December 2nd 2007 5:02 am
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Leonidas, called Big Leo by some of his friends, was an orange cat for whom Big Leo's Stray Cat Alley was named. Everybody considered him the top cat, despite being relegated to maintenance duties by another member who envied him the position of top cat. So he consoled himself by buying an old 1969 Chevelle two-door sedan which he hoped to cruise the Alley in which bore his nickname of Big Leo.
Big Leo was proud of his car, in spite of it having seen better days. It was a dull gray, the engine had practically everything wrong with it you could imagine, and it looked like it might not last too much longer. Just the same, he drove it to the Alley one day to show it off. As the car made its way through the entrance to the Alley, the cats and dogs who happened to be there at the time noticed the clunky sounds of the old, worn-out motor. Then a couple minutes later, Big Leo stopped the car, turned off the motor and got out to show off his prize. Moving off to one side to give the cats and dogs a good first look, he said, "Well, cats - and dogs, too - what do you think? Will this car give class to the Alley or what?"
Those cats and dogs whose people were real aficionados of classic cars seemed to be especially impressed. They knew that there was more to Big Leo's 1969 Chevelle than just it's worn-out condition. Then another orange cat called Pooh Bear, who headed a group called the Carolina Crew, suggested, "Why don't you let us fix it up for you, Big Leo? Then you could cruise the Alley in style."
Though Big Leo tried to maintain a tough exterior for the sake of the Alley's rough reputation, he was genuinely touched by Pooh Bear's generous offer. When he could finally speak, he asked, "You'd do that for me?" When Pooh Bear and the Carolina Crew nodded in reply, Big Leo emotionally replied, "I don't know what to say. You're the best!"
"Don't thank us just yet," Pooh Bear replied. "Let's fix this thing up and then you can thank us."
So they looked for a place where the renovations could be made without being disturbed. When a spot suitable enough to act as a garage had been found, one of the Carolina Crew called out, "Okay, bring the car over here!"
But Big Leo was hesitant. "You're not going to hurt it, are you?" he asked Pooh Bear worriedly. "It's a real classic, you know."
"Don't worry, Big Leo, we'll take good care of it," Pooh Bear replied reassuringly. "You won't know it when we get through with it, but I think you'll like the results." Then he held out one of his front paws for the keys.
Big Leo passed the keys to Pooh Bear and watched as they drove the 1969 Chevelle to the improvised garage. Though he didn't show it, he was worried about what he might see when the Carolina Crew was done.
For several days afterward, Pooh Bear and the Carolina Crew were busy renovating Big Leo's 1969 Chevelle. Dogs and cats who happened to pass by the improvised garage could hear Pooh Bear say, "Pass me that doohickey and I'll put it in the engine," or "Let's see what we can do to fix this up."
When it was time to paint the exterior, the dogs and cats near the improvised garage could hear Pooh Bear say, "Be sure the windows are rolled up and the grillwork is covered, will you? I don't want to get this paint in the wrong place." Then hissing sounds from a spray gun could be heard as the new paint was applied to the exterior of Big Leo's car. The hissing of the spray gun was punctuated by growls from a couple dogs who served as guards to keep the curious out of the improvised garage until the work was all done.
After the paint had dried, some extra touch-ups were added, such as polishing the chrome of the grillwork and the wheels and making sure that the tires had the right amount of air pressure. The interior was spruced up, too, with upholstery that made the old 1969 Chevelle look as new as when it had first been driven off the parking lot with a shiny gray exterior instead of the dull one Big Leo had found.
When it was all done, the dogs and cats heard a rumbling sound which they hadn't heard when Big Leo first brought the 1969 Chevelle to the Alley. Pooh Bear was at the wheel, giving it a test run before giving Big Leo back the keys. Instead of a dull gray car that looked like it was ready to be scrapped for the parts, there was a bright red 1969 Chevelle that looked like it had been driven off a lot full of new cars by a proud owner. It was almost as if the hands of time had turned back about thirty-eight years, if only for a moment.
The dogs who'd acted as guards for the garage shooed the gawkers out of the way. One of them barked, "All right, all right! Get out of the way and let Big Leo have the first look! It's his car, you know!"
As Big Leo came onto the scene, the dogs and cats parted the way like the parting of the Red Sea. Pooh Bear and the Carolina Crew flanked the newly-renovated car at each end, waiting for Big Leo to take it all in and see what he thought. As Pooh Bear returned the keys to Big Leo, he asked, "Well, Big Leo, what do you think?"
Big Leo was silent for a few minutes, remembering what Pooh Bear had said about not recognizing his car after it would be done. When he could finally speak, he half-whispered, "I can't believe it! It's almost like new!" Then he turned to Pooh Bear and asked, "How did you do it?"
"If I told you that, it would spoil the surprise," Pooh Bear replied with a twinkle in his eye. "Why not take it for a spin and see how it goes?"
But just as Big Leo was about to savor a ride in his newly-renovated 1969 Chevelle, he was interrupted by some sharp, insistent barking. "Your car couldn't possibly be as good as mine!"
Big Leo turned to see who might have the nerve to spoil his moment of supreme pleasure. "Who are you?" he demanded. "And what makes you so sure your car's better than my classic 1969 Chevelle?"
"I'm Bambi," replied a female Pomeranian whose red fur was somewhat darker than Big Leo's orange fur. "And I have an even more classic car than yours!" So saying, she left the Alley and soon returned with a pink sedan with fins in the rear such as were popular in the 1950's.
The classic car aficionados seemed to be even more impressed. The fins in the rear were especially appealing to those cats who were fond of fish.
But that wasn't all. "Look at the plush interior!" some of the dogs exclaimed in admiration. "And that chrome bone-shaped ornament on the hood looks almost good enough to chew on!"
But Big Leo didn't seem to be all that impressed. So he asked Bambi in a sarcastic tone, "And who fixed up your car?"
"I don't need my car fixed up," Bambi replied with a swish of her fluffy tail. "I keep mine in tip-top shape all the time. That's why it looks as good as it does."
"Is that so?" Big Leo asked, feeling a challenge coming on. Then he asked, "Can it run as well as my newly-renovated 1969 Chevelle?"
The dogs and cats held their breath, expecting an argument any minute. But Bambi calmly replied, "It can run just as well and better. My car's even more classic, you know."
"We'll just see about that!" Big Leo cried, trying desperately to hold his temper. Then he issued his challenge. "I challenge you and your classic car to a drag race right here in the Alley!"
A murmur went through the crowd as the cats and dogs waited to see how Bambi would respond to Big Leo's challenge. When it grew quiet again, Bambi finally replied, "All right, then! My car against your car next Friday night!"
The upcoming race was the talk of Big Leo's Stray Cat Alley and beyond. As Big Leo hovered near his precious 1969 Chevelle and pondered the impending contest, a black cat named Ulysses came near and said, "So you had to shoot off your big mouth, didn't you? Why don't you step aside and let somebody drive that car who's a real top cat? Besides, that red paint job would make my sleek black fur stand out even more!"
Big Leo whirled around to face Ulysses. "Says you! I made the challenge and I'm driving the car!" To emphasize the point he showed his claws and added, "You get it?"
Then a girl cat with a mix of orange, black and white fur known as The Lovely Venus came onto the scene. "What about me?" she asked as Big Leo and Ulysses watched her come near. "I should get to drive that car. A girl dog is driving her car, so why can't I drive?"
Big Leo retracted his claws long enough to reply, "Because you can't drive." Then he suggested, "Why don't you entertain the crowd before the race with your lovely voice and a few appropriate race-themed songs? I'm sure they'd appreciate that much more than seeing you make a wreck of this lovely car before the race even starts."
The Lovely Venus was clearly disappointed at being denied the chance to prove herself to the cats of the Alley, though she couldn't deny that many cats and dogs admired her stirring singing voice. So as she went away to practice some race-themed songs, she muttered half to herself, "Stupid jerks!"
Having calmed down somewhat after The Lovely Venus left to practice her singing, Big Leo repeated his plan. "I issued the challenge and I'm driving the car."
Ulysses knew then that it would be pointless to argue, so he conceded, "Okay, okay, so you get to drive the car for the race!" Then he added, "But win or lose, I get the next turn in it, all right?"
This seemed a suitable proposition to Big Leo, so he held out a front paw for a pawshake. "Done! Now let's go have a drink at the Bing, shall we?"
At the appointed time, all the cats and dogs who'd planned to see the contest billed as "The Great Stray Cat Alley Drag Race" gathered at their chosen viewing spots on both sides of the Alley. Though it was expected that the spectators would gather along party lines, so to speak, there was actually a mix of cats and dogs on both sides.
They were greeted at the entrance of the Alley by The Lovely Venus singing, "Leader of the Pack", accompanied by a chorus of dogs who supplied the sound of motorcycles with low rumbling growls. They were on a platform which had originally been built for the fight held in honor of the memory of Diesel Blue, one of the original founding canine members of Big Leo's Stray Cat Alley.
As the spectators went further inside, other activities could be observed as the time for the race drew near. A lively white dog known as Miss Dixie Monroe could be heard calling out, "Come on, pups and kits! Place your bets and see who's going to win the race!" She had a pad on which she scribbled the number of hamburgers which the dogs and some cats were going to bet on the outcome of the race between Big Leo and Bambi. As the number of hamburgers piled up and the tallies were noted, Miss Dixie Monroe thought to herself: as a dog, I should be rooting for Bambi, but I can't resist rooting for Lionkitty after he won that fight for Diesel Blue. Those near her could hear a soft chuckle, though they didn't hear any words. Then she called out, "Place your bets, pups and kits! Who's going to win the big race?"
Some distance away, the sounds of sizzling could be heard as hamburgers, hot dogs, shrimp and other goodies were being prepared for the hungry spectators. An orange cat named Simon who had a particular weakness for shrimp tried to sneak a bite, but was stopped by a quick swipe of sharp claws. "Ouch!" he cried as he was forced to put the coveted shrimp back on the grill. "What's the big idea?"
"You keep your paws off that shrimp!" scolded Maggie as her sister Aggie took orders for the grilled snacks. "If there's any left over after the race, you can stuff your face all you want to at the Bing!"
"You're mean!" Simon cried as he moved away from the grill where the shrimps were sizzling. "I'm going to tell my big sister on you!" As Simon disappeared into the crowd, he could be heard calling, "Marybeth! Maggie and Aggie won't let me have any shrimp!"
As these and other little dramas played themselves out, Big Leo and Bambi were making final preparations for the race. A female Siberian Husky known as My Little Demon was putting the finishing touches on polishing the bone-shaped hood ornament on Bambi's pink car. "There!" she said as she stood back to see her work. Then she turned to Bambi and asked, "How does she look?"
"I couldn't have done it better myself," Bambi replied admiringly. My Little Demon seemed pleased.
Some distance away, Ulysses reminded Big Leo of his promise. "Don't forget, Leo, win or lose, I get the next turn in your car!"
"Yeah, yeah, I know, I know!" Big Leo replied with a hint of irritation in his voice. "Let's get the race started, okay?"
But the rules had to be declared. That job fell to a cream-colored cat named Archemides, known as Archy to his friends. He called Big Leo and Bambi over for a conference and said, "You'll start at the far end of the Alley, go around the block and drive back in. Understood?"
"Isn't that rather short?" Bambi asked. "I was hoping to drive a little further than that."
"Your car may be classic, but the price of gas isn't," Archy pointed out. "Besides, you're racing only for bragging rights."
"And I promised Ulysses a turn in my car when I'm done!" Big Leo replied with a groan. "I'm going to lose even if I win the race!"
"Never mind that, just get in your cars and get ready to go," Archy urged. "I'll make the official announcement." So as Big Leo and Bambi got into their cars at the far end of the Alley, Archy made his way to the platform where The Lovely Venus was singing and said, "You did great, Venus! Now we have to announce the start of the race, okay?"
To his surprise, The Lovely Venus didn't even argue. "Finally!" she exclaimed with relief. Then she turned to the dogs who'd served as her backup chorus and said, "Come on, let's get something from the grill before everybody else eats it all!"
When he had the platform to himself, Archy tested the microphone for the sound quality, then he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please!" As the noise of the crowd died down, Archy continued, "The race between Leonidas and Bambi will start at the far end of the Alley, go around the block and come back in to the starting point! May the best driver win!" Then he called out, "Drivers, start your engines!"
The roar of the engines of the two classic cars was drowned out by the cheering of the crowd. Then everybody scrambled out of the way to make room for the cars to make their way through the Alley. Then tires screeched as the two classic cars started their journey to the entrance of the Alley on their way around the block. As they went out and turned a corner for the portion of the race going around the block, more cheering could be heard as spectators waiting for the cars finally saw what they'd come to see.
As the crowd inside the Alley waited for the classic cars to return, a murmur ran through the spectators until the roar of engines could be heard again as Big Leo and Bambi returned. As the cheering of the crowd drowned out the motors again, everybody anxiously awaited the outcome of the race.
But a lot of dust had been generated as the race progressed, making it hard for everybody to see what might be going on. By the time Big Leo and Bambi returned, a long ribbon had been stretched across the way so that the winning car could break it and determine the winner.
As the two cars broke the ribbon, each one had a bit of it sticking to them as Big Leo and Bambi finally slowed down and came to a stop where they'd started. As the measurements were taken to determine the winner, everybody held their breath. When he was satisfied with the results, Archy made his way back to the platform and announced, "The winner of the Great Stray Cat Alley Drag Race is Leonidas!"
Those who were hoping Big Leo would win cheered loudly. After giving Big Leo some time to savor the plaudits of the crowd, Ulysses came forward and held out a front paw expectantly. "Here!" Big Leo said as he passed the keys to Ulysses. "I hope you're satisfied!"
"Oh, I am!" Ulysses replied with great satisfaction as he took the keys to the 1969 Chevelle. Then he added, "I can hardly wait to cruise in that baby!" Then as he heard some giggling behind him, Ulysses turned to see a number of girl cats and dogs hoping to be asked to accompany him on a ride through the Alley. "Don't worry, ladies, you'll all get your turn!" he promised.
Hoping there woudn't be any hard feelings because of the outcome of the race, Big Leo tried to extend a paw in friendship to Bambi. "Would you like to join us for a drink at the Bing, Bambi?"
"Well, I had hoped for some hamburgers," Bambi replied. She turned longingly toward the booth where a gleeful Miss Dixie Monroe was giving out hamburgers to those cats and dogs who'd placed winning bets.
Miss Dixie Monroe must have anticipated Bambi's desire because she brought over some of her own hamburgers and said, "You go right ahead and have some burgers, girlfriend! I've got enough to last me a week!" Then she turned to Big Leo and added happily, "I knew you could do it, Lionkitty!"
Big Leo was rather glad that he had orange fur at that moment because otherwise it would be too hard to keep from blushing at Miss Dixie Monroe's admiration. Besides, he knew that he'd have plenty of opportunities to cruise through the Alley and have his turn with the ladies in the 1969 Chevelle. So maybe letting Ulysses have a turn with it for now wasn't so bad after all.
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