Life in the Fat Lane: Everything, all the time. With fries.

If you’re seeing a little more sun all of a sudden, it’s not just because it’s Daylight Saving Time. It’s because the Fat Guy is throwing a little less shade.

The Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter turned 30 today, and he’s been on one of those weight-loss programs for celebrity has-beens, the kind where you don’t look quite so porky because hardly anyone ever sees you anymore.

When I turned 30, back in 1984, I was on a weight-loss program of my own. It had occurred to me that I had problems, which included but were not limited to drugs, booze, food, voices in my head, and newspapers, and I found that vigorous bicycling helped me sweat out the cocaine, alcohol and gravy.

Didn’t do shit for the voices in my head, or the newspapers. But what the hell, a guy needs friends. And a job’s nice, too.

Five years later I finally put those friends in my head to work, when I signed on to draw cartoons for VeloNews, which was just settling into its new digs in the People’s Republic of Boulder. I was two more newspapers further on down the road, in Santa Fe, and the voices were telling me that once again my days were numbered, probably because the publisher kept saying things like “Are you still here?”

I’d been racing for a couple of years, and out of an abundance of caution and a desire for some sort of change that involved more than my ZIP code I applied for the managing editor’s job at VeloNews. Didn’t get it. But the honchos liked the cartoons, and the first one they published featured the Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter, who debuted in Volume 18, No. 3, cover date March 10, 1989.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Back then the Fat Guy didn’t look at all like he does today. In fact, he looked a lot like me. Long hair and a full beard, both of which gradually went away, and a variety of undistinguished and too-tight jerseys that by the mid-Nineties had stabilized into the familiar yellow-and-red kit with the “Spare Tire Ale” logo on both sleeves, the one we still sell today over at Voler.

The shorts sponsors tended to change whenever I had a notion. Lardasche Jeans. Juan Ton’s Asian Tacos. That sort of thing.

And the dude just kept getting larger.

At one point Fais Dodo couldn’t find his bike (turns out he was sitting on it). At another he had sucked a few smaller riders into orbit around him. Almost everybody was smaller. Entire teams were.

He even tried to sue the bicycle industry for making him a great fat bastard, when it had done the exact opposite for me.

“Yep, cycling did this to me,” he tells the lawyer, hot dog in one hand, sack of pork rinds in the other. “Couple hours in the ol’ saddle and I gotta eat a 7-Eleven.”

“You don’t say,” replies the lawyer. “Sounds like a no-class-action lawsuit to me!”

Every time I revisit that particular cartoon I see and hear John Goodman, playing Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski,” and not just because Goodman’s first TV appearance was in a Burger King commercial. I just like John Goodman.

I like the Fat Guy, too, and he went with me when I left VeloNews in 2012, not long after the original honchos sold it to the publishing equivalent of a chop shop run by meth-heads. We didn’t go bowling, though. We teamed up with Charles Pelkey at Live Update Guy, where Il Fattini was cast as a gender-bending Fat Lady Singing.

“It’s over!” he’d croon whenever a break got caught.

And El Grande started appearing more regularly in the “Shop Talk” strip I still draw for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, though he’s basically down to walk-ons and cameos behind that strip’s stars, the Mud Stud and Dude. He’s the kind of customer who dollars up on the wrong side of the ledger, drinking all the beer in the shop fridge and grazing the energy-bar display right down to the bedrock.

A customer once asked the Mud Stud if he had any fat bikes.

“Nah,” said the Stud. “We got a Fat Guy, though. Sell ‘im to you cheap.”

Behind him The Large One is mumbling through a cloud of hoagie crumbs. “This shop needs a deli. Maybe a brewpub. A bakery? Funny, I don’t climb so good lately. Bro’-deal me on a lighter bike?”

We’ve all ridden a few kilometers in those Sidis, eh? Any cyclist worth his kit knows that to find the shortest distance between two points you have to cut a few corners, or at least round them off a little.

And lighter is always better, amirite? Fatso is not the Road Runner, so bloody fast that his sheer velocity straightens out the curves and flattens all the hills. He’s Wile E. Coyote with an eating disorder, shopping for solutions at Acme. Or Walgreens. At least he’s out there, putting in the kilometers.

He was the guy the legendary Dong Ngo had in mind when we were discussing the 1987 Trek 2500 on display at the Denver Spoke.

“Who buys this bike?” I asked, stunned by the price.

“You wouldn’t believe who buys this bike,” he replied.

The Fat Guy, that’s who. The last guy who needs one. His eyes were never bigger than his stomach. Nothing was. Or is.

Maybe that’s why the Fat Guy struck such a chord. He wants what we want, which at rock bottom, basically, is more. Or maybe it’s because he seems so obliviously comfortable in his oversized skin.

Oddly, the jersey he covers it with seems especially popular with little skinny climber dudes, probably because people go “Oh, yeah, right,” when they see them wearing it.

But you know what’s really odd? Nearly 30 years to the day after Fatso and I pranced onto the VeloNews stage together, we’re both working for Felix Magowan again. A full circle, that is.

Yep. Felix was one of the honchos back then, and he’s one of the honchos now, ever since Pocket Outdoor Media bought Bicycle Retailer in January. I got my first check from the new owners in March. It didn’t smell like meth, and it didn’t bounce, so I guess we’re all one big happy family again.

We’ve been downsized, of course. Before this latest acquisition BRAIN published 18 issues per year, and now we’re down to 12, which accounts for Fatso’s sleeker shadow, and my slimmer paycheck.

Still, 30 years is a nice long first lap. We may be off the back, but we haven’t been pulled yet. Good thing the Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter has been taking his turns on the front. It’s been like drafting the Budweiser beer wagon with a full hitch of Clydesdales.

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36 Responses to “Life in the Fat Lane: Everything, all the time. With fries.”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Happy 30th to the Fat Guy. And I hear the Mad Dog hits 65 laps this month, too. Just don’t catch me, Patrick, because we know what that would mean.

    All the best and warm regards,

    • khal spencer Says:

      Come to think of it, O’G and I both found ourselves on the Two Wheeled Recovery Program in 1984. For slightly different reasons, but the therapy was pretty much the same. The Nose To The Stem At 110% Effort Program got me through a messy divorce, a lot of self destructive behavior, and at least cleared enough daylight ahead of my own voices that I was able to finish up grad school and do whatever it is I do now. Now, what the hell is it I do now, anyway…

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The Road goes ever on and on, as the fella said. Also, and too, the Trail. All y’gotta do is follow, if you can.

  2. Steve O’D Says:

    30? The Old Fat Guy seems so timeless, I assume you had stolen the idea from French cave drawings. Chapeau! Nice milestone, and a nice read to connect all the dots.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’m sure I swiped him from some’eres. There were a lot of funny fat guys around in my formative years. Oliver Hardy, Jonathan Winters, Jackie Gleason. None of them big cyclists, though, so I put my own spin on it. Ho, ho.

      • SAO' Says:

        I’m picturing OGWGF sitting around the fire in the cave complaining that the skinny guys with spears aren’t bringing home sufficient quantities of wooly mammoth.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        “If we could get the guys at the shop to schwag us some titanium-and-carbon spears we could do the business on the mammoths, maybe upgrade to Cat. 4 hunters.”

  3. notjusuk Says:

    Honored mohave actually been one of the first to race in said tight jersey. And needless to say I can’t fit into it today or the skin suit.

  4. SAO' Says:

    Any idea what happened to OGWGFIW’s cousin, Red Skin Suit Guy?

  5. SAO' Says:

    Forgot … the VN BF was totally deleted. Don’t even think there are copies on the Way Back Machine.

    Which reminds me … and talk about coming full circle. A pretty famous bike racer (UCI Jr World Champ) used a modified version of your creation’s moniker on the VN BF. “old&fat” mostly lurked, but one day pulled out his receipts and walked everyone through exactly how a certain cyclist who shall not be named had been systematically doping. Years before anyone had ever heard of Tygart, before Hamilton’s vanishing twin or Floyd’s whisky-fueled escape ride. Lordy, that was a weird time.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeh, a lot of content went away in the various shell games played with that publication. The sonsabitches lost a box of my original cartoons, too, back when I had to send them hard copy instead of digital versions. My Smithsonian retrospective will be shy a few items.

  6. Pat O’Brien Says:

    I’m on my third iteration of “OGWGFIW” racing team jerseys. I was not on the team but have drafted the “Fat Guy” a couple of time along the Rio Grande. And, plan on doing it again in May, for a short time anyway. Y’awl come up too, ya hear?

  7. Carl Duellman Says:

    that’s a pretty nice gig to have for 30 years. congratulations!

  8. Libby Says:

    Congratulations, Patrick! This précis together a slew of toons and photos (Ottawa, the newsrooms, bikes) should be a presentation. Stand-alone and also part of a panel. Depending on the brief or the audience the content could vary. Not just the few industry shows. Museums look for the content you provide; outdoor shows ; storyteller gigs. Museums: specialty and broad categories of state museums and art museums. Besides, Air Suburu, there are trains (though not all destinations are convenient from Albuquerque. Maybe get a book deal or column out of it. Say in “Sunset”. Rick Bragg writes a great last page column for “Southern Living”. After all, you don’t think of yourself as an industry guy. Broad horizons, baby!*

    * “Run that, baby” or “ Run that baby”channeling “Ben Bradlee”, Jason Robards, Jr. in “All the President’s Men”.

  9. John A Levy Says:

    Patrick ,
    Love the old guy, got your book and a red fat guy jersey from the old
    VN. My recovery started from cigarettes and hard booze back in Jan 2002. The voices still come but they tell me to run from USA but can’t let the redneck ass holes win. May be they will go away when we wake up from the cheese head nighmare. The miles helped but one thing from LA anger helps conquer a lot of bullshit. BTW happy Bday I will hit the big 65 this year also. Who knew we would live this long?????

  10. BruceM Says:

    Patrick! You’re turning 65? Welcome to Geezerhood. It’s a fine place for us old guys. Greetings from the Pacific NorthWet.

  11. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    Congratulations! Made me remember 1989 when I was at the Giro turning a wrench and driving a van for a tour company. 30 years later I’m pretty much doing the same but now the boss is La Professoressa more or less. Tomorrow we’re off to Donald Trump’s America for a week including NAHBS. I’m hoping no Boeing 737 Max airplanes will be on our flight itinerary!

  12. Hurben Says:

    Awesome, P’OG. 15 years in & out of the military, 3 combat tours & now just dealing with cancer. We are so damn blessed to be still here & to be able ride our bikes.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      How’s your health these days? I spoke with Charles Pelkey yesterday and he’s still ticking along, though he enjoys regular visits with the medicos, as I imagine you do.

      Cancer. Swear to Buddha, the only way to dodge it is to get something else. A friend’s brother-in-law just got himself done in a car crash. Multiple vehicles involved, and his rolled three times. Had his wife and grandkids in there with him, but he was the only fatality. It’s a wonder they didn’t all go west with him.

      “We are so damn blessed to be still here and to be able to ride our bikes.” Truer words, etc.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      Good day Hurben. My tandem riding buddies are both cancer survivors and riding the Santa Fe century, the full Monte. Take care partner, and you are right, we should be grateful we can ride with friends and family. I will make sure I raise a glass to your good health while in Santa Fe riding bikes and enjoying good company.

  13. Mark Boriek Says:

    Happy B’ Day Patrick!!

    I just turned 66 & still riding,…..not as fast & not as far, of course. I’m older, but not quite as fat as your cartoon character.

    He reminds me of a similarly aged cyclist I know. He’s porked up big time,…eats like he’s still 18 years old. He’s “poured into” his cycling jersey & shorts. He keeps purchasing new, lighter bikes. The most recent a fixie. I don’t ride with him as he is very, very slow. Always wheel sucking. And now, with his brakeless fixie, a real hazard to everyone else on the road.

    My theory is that the he buys lighter & lighter bikes to counteract his weight gain.

    • psobrien Says:

      I once heard a mountain bike reviewer tell a rider who was concerned about bike weight that if they wanted to save 2 pounds to take a good shit right before the ride. Cheaper than titanium for sure.

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