It is the end of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (the first installment can be found HERE, and the second HERE). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a ‘job’) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for two weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the last installment, I was trying to get down to Blois for the start of the Loire Valley trip. The problem was that the conductors had it in their heads that bikes were not allowed on the train (they were right, of course, but that is beside the point). I left off having made two unsuccessful attempts at boarding the train with the four bikes….
I was back at the station (after a nice lunch with a wonderful bottle of rosé) to try to sneak onto the 3:10 train. I had just enough time to go back to the office and grab a couple things that would hopefully allow me to get on the train. As I rode back I realized that I should have done this the last time, but I foolishly thought that my power of persuasion would have been sufficient (note to self, you are not a svelte, buxom blonde female–someone who might have the power of persuasion over male French train conductors—you’re a 6’4” male in a country where most men struggle to reach 5’4″–you might as well be Gulliver or Gargantua).
After two crashes going back to the Austerlitz station riding the two fully loaded bikes by myself, and being cutoff by terrible Parisian drivers (those “colorful” words that I learned playing basketball in France sure came in handy), I finally made it to the platform. The new conductor was equally averse to allowing me to board as were his colleagues earlier in the day. This was becoming ridiculous and I was in danger of missing the start of the trip—there was only one more train (5:20), which both Mr. Personality and Grumpy were scheduled to take (and I would rather delay our forced time together as long as I could). I had returned to the station a little before 5:00—more than enough time (I hoped) to either convince the conductor (fat chance ‘blondie’) or go with plan B. This conductor was just as resolute as his comrades (if only the French had been so united back in the 1940’s) so it was time for ‘Plan B’. As the conductor watched, I removed the wheels and put the bikes into large bike bags that I had just retrieved from the office.
After about 15 minutes of disassembling the bikes and stuffing them into the large black satchels, I stared down the conductor for what seemed like over a minute. I felt like I was in a classic movie in some sort of showdown on a train platform, waiting for the other guy to blink. This was the next-to-the-last train that would get me to Blois in time to make it to my favorite restaurant by dinner, so I had to be on it.
Sure, there was another train at 5:20 but the clients would all be on that train and when they saw me they would realize immediately that I had lied. I had told them I would be on the first train of the day since I had myriad errands to run, which would take most of the day and which was why I could not accompany them. Starting off a week-long trip with the clients thinking that you are a big fat liar is not ideal.
Glancing at the clock in the station, the train was now due to leave in two minutes and it would take me close to that to get all the crap on the train. It was time to act. I picked up one of the bagged bikes, and started walking to the train, the whole while glaring at the conductor who was pretending not to notice me. As I placed my foot on the first step, I saw him approaching me (oh merde!).
“Those bags are very large; they need to go in the baggage car so as not to block the aisles.” He then turned and walked away, letting me on the train.
You have to love the French, so practical and logical. Bikes are not allowed, but enormous bags, which clearly have bikes in them, are. I learned a very valuable lesson that day: above all else, the French want you to know that there are rules. They also demand that you know the rules. Whether you actually follow the rules, is entirely up to you. They have absolutely no intention of enforcing the rules since that may lead to confrontation which must be avoided at all costs.
To the story of the three musketeers.
I made it onto the train, sat down, and started to read the newspaper that I had purchased on my way through the station. Instantly, I heard laughter and I knew right away that they were Americans.
[Before you get too excited, I am not one of those that bashes Americans for being obnoxious since I consider myself oh-so-European. Rather, I think it is actually a cultural fact that Americans speak, laugh, and eat louder than just about any nationality (although I have recently noticed that Koreans can hold their own in the volume department). Even if I were so inclined to hide my nationality while over in Europe, I couldn’t. The easiest way to spot an American overseas? Shoes. The shoes are always a dead give away and I have a very difficult time finding shoes that are big enough (size 15) even in the U.S.–Europe? Forget about it. It is pointless to walk into a shoe store in Europe unless I want someone to look at my feet, point, and laugh. Couple that with my height and I am pegged immediately as a good old Yank. Even if I wanted to be pretentious and ‘appear’ French, I could never pull it off.]
I debated moving to another car, but instead I turned to see what international incident was about to occur. The loud Americans turned out to be my three clients—they had all told me they would be on the last train, but here they were. Lucky me. I chose to go and join them for fear of appearing rude and standoffish (although the rude and standoffish option came in a very close second). As I joined them, it was clear that both Mr. Personality and Grumpy were trying their hardest to engage Ohmygod in the most basic of conversations, but he was not making it easy as he was responding to their repeated entreaties with a very odd noise.
I eventually learned that when he became nervous, uncomfortable, or just bloated, he would make randomly timed utterances that were not very pleasant to hear. I would say it was a “grunt” but it was much more tortured and high pitched. It was not a “shriek” either since his yelps were short and not really all that loud. They were rather disturbing though, and it made conversation with him next to impossible (even when he was hot feeling stressed, “conversation” with Ohmygod was already near impossible since he would only talk about three things: beer, Canadian T.V., and his mother).
Well, my mother (and boss) were right (partially). Mr. Personality, while no one’s idea of the life of the party and, as boring as a post, was not a bad guy, he simply lacked…, well, personality.
Grumpy was not grumpy at all, either. In fact he was a rather nice, interesting guy. Yes, he was from Canada (and therefore a compatriot of Ohmygod), so that only made him about 85 percent as interesting as a regular “interesting” guy (when you factor in the exchange rate), but nonetheless, a welcomed surprise.
The train ride was a mere 90 minutes and I was hoping that it would pass relatively quickly and without incident. In the hope of making the best use of the time, I decided to go over a few details about the first few days of the trip. I informed the trio that they were on their own for dinner that night, but I said we could meet up later at my favorite bar for a beer if they liked.
Over the course of those few words, three distinct emotions flashed across Ohmygod’s face: first, confused (as if I were speaking a foreign language [I wasn’t]), then fear (at the thought of being on his own), followed by joy (at the mention of beer). I am rather certain that the rest of my soliloquy about the logistics of the trip went unheard by Ohmygod since he had a far away look on his face and his lips were moving. Although he was emitting no sound, I am pretty sure he was saying “BEER” over and over again in a ritualistic chanting way.
When we arrived at Blois, Ohmygod leaped out of his seat and bounced off the train, I figured he was off to get a beer. Instead, he was looking all around for his bike. When I finally got the bikes off the train, he was very confused about the bike being in a bag so I started to explain the underlying story. After the first few words it was clear he was no longer listening–he was peering into the bag, grasping at the bike–much like if it had been a present on Christmas morning. Within seconds of removing the frame, he was attending to his bike. I have to say it was rather impressive: attaching the wheels, pumping up the tires, installing his computer. Then he began to gear up (he was already wearing his cycling clothes, of course): first the shoes (which he then had to take off to put on his leg warmers despite the temperature of near 85), then the helmet, helmet mirror, sunglasses (they were actually more of a sun shield–the kind of sunglasses that look like safety goggles which you wear over your own eye glasses–except he did not have any other glasses beneath), and finally crochet/mesh cycling gloves that took a while to put on since they appeared to be about two sizes too small. Once he was all set he got on his bike and circled in front of the station, trying to calibrate his cycling computer (he asked me if I knew how far he had ridden, but I ignored him).
He then asked me where we were going. When I informed him that I already told him on the train, he notified me that he had forgotten (yes, I saw that coming). My reply:
“Like I told you on the train, our hotel is right there.”
I pointed to a building maybe 30 meters away. I was waiting for him to ask something to the effect of: “Why did you let me get all geared up if we were only going over there?” That is perhaps what most people would ask, and they would have a fair complaint. In all honesty, I was not trying to be malicious in neglecting to inform him of the brevity of the “route.” I was simply awestruck by his almost methodical and meticulous approach–nothing I had seen up to that point would have suggested such precision.
He did not however, get mad. He just hopped on his bike, rode in the direction the hotel and crashed head-on into a car parked in front of our hotel.
That’s my boy.