The smell of fresh-cut hay, hot asphalt and the perspiration of nearly 600 cyclists filled the air on Norman's east side early Saturday morning.

The 13th annual Norman Conquest went off without a hitch this year. Riders conquered courses ranging from 10 to 88 miles. They started and ended from the J.D. McCarty Center on Robinson Street. Sponsor was the Bicycle League of Norman.

Don't let anyone tell you Oklahoma is flat. The terrain seems level from behind a windshield at 50 miles per hour. Pedaling out Franklin Road is a different story. A few of us walked the final few feet on a couple of hills.

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My journalistic adrenaline must be slowing down. There was a time when just the sound of a fire truck would get me excited. My family tolerated excursions to crime scenes and house fires.

But on vacation in Mexico this past weekend, we watched as a charter boat about a quarter mile out in the Bay of Banderas caught fire. The 40-50 passengers on board were jumping into the water to escape the flames.

My first inclination was to commandeer a nearby boat and help save the passengers. My daughter, a journalism student, started shooting photographs ahead of me.

All of the passengers were rescued. One crewman was burned and the boat was destroyed. Unlike the movies, the captain didn't go down with the ship.

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Doris Bratton once sought me out at a civic club meeting and offered her hand to me. She was holding three of the newly minted dollar coins. "Give these to your children as a reward for making good choices," she said.

That was just the way Doris was. Always giving and thinking of others. We lost her this past week. She and her late husband, VC, were giants in Norman, having moved here in 1941.

She was active in various community organizations, the University of Oklahoma, McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church and was a founder of the Norman Youth Orchestra. She played the piano at the noon Rotary Club for many years.

There are three kinds of people in Norman: Those who ride in the wagon, those who pull the wagon and those who throw rocks at the wagon. Doris pulled with the best of them. We're a better community because of her.

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Norman seemed to be standing a little taller this past week after Monday's announcement that Money Magazine ranked us as the sixth best small city in America.

That's quite the accomplishment. It didn't happen overnight. Our schools, government, cultural endeavors, economic development efforts, the university's stature and overall affordability all played a part in the magazine's ranking.

It's an honor to be in such an elite group but there's always room at the top.

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Price of milk at Walgreen's Friday afternoon: $3.79 per gallon. Price of gasoline at 7-Eleven Friday afternoon: $3.59. Now, that's progress.

Andy Rieger 366-3543 editor@normantranscript.com

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