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Jessica Ritchie

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Bicycling Grows in the Metro
By Jessica Ritchie

Everyday commuters are increasingly using bikes to get around the Metro, according to advocacy groups like Activate Omaha and Omaha Bikes.

The city itself has taken a number of steps to improve bike access on the roads and near businesses, including hiring a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, but it’s these advocacy groups that are really helping to get things rolling.

The growing group of Omaha cyclists is working hard to see the city become more accessible to bikes.  Among them is Julie Harris, the outreach coordinator for Activate Omaha.

“It’s definitely growing.  We’re definitely seeing a lot more people on bikes,” said Harris.

And, Harris said, it’s not just the Lance Armstrong-types.  “It’s just the average person going to work or riding with their kid to school.”

The more people ride, the more the city and local businesses are making efforts to accommodate them.

Sarah Johnson is the owner and manager of Greenstreet Cycles, a bike shop that focuses on the needs of the commuter.

“It’s not so much about racing bicycles as a sport, but just a utilitarian kind of more everyday bicycles for everyday people,” she said of her shop.

With the help of advocacy groups like Omaha Bikes, Sarah started the Bike Friendly Destination Program, now used by over 30 Omaha businesses.

That includes places like Jones Bros. Cupcakes in Aksarben Village.

“It’s good for business, but it’s just good business…and we like to encourage, of course, the helmets, so that’s why we offer the 15% discount.”

Even if they don’t offer a discount, a business can get a sticker by offering bike parking, outdoor seating or a place to fill your water bottle.

Omaha Bikes also works with the city to promote bicycle awareness and encourage city planners and engineers to consider cyclists in upcoming projects.  Some of the improvements include more bike racks for parking and more bike lanes with “sharrows.”  That’s the arrows with a bike symbol that let drivers know they must share that lane with cyclists.

Marathon Runner finishes 39th Marathon
By Jessica Ritchie

OMAHA, NEB. – H. Francis Bush finished his 40th marathon on September 25, 2011.  His goal is to run 51, one in every state and Washington, D.C.  His latest run was at the 36th Annual Omaha Marathon.

“It’s kind of like an addiction,” Bush said.

Bush is an accounting professor at the Virginia Military Institute.  He started advising the Marathon Club there in 1995, but he soon decided he needed a bigger challenge.

Bush joined one of many online clubs dedicated to running in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.  He soon was running up to 6 marathons per year to meet his goal. 

Bush ran in the New York City Marathon right after 9/11.  He ran in the Disney World marathon, the Bataan Death March Marathon, and the Atlanta Marathon.  His favorite marathon, though, he said is the Boston Marathon.

“It’s like running through a 26-mile tailgate party.” Bush said.

Bush finished the Omaha Marathon in 5 hours and 12 minutes.  He’s planning his last marathon for 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where his wife, kids, and in-laws will me waiting at the finish line.

Pipeline Controversy Leaves Jobs & Land At Stake
By Jessica Ritchie

LINCOLN, NEB. - Last week, the U.S. Department of State held two public forums in Lincoln and Atkinson, Nebraska regarding the construction of a tar sands oil pipeline by TransCanada.  The proposed route would run through the Sandhills region of Nebraska and the Ogallala Aquifer.

Aside from the environmental concerns, the State Department is also considering issues of job creation, foreign affairs, and landowner’s rights.

One of the concerns from those opposed to the pipeline is that the construction will only create temporary jobs.  However, Clay Baysinger, a union laborer and organizer, says he isn’t worried.

“Construction work is always temporary,” Baysinger said.  “When we go from this job, after we’re done with this, we will go to another job.”

Danny Hendrix, business manager for Pipeliners Union Local 798, said long-term jobs will be created on the maintenance and operational side.  He also said building the pipeline will help free us from dependence on OPEC oil.

“When we buy from the OPEC countries, we continue to transfer the wealth from this country to a foreign country that does not supply a single job, does not provide any tax revenue,” Hendrix said.

But Graham Christensen with the Nebraska Farmer’s Union said foreign company TransCanada isn’t making any friends in Nebraska.  He said landowners have already been threatened with Eminent Domain should they refuse to sign easements on their property.

The last public forum on the Keystone-XL Pipeline will be held in Washington D.C. on Oct. 7. There is still time to visit the State Department’s website at to voice your comments on this issue.

Unique Gun Shop and Firing Range Opening
By Jessica Ritchie

EXETER, NEB. –A unique gun shop and range in Exeter, NE is making first-person shooter games come to life and drawing some national attention.

Rob Androyna owns Exeter Arms and is a Class 3 dealer of firearms.  This classification allows him to sell weapons for military and law enforcement agencies.

The guns that aren’t available for sale to civilians can be rented and fired on Exeter Arms’ range with Androyna’s supervision.

Gun enthusiast and avid Call of Duty fan Connor Dawson chose to celebrate his sixteenth birthday at the range with a machine gun party.  His friends and their fathers got to shoot an Uzi 9mm, an HK-MP5, an M60 chain-fed machine gun, and a P90, a gun used by the FBI and the Secret Service to protect the President.

However, the highlight of the day was the 50 caliber sniper rifle that really packed a punch.  Connor said it felt like “someone punched me very hard, and then punched me in the face again.”

Androyna said that he hopes to provide 14 full-time jobs at his store, including a gun smith and machinist, repairmen, and sales personnel.  He said the community of Exeter has been very supportive of his efforts to bring in jobs.

Rob’s shop has yet to open, but it’s already attracting some big names.  The Androynas are in talks with Freemantle Media, the production company owned by Simon Cowell.  There’s no word on a contract yet, but if all goes well, the company will produce a reality TV series based on Exeter Arms and the Androyna family.

More details on Exeter Arms and machine gun rentals can be found at

Keep Cycling This Winter
By Jessica Ritchie

            OMAHA, NEB. – According to cycling advocacy group Omaha Bikes, the number of bike commuters is growing, and many remain undaunted by the cold weather approaching.

            Trek Bicycles manager Miah Sommer said that there is gear, from special winter clothes made specifically for cycling to studded tires, that can keep you commuting despite the winter.

            For those cyclists less daring, a number of indoor options can help keep you in shape.  Spinning classes are held at numerous gyms, including Prairie Life Fitness in La Vista.  Group fitness instructor Joan Beck said spinning is a good workout to help you stay conditioned for cycling when the weather gets warmer.

            If you’d rather use your own bike, a device called a trainer can help.  It attaches to the back wheel of the bike to keep the tire from moving, while offering resistance similar to regular outdoor biking.  With the help of a riser under the front wheel, the bike remains flat or can be raised to simulate uphill riding.  Sommer said that trainers are quiet enough to use inside and watch TV, or you can join one of the free classes held at Trek Bicycles on Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings.

            “You don’t have to lose your fitness over the winter, and you don’t have to disconnect from the bike scene.  You can stay a part of it, and you can ride all winter, and you can come into spring feeling a lot better,” said Sommer.

            For more information about biking events and safety tips, you can visit  To learn more about cycling on trainers, visit

Christmas on a Budget
By Jessica Ritchie

OMAHA, Neb. -As many of us plan for next week’s Thanksgiving dinner, retailers and shoppers are looking forward to Black Friday.  That’s the day when retailers get back in the black financially, but many shoppers start to drift into the red, or into debt.

Planning your Christmas shopping can go smoother if you make and stick to a budget.
According to UNO economics professor Dr. Christopher Decker, shoppers should figure out what they need to spend and add 20% to account for unforeseen purchases.

Some other tips from Dr. Decker include using prepaid Visa and Master Cards to buy gifts.  That way you only spend what you actually have.

He also said to remember to include shipping costs in your budget when shopping online.

Finally, be wary of spending too much just because it’s a good deal.

Black Friday shopper and coupon blogger Mindy Capello agrees that too many deals can put you over budget.

“Those quarters will add up,” Capello said.

Capello gathers coupons and deals into a shopping spreadsheet, which she shares with other shoppers on her blog at

She said that finding deals throughout the year is another great idea.  “Periodically, buy things throughout the year that you know your children would like when you see it on sale, and then just save it,” Capello said.

Following stores on Facebook and through e-mail newsletters can also help shoppers get deals directly from retailers.

Both Capello and Decker said that avoiding credit cards is important to avoiding the January hangover. If shoppers have already gotten into credit card debt, they may need to scale down their Christmas shopping in order to keep making the minimum payments.