somebody equally well known.”

“What we need is a real, real long shot.”

Lido put his cigar down and reached down and reached over and grabbed an apple from a barrel and took a thoughtful bite.”

“Now we needn’t play too fair.”

Nobody said anything nor did heads nod. Foul play was only too well understood.

Lido at the apple, then another, and all sat there listening to him chomp, chomp, chomp. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Suddenly a light bulb went on in Lido’s head.

“I’ve got it. Here it is.”

The boys sat on the edge of their orange crates.

“Anybody know of an older rider, not in too bad shape, who has false teeth?”

Silence. One could never tell where Lido’s furtive mind might lead.

“Sure,” said Chung Wo. “There’s Hans Krause and he definitely has false choppers. He used to race in Berlin before the war, but now he races part time, mostly in San Francisco. 

“No problem,” Lido said. “You’ll drive him if necessary.”

Lido put the cigar back in his mouth, stood up, and began expounding. No one chomped any apple. Not a sound could be heard. 

“Now,  boys, here’s my plan.”

Hans Krause was sitting in the kitchen enjoying a Wieland’s  beer after a hard day working  as a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront,  and an even harder afternoon on a training ride with the New Century Wheelmen at the Old Stadium Velodrome in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The phone rang and Hans reluctantly put the Wieland’s down.”

“ja.” Hans answered, a cold voice said, “You’re going to get some more false teeth at Dr. Specker’s,” and be ready with your bike and riding clothes on the Sunday of the Saint Mark’s Day race for you’ll be in the deep freeze. ” Then click the receiver down on the other end of the line.

Hans could feel that this was for real and he better do as he was told, and what the heck, he could use another set of false teeth.

Hans continued to train, checked over his Durkopp and took an old Red Devil’s  jersey out of his closet given to him by Alfred Letouner. It had always brought him jum juk.

On the Sunday morning of the Saint Mark’s Day race a black shiny Buick pulled up to Hans Krause’s house. There was a lump in Han’s throat as he stepped toward the door. He had his Durkopp on his shoulder and carried his racing clothes in a canvas bag.

No one was now at the door, but two men were waiting beside a black Buick. He walked down the steps apprehensively. The rear door was opened and Hans climbed in. His Durkopp was put in the trunk and  they were off to San Jose.

Not one word was spoken until they reached the starting line on a nearly deserted roadside outside of San Jose.  The course which has now been nearly obliterated by development was twenty five miles, in one direction only over the rolling hills west of San Jose, near Uvas Dam Road.

The usual riders were there. Gas Gatto, Pete Pizza, Nick Maggi, Louie Rondoni, Rickey Tan and others.

With little fanfare, Amateur Bicycle League rep Joe Canciamilla fired his starters pistol in the air and the riders were off. Their legs churning their fixed gears, and trading pace up and down the rolling hills, watched occasionally by cows lying on their bellies, peacefully chewing on their cud. The sprinters, of course, did as little work as possible and all seemed to be going their way.

Around a mile and a half to go near a turn with a grove of trees Hans Krause surged away. The pack hardly showed concern thinking quite correctly that Hans Krause would shortly blow his cork.

As soon as Hans Krause rounded the turn, just as according to Lido’s plan, he saw a man dressed as a farmer standing there, and a Duesenberg driven by a blonde stopped a little ahead. Hans quickly spat out his own false teeth and the “farmer” him a new set which he quickly inserted. The Duesenberg started up and gradually increased speed. Soon Hans could feel tension on the wire that was attached to his new set of false teeth and the bumper of the Duesenberg. The blonde was accelerating slowly, gradually and all was according to plan.

The pack was completely taken by surprise when they rounded the turn and saw Hans speeding away, but little did they know.

For half-a-mile or so, Hans was towed, his legs churning his fixed gear. Then just ahead he saw a black form.  No.No.Yes.Yes. It was a bull and it was starting to cross the road. Hans Krause clenched his false teeth in his mouth until the last second, then he opened his mouth. The false teeth sailed out of his mouth, pulled by the wire, then like a whip with a sharp tip his false teeth lashed against the ribs of the bull.

The bull stood there stunned for a brief second and Hans Krause sped by attired in his Red Devils jersey. So this was the tormentor. The bull charged down the road after Hans whose legs found new life that they had not had since the last six-day race in Berlin long ago.

The Duesenberg drove by the finish line with the blonde driving and Lido sitting next to her smoking a cigar with a resigned look on his face. And behind him tethered on a long wire was a pair of false teeth. People looked, blinked their eyes, then looked again. Was this some kind of marriage ceremony or what? A couple might drag tin cans behind their car; but false teeth? Perhaps there was inner meaning here which eluded everyone. Some heads nodded as if they knew, then others and others. Why, yes, yes, of course. Of course what? No one knew. No one asked.

This vision had hardly passed by when another soon appeared. A cyclist is an old Red Devil’s jersey being chased by a bull.

The bull seemed to gain on the cyclist. The cyclist sped away from the bull. Back and forth they went. Until near the finish line the cyclist gave one final burst, the bull thundered across the finish line after him, but soon the bull whether it was tired or no longer interested slowed down, stopped, let loose a load of excrement in disgust and slowly ambled toward a nearby field.

The pack was soon in sight, and there was a mass sprint which Rickey Tan won, but he was most definitely third.

Lido was surprised to hear the crowd cheering, “Hans Krause. Hans Krause.” Lido turned around and there he was crossing the finish line, frantically pedaling  just ahead of the  bull. Lido couldn’t believe it. Hans was first. Hans was first. He hadn’t lost after all.

Soon Joe Canciamilla was passing out three envelopes. For first place: one envelope to Hans Krause with a $100 dollars inside. For third place: one envelope to Rickey Tan with $25 inside.  For second place: one envelope with $50 inside. “I’ll just take that,” Lido said quickly grabbing the envelope from Joe’s hand. ‘That bull’s a friend of mine. I’ll see that he gets it.”

As Lido and the boys were walking back to the Duesenberg with the waiting blonde, Frank Sharpy said: “You got brains boss. You got smarts, telling Hans to wear that red jersey just in case something went wrong.”

“Yeah, like I always got a backup plan. I’m the brains of the outfit,” Lido said pointing to his head. 

“You sure are boss. You sure are.”


About the author:

Erich von Neff is a San Francisco Longshoreman. He received his masters degree in philosophy from San Francisco State University and was a graduate research students at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Erich von Neff is well known on the French avant-garde and mainstream literary scenes. he is a member of the Poetes Francais and La Societe des Poetes et Artistes de France.