It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod 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 (Part Nineteen), we spent our last evening in the Loire Valley, in Chinon. At dinner, not only did we witness Ohmygod’s unique sense of “style” but he also showed us how to “properly” eat a fish. Near the end of the meal we learned of his unannounced visit to one of the local castles.
After dinner, we all decided to go out to one of the two bars in Chinon that is open past 10:00. We grabbed a table near the bar and our waitress quickly came over to take our order. I was rather proud of Mr. Personality and Grumpy as they both ordered wines from Chinon. As the waitress turned to Ohmygod, we all knew what was coming next, and so I motioned to the other two that we should have a go on the pool table in the back of the room. They quickly agreed and as the waitress was running down the list of beers (this time there were four) for the second time, we got up and headed to the pool table.
Mr. Personality let us know that he was not interested in playing, but he did not want to spend his last night in the Loire trying to refrain from killing Ohmygod–he was happy to watch Grumpy and I duke it out. Now, I am certainly no pool shark, but my last semester in college I played a lot of pool–the student union on campus only charged two cents a minute to play and I essentially had a six-day weekend (I only had two courses and if I skipped my Con Law class on Thursday morning, which happened rather frequently, I only had class on Tuesdays). So when Grumpy suggested that we play for the first round of drinks, I quickly agreed.
Nine straight losses later, I decided it might be time to call it a night.
Nine straight losses.
To a Canadian.
The only good outcome of getting my proverbial shorts handed to me, was that I had no idea what was happening with Ohmygod. By the time my thrashing at the pool table had ended, he was nowhere to be found. Before I skulked out of the bar, I made sure that Ohmygod had paid his bill (he had) and left a tip (he hadn’t). I took care of the tip and headed back to the hotel.
It was a beautiful night, and I was a still a bit ramped up from the pool, so I decided to take a bit of a walk. Chinon, like many towns in France, has a different personality at night–the cobbled streets are free of tourists, and much of the historic town is artfully enhanced with flood lights. On top of the hill, the ruins of the castle eerily dominate the night sky, giving an indication of its former influence.
The ride the following day was rather straight forward: we were to ride back to Tours, using a different route, this time passing by the Château d’Ussé, which was the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty. All three of my charges were up and out well before I made my way down to the hotel’s breakfast room as I had intentionally frightened them a bit at dinner the night before. I informed them that they needed to be at the hotel in Tours no later than four o’clock, ready to hand their bikes and any gear over to me at that point. They were all staying another night in Tours, but I had to catch a 6:00 train back to Paris with all the bikes.
Ohmygod asked if he could keep his bike with him since it would be another few days before the next leg of his trip headed off to Champagne. I should have anticipated that question so that I could come up with a better answer than “Absolutely not” (which was an improvement, albeit slight, from my initial impulse: “You must be insane”). The fact of the matter was that I would have had little problem with just about any other person on the planet keeping their bike for the few days, but given all the necessary stages required to get the bike to the next trip (getting the bike over to the Tours station, onto the TGV—which requires a reservation for the bike, off the train in Paris, and then riding it across town to his hotel (along with the multitude of other possibilities), I knew I should just take it back with me. The choice seemed clear: I had become accustomed to moving several bikes all over France by myself while Ohmygod had yet been able to manage a single day without riding over or into an object much larger than he.
I cruised through the ride back to Tours, benefiting from a very generous tailwind. I took the 2k detour to ride by Ussé and I guess there is some resemblance to the Disney version, albeit slight. As always, I did not have the time nor the interest to visit the castle—I have ridden by Ussé countless times, but I am invariably both pressed for time and rather “château-ed out” by the end of the week.
I pulled into Tours close to 3:30, which gave me enough time to quickly shower before collecting the bikes from the clients (we have been to the hotel so often that I feel no guilt at all asking them to allow me a quick shower even though I was not staying). Grumpy and Mr. Personality were right on time, but of course there was no sign of Ohmygod. This did enable me to say goodbye to the two of them who were more than a bit amused (as well as empathetic) that I had another two full weeks with Ohmygod.
I find saying good-bye to clients always a bit awkward. After a solid week of near constant contact, they are gone—back to their lives. There are some with whom I maintain contact, but the vast majority simply disappear.
There are not many times in your life that you know that when you say “goodbye” to someone who you will never see that person again. It is a strange feeling and invariably, leaves me at a loss of words and makes the end of each trip rather odd.
Ohmygod was 30 minutes late coming into Tours, but I had built in an extra hour into my time frame, so it was really not that big of an issue. Nonetheless, I felt the need to chide him, since I was far from bidding him “adieu.” There were countless moments to come in the next two weeks where he needed to be on time, so I thought a little more reinforcement would help the cause.
After I finished with his daily chastisement, I rode two of the bikes over to the station, locked them up, and then walked back to get the other two. Coming back to Paris from Tours with bikes is always a bit of a pain. The main train station in Tours can not handle the TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse), so in order to get to Paris, one has to take a commuter train to Tours’ satellite TGV station (St. Pierre des Corps) outside of town and then make a two minute transfer to the TGV across the platform. For most travelers, this is not a big deal, but for someone who has to move four (or more) bikes in those two minutes, it becomes a bit more problematic.
This was not my first rodeo, though, and I made the transfer with a good 37 seconds to spare. On the train ride back to Paris, I was looking forward to the next couple of days: I needed to do a bit of paperwork, but it was (almost) three unadulterated days Ohmygod free. A couple of friends would be in town to see the end of the Tour de France on Sunday, and we were hoping to meet up and throw back at least a couple of flutes (be it champagne or just crémant).
I made it back to the office with all the bikes without a hitch. Saturday morning I was in the office by nine, with my own Parisian breakfast in hand (a pain au chocolate and a Yop, a drinkable yogurt—I am perhaps the only one in Paris that does not drink coffee). A mere two hours later, my day (and likely my weekend) was ruined—Ohmygod strolled in wearing what I had come to call “Outfit #1” (the badly stained yellow cycling jersey) since he seemed to wear it the most. He was also wearing his helmet and carrying his panniers, looking every bit ready to set out on the next leg of the trip even though that next leg did not begin for another 48 hours.
I attempted to appear as if I did not notice him, but it was an exercise in futility: I was the only one in the office. He did not say a word, however. He simply sat down in a chair, and within a minute started intermittently chirping, almost as if he were trying to repress a rather severe case of the hiccups. I had no idea if it was an involuntary audible tic or if he was purposely trying to alert me of his presence. Either way, after it became clear that they were not going to stop, I broke my silence and asked him about his plans for the day.
“I have no plans. Paris is boring and I am stuck here for two whole days.”
At that moment, I thought I would suggest that he do his laundry, but since the laundromat was right around the corner, I knew he would be in and out (but mostly “in”) of the office all day. Besides, who was I kidding? He likely would not have done it anyway (unless his mother miraculously showed up to do it for him). Instead, I got up without uttering a word and went down to the cellar. Descending the steps, I lamented the fact that there are rather strict gun control laws in France and we therefore did not have any weapons down there. Rather than bludgeoning him with a pedal wrench, I decided to go against all logic and I re-emerged with the bike he had used in the Loire. If I had not been so focused on getting him out of my hair, I might have been touched by his Christmas morning-like expression when he saw his bike emerge from below (the bike, however, had the look of a young child after being told that he was being given up for adoption).
Ohmygod loaded on his gear and threw a leg over the bike as if he was going to literally ride it right out of the office, and he might have, had the front door been open. Instead, he looked sheepishly over at me, apparently wanting me to assist him with his exit strategy by opening the door. When I did not budge, he reluctantly dismounted and maneuvered his bike onto the street. This was followed almost immediately by the screeching of car tires and a prolonged car horn.
The next two days were blissful—I got most of my paperwork done and was able to catch the final stage of the Tour de France. Seeing the Tour in Paris is certainly a bucket-list type of event, even for the non-cyclist. Most of the city shuts down for the day and people are lined up 8 deep along the Champs-Elysées. It is impressive.
Sunday evening, although the trip did not officially start until the next day, I left a message for all the clients that I would be going to a local couscous restaurant (an import from North Africa, sort of the French equivalent of Mexican food). I said we could meet at the office at 8:00 and then stroll over to the restaurant which was just around the corner.
I was in the office, finishing up the last few items for the departure the next morning and enjoying a Kir when Ohmygod showed up at five after seven. I told him that we would not be leaving for another hour as he sat down opposite my desk, but he quickly responded by saying that he knew how upset I got when he was late, so he wanted to be sure to be on time.
It was one of those rare moments when I could find no flaw in his argument.
So I offered him a Kir.
I spent the next 12 minutes explaining what a Kir was.
Eventually, the others on the trip came into the office, and we headed over to the restaurant. Here are the new cast of characters, all of whom will be on the trip for the next two weeks:
First there is a guy I shall call Paul (since that is his name). There is nothing inherently wrong with Paul when he is speaking English. The problems come when he speaks French. His French is technically not that bad, but his accent (or lack thereof) has caused a significant amount of confusion. But I give the guy a lot of credit since he is out there trying. It is also rather clear that he is gay (not that there is anything wrong with that).
#2 I call Marie. She is a recent Ph.D. (but I will try not to hold that against her), seems extremely nice, and can hold her own in a variety of conversation topics.
Third, is Cicely. Although she does not necessarily look the part, Cicely claims to be an avid cyclist. She just recently took up the sport and has been training religiously for the trip.
Next comes our only couple, Anne and Ellen. I originally thought they were going to be fine since the first question they asked me when I met them the day before was where the closest bar was. At dinner, it seemed my first impression might need to be adjusted at least slightly.
When the waiter came over, I asked if anyone would like any wine, and all but Ohmygod responded enthusiastically. (Ohmygod was distraught since the restaurant only had one kind of beer–I wondered if his angst came from the fact that he could not then legitimately ask the waiter to repeat the list ad nauseam, but he said he was worried that he might not like it. When I asked if he had ever found a beer that he did not like, he pondered, then shook his head “no”, which seemed to calm him down a bit.) Before ordering, Anne stated that she only would drink white wine–“dry white wine, and it has to be dry. Like, really dry.”
Most French white wine is dry (meaning lacking any residual sugar), but just to be safe, I ordered a Muscadet from the Western Loire Valley. Not only is it bone dry, it is also high in acidity, which makes it seem even drier, if that is possible.
After two sips, she proclaimed that it was not dry enough, and then proceeded to pour what remained in her glass…
…back into the bottle.
Here we go.