It is the end of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (the previous installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Five ‘B’, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten–or you can check them out in the menu up top). 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 previous installment, I was getting ready to leave Chenonceaux for the ride into Tours, one of the larger cities in the Loire Valley. As had become my custom in the few short days since the beginning of the trip, I swung by Ohmygod’s room to check for damage and/or any forgotten items. I could have never anticipated what I actually found on the floor….
As I left the room, I scurried down the hall, all the way unable to stop the shivers running up, down, and across my spine. Right before I reached the staircase, I decided that I needed to go back to the room. I grabbed a plastic bag from the housekeeper’s cart in the hall and did a quick 180. I had to go back not to re-investigate the scene of the “crime” but rather to gather up the jersey he had left behind. As far as I could tell, he only had three jerseys and he wore them in a continual rotation around the clock (I would even bet that if the empty wrapper I found was a result of, um, “an amorous encounter” he no doubt “performed” in his jersey–I am going to need a therapist to get that image out of my mind). Since he would now only have two jerseys remaining, the stench would be even more concentrated at dinner (it was clear that he had not washed them yet on the trip and as far as I knew, they had never been washed since they were acquired).
I sidestepped the “evidence” and picked up the jersey, trying to use only the finger nails on my index finger and thumb as if I were picking up a rather foul smelling diaper or even a dead mouse by the tail. It was a toss-up: I was equally concerned with either catching a disease or passing out from the stench. I quickly dropped the jersey into the plastic bag and tied it into as many knots as possible. The thought of carrying this thing with me the entire day was horrifying, but the alternative was potentially far worse.
I went down to pay for the hotel and found Sophie at the hotel desk. As she saw me approach she started shaking her head and her eyes quickly dropped to the ground. She had perfected the “Ohmygod”. She lifted her head and the normally very reserved and professional Sophie was laughing, almost to the point of tears. As we habitually went through the exchange of funds, she could not speak. Eventually, she gathered herself sufficiently to utter: “Il est un peu étrange, non?” (“He is a bit strange, no?”) She then started laughing again. I tried to apologize for the multiple fiascos that had occurred over the 18 hours that we were at her hotel, but she quickly waived me off as if to say she knew it was not my fault and certainly not anywhere near any of the other guests that the company had brought through town over the years. The phone rang, and she tried to compose herself. I mentioned that I was leaving, and before she answered the phone she called after me, still with a trace of a chuckle in her voice: “Bonne route! Et bonne chance.”
I had heard that so much (accompanied either before or after with the “Ohmygod” head shake) that it was becoming cliché.
I went out to the garage and hopped on my bike. A beautiful ride was ahead of me: First, a stop at Amboise, one of my favorite castles in the valley: a combination of history and beauty, right in the middle of town. It is also the city where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last few years of his life, with countless tributes to his genius. The real reason, however, is that there is a fantastic restaurant not far from the center of town where I stop for a wonderfully tranquil meal (complete with a pichet of rosé, bien sûr). After Amboise, the ride continues onto Vouvray, one of the great wine towns in the Loire, where Chenin Blanc reaches its apogee. Along the river, approaching Vouvray, there are countless troglodyte houses in the cliffs along the route, with some of them a couple of stories high. Truly amazing.
Finally, the ride ends in Tours, a college town with great nightlife and my single favorite restaurant in all of France. The food is good, probably even very good, but the real reason I love the place is the owner. Over the years, she really has become a good friend, and it will be great to see her again to catch up. For a brief second, I considered going to another restaurant for fear of what Ohmygod might do to her place, but in the end, I figured she would get a good laugh (albeit at my expense).
Lunch was fabulous and as I was sitting there, once again, I saw Ohmygod approaching on his bike. If he was attempting to get to Tours (our stop for the night, he was headed in the wrong direction.
This time I got up from the table to watch (with him the approach had been to cower behind a menu) since he was riding on a pedestrian street and he was approaching the part of town that was heavily trafficked by hundreds of tourists (I was not afraid of being spotted–and subsequently joined for lunch–since Ohmygod did not watch where he was going, let alone what was happening around him). Given past history and the fact that Ohmygod really had no idea how to ride a bike, I had a pretty good feeling that a train wreck was imminent.
I just had to watch.
Only about 20 meters from the restaurant, the pedestrian street intersects a one way street that is open to vehicular traffic. The crosswalk is well marked and defined, so that the drivers know to anticipate pedestrians. Those who designed the intersection no doubt harbored a few reasonable assumptions. First, they likely assumed that all those crossing at that point would be on foot. Second, they likely thought that any cyclist who would be traveling along the road would also approach the intersection with a bit of trepidation since there were rather narrowly spaced poles to prevent any of the cars from making an ill-fated turn onto the pedestrian street. They also probably never met anybody like Ohmygod.
He approached the intersection at a rather quick pace–he was likely doing close to 25 kph (15 mph), which was surprising for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that I had never seen him ride that fast. He was at the intersection in a heart beat and did not seem to slow down at all.
He also did not seem to remember that he had panniers on his bike, which made the width of the rear end of the bike very close to the exact distance between the poles that were very quickly approaching.
As he made his way to the first set of poles, I was actually surprised that the front end of the bike made it through (which would seem to indicate that he actually did watch where he was going). The back end, however, did not (which means I could not entirely rule out the possibility that he did not watch where he was going and that the front end made it through strictly by random chance). The right pannier caught a pole, but surprisingly did not come of the bike. It did cause him to suddenly veer left as he turned around to see what had just happened. There is no doubt in my mind that he never even considered the possibility that there might be cars coming through the intersection. It is rather clear that he did not see them. The car that had been approaching from the left came to a screeching halt, narrowly avoiding certain impact.
Ohmygod, apparently realizing (although that is far from a given) that there was no way he could navigate through the poles on the other side of the intersection, violently altered his veer left into a full-on turn to the left. Since he was going so fast, this was no easy feat. It also resulted in the rear of the bike fishtailing and slamming into one of the poles on the opposite side of the street (which is a good thing since there were numerous pedestrians standing there, waiting to cross).
He then had to jump the curb, onto the sidewalk, avoid another pole, a couple of pedestrians, and then hop back down back onto the one way street.
Heading against traffic.
I was truly astonished that he did not crash.
And that he was still alive.
Of the group of eight people that were at the intersection waiting to cross the street, three had their mouth agape, one had her mouth agape with her hands holding her head, and the other four were doing the “Ohmygod” head shake.
The whole episode made me reconsider Ohmygod’s riding ability–there is no way that even an experienced cyclist could have pulled off what I just witnessed. He also served to be living proof that Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection was wrong.