Showdown at Walden
They came rolling into town from the north, riding in twos and threes not to attract attention. Before the day was done, eighty of them would drift into the small ranching town of Walden, Colorado. The dreaded Oklahoma Bicycle Gang was coming to town. They were all hard people but twenty-four of them were the most feared hired guns you will ever find -- lawyers. They were seasoned travelers; legs like fence posts, water bottles hung low and their lean bodies covered with sweat and dust after long hours on the trail.
But their arrival didn't go without notice. The Walden Town Marshal was waiting in his brown Broncho, parked in the shade of the NAPA store where he could see to both ends of the four-block long main street. Nothing missed his sharp eyes. It had been a week since he put down the last criminal outbreak, a drunk peeing on a telephone pole in the alley behind the bar, and he was itching for action. Just let them try something in his town.
The marshal watched as the first two riders leaned their bikes against the wall, bellied up to the counter in the Texaco station and rasped through parched lips, "Gimme a Gatorade, and make it a big one." He licked the donut crumbs from his lips, nervously clicked his ballpoint pen and checked his ticket book to be sure it was fully loaded.
Little did the people of Walden realize that within a few short hours this gang would take over both hotels, empty every water heater in town and descend like a biblical swarm of locusts on anyplace that represented food. Their appetites were insatiable, they seemed to eat everything in sight. One restaurant had an "All You Can Eat" pasta dinner special which rapidly turned into "Eat All You Can Find" proposition.
Then the ever-vigilant marshal saw it happen right before his eyes, a mindless crime so outrageous that he almost choked on his French Vanilla Creme filled donut as he gasped in horror. One of the members of the bicycle gang violated one of the most cherished laws of the west, she committed an intentional, flagrant and felonious illegal U-turn on main street, right in front of the mercantile store. He spurred his steed out of the parking spot in a cloud of exhaust smoke and raced the half a block to capture the miscreant before she could escape into the store. He caught her just as she was leaning her bike against the front window displaying saddles, studded snow tires and a mannequin dressed in the latest cowgirl fashion.
Faster than you could say Habeas Corpus, he had his ticket book out of its holster and had started writing. The problem was that the ticket book was designed for cars and while he was familiar with Ford, Dodge and Chevy; Campagnolo was more than he was willing to attempt. He finally wrote "Bike" in that space. He gave up on driver's license and tag number and told her to take to the judge in the drugstore.
After the city judge finished filling a prescription for a lady about the same age as the state of Wyoming, he heard the case. The defendant was represented by two lawyers who pled the fact that while there might be a sign indicating that U-turns are not allowed posted at the north end of main street, it was not visible due to a truck parked right in front of it. They also pointed out that the No U-Turn sign was on the same pole as a No Truck Parking sign which the marshal seemed to totally ignore. Then they mentioned that the club was already dropping about $3000 into the coffers of the town for rooms, food and the like. It was to no avail, the judge handed down his decision, "Twenty Dollars".
We did get a bit of satisfaction by letting the owner of the Texaco station, who was also the mayor, know that while we had five vehicles along that needed fuel, they would pass up filling their tanks with his grossly overpriced gas and go on to the next town. That overzealous ticket might have made the town $20, but it cost him about $100.
I wrote this as an article for the paper after I got back from the Oklahoma Bicycle Society Grand Tour in 1994. It was published in the Jackson County News. I found out later that there was a big dispute going on in Walden between the city judge and the mayor. The mayor was leading a faction that wanted to vote the judge, town marshal and one city councilman out of office. It seemed to be a power play between the people who wanted to make the town grow and the judge backed by the local ranchers who wanted to keep it small. Since Walden was the center for all the ranches in the area, they had been allowed to vote in all city elections. The mayor had gotten a letter from the State Attorney General to the effect that only bonified residents of the town could vote in its elections.
The newspaper editor was on the side of growth and he ran my article. It's the only thing I've ever had front page above the fold. The editor dropped me a note saying that it produced more letters and calls than anything he had ever published (most of them favorable).
I even got a letter from some attorney there that was the worst typing, spelling and punctuation I've ever seen. He threatened to file suit against me for slander If I didn't issue a letter of apology to the city, the judge and the town marshal. He said he would like to get me before a judge in Walden.
I showed it to Laurie Williams and she got a good laugh. Told me to write the guy back and tell him that anyone who didn't know the difference between slander and libel probably didn't know anything about the first amendment either and to go ahead. If he did file suit, she would have it moved to Federal Court here in Oklahoma City and she would like to get him before a Federal Judge here. As she put it, "write that old fool a letter and cut him off at the knees."
I wrote him an answer but never heard from him.
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