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 Twenty), I said goodbye to Mr. Personality and Grumpy as the week in the Loire Valley ended, and headed back to Paris for a few days. The next leg of the trip, to Champagne, started in a couple of days, so I had some “down time” in the office. The night before the departure, I met up with the new clients (and Ohmygod) for dinner.
Even though we all met Sunday night for dinner, the trip did not officially begin until Monday morning. The week in Champagne originates in Paris–the first ride actually starts at the office door and then rides out along the city streets to the Canal d’Ourcq, which bisects the suburbs and dumps you into the countryside. The ride continues through the outskirts of Paris, still along the canal, all the way to the town of Meaux (pronounced “Mo”), known for Brie cheese (Brie de Meaux) and a rather impressive cathedral. From Meaux, the route heads due East to the tiny town of Jouarre, which sits a top a rather daunting hill especially for those on bikes, when it comes at the end of a rather long day in the saddle.
That night at dinner, I told all the clients that they needed to come by the office between 8:00-10:00 a.m. at which point I would happily lead them from the office, past the Gare de l’Est and the Gare du Nord, and onto the bike path along the canal. Riding through Paris can be daunting for even the most seasoned rider, which is certainly understandable: a foreign city with far too many cars, drivers that speak a strange language, and a byzantine street layout.
Not me, I love riding in Paris. Perhaps it is the fantasy of riding in the Tour de France or maybe simply the energy all around–whatever the reason, I feel a bit in my element skirting through traffic, racing cars to the next light. That is why I have no problem escorting a group from the office out to the canal and then weaving back to lead more clients out of the city–sure it is part of my job, but a part that I particularly enjoy.
At least most of the time.
Paul, Marie, and Cicely were the first to arrive at the office Monday morning–in fact they were waiting for me when I rolled up. I quickly retrieved their bikes, took their luggage, and after eating half my pain au chocolat and drinking about a third of my Yop, we were on our bikes, heading for the canal.
Before we even left the neighborhood, I knew there were going to be some issues. I had led groups out of Paris countless times and one thing that I learned was that no matter how slow I think I am going, I am traveling far too fast for someone in the group. In this group, that person was Cicely. For a person that claimed to have been training for weeks for the trip, there was no one with even a passing knowledge of bicycles that would have given you any kind of odds that she had ever ridden a tricycle, let alone a bike before. I was actually amazed that she could be moving that slowly and still stay upright–she would have likely traveled much more quickly had she dismounted, thrown her bike to the ground, and dragged it along with one foot.
Then there was Marie. Despite several kind attempts to dissuade her, she insisted on riding directly behind me. I could not tell you the exact distance, but if there were ever more than 3 centimeters between my rear wheel and her front wheel I would be shocked. Now, I have done my fair share of bike racing and in sanctioned races, I would have no problem with such a tactic, in fact, it is de rigeur. I knew that most likely it would be Marie that would bear the brunt of any unfortunate contact since anytime that two wheels touch, the rear wheel is not going anywhere–the front wheel, however, is a different story (in other words, the trailing bike almost always goes down). Even if we had been out on the road, going along at a decent clip, this would not had worried me as much as it did. But we were in the city of Paris, for chrissakes, with cars whizzing all around, while going a slow as humanly possible to wait for Cicely Gonzalez, and the last thing I wanted to do was scrape Marie off the pavement before she got speed bumped by a Peugeot.
Last, there was Paul. Paul was great–he kept up, he clearly had ridden quite a bit, maintained a safe distance, used hand signals, everything you could ask. Except. He would not shut up. Every five seconds he would shout something out–at first I thought it was an emergency, so I would slam on the brakes (causing Marie to swerve out of control to avoid me) only to find out he wanted to know how old a church was, if gas was really as expensive as they say it is in France, or if a certain bakery we just passed had good croissants.
I have no idea.
And of course they are good, we are in France, you moron.
After the third such stop, Marie’s luck ran out and she crashed trying to avoid running into me–we were not traveling that fast, of course, so she merely fell over, with the only apparent damage to her pride. To her credit, she hopped right back up, insisting she was fine. Using Marie’s mishap as a backdrop, I felt that I had no choice but to let Paul know that as long as we were on city streets, there could only be one voice–mine. He was only allowed to talk if there was an emergency, which I defined as something to cause him to scream as if he had just inadvertently swallowed his own newly severed finger.
I think he got the picture.
Finally, after about 45 minutes,we arrived at the canal. Marie apparently had learned from her fall and took measures to ensure that it did not happen again. No, there was still less than the thickness of a medium-sized town’s phone book between my rear wheel and her front, but this time she made no apparent attempt to avoid hitting me whatsoever, no doubt figuring it would be somewhat softer crashing into me than hitting the pavement. Despite my hand motions, and vocally letting her know that I was stopping, she rode right into my leg. It would have not been that big of a deal but apparently her fender had come loose on the previous crash–and it now caused a slight puncture wound in my calf.
After 5 minutes of her apologizing profusely, I was finally able to deliver my three charges to the head of the Ourcq and point them to the East–one can only head East at this point on the canal (albeit on either side), but as long as they keep heading along in that same direction, they would be fine. (The Canal d’Ourcq actually does continue along in the other direction–to the West and into the city–but this occurs underground and I felt little need to convey this bit of information).
I waved them along, letting them know that I needed to return to the office. I assured them that I would likely catch up to them at some point in the day, which both Marie and Cicely found both implausible and reassuring. With the three on their way, I made my way back to the office. In seven minutes (which included stopping at two red lights).
I returned to find Ellen and Anne waiting for me, both with concerned looks on their faces. Before I went into the office, I checked on their bikes outside–they had been using the bikes the last few days in Paris per Anne’s request. They wanted access to the bikes since they had developed a routine of riding 25-30 miles a day at least 5 times a week back home and they wanted to “maintain their level of fitness” (yes, they really said that). Well, the bikes looked fine, so that was likely not the reason for their visible anguish.
At least I thought.
I skipped through the front door and gave them my happiest “Bonjour!” Nary a smile. After some interrogation, it turned out they had done “a bit” of riding the last few days–enough that Ellen became “all black and blue in the crotch area.”
I guess the rest of my pain au chocolate could wait.
I initially thought it was a little off “color” humor, but she continued and explained that it was so painful that they were debating canceling the trip altogether.
After some clever intervention by a few people in the office and the addition of a gel saddle pad (which really would not make anything any better in the long run, but I kept that fact to myself), eventually I got them to get on their bikes and we were on our way. The ride over to the canal was not quite as eventful as the first trip over, but it had its moments. There were a couple of shrieks emitted by Ellen, followed by screaming at the top of her lungs “Jesus! My Vagina!” , “My vagina is on fire!”, and my personal favorite “F$%k my Vagina!” (I almost burst out laughing on the last one, since I figured that was the last thing anyone [including Ellen] wanted at that moment.)
This trip took a scant 25 minutes, despite the lamentations, and I quickly was on my way back to the office for Ohmygod. As I passed the Gare de l’Est, I was contemplating whether I actually wanted him to be there, and I immediately felt guilty when I realized that I was, at best, ambivalent. Just as I was about to cross the Boulevard de Magenta, I thought I heard someone yell out my name. I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing, so I kept going. I immediately heard my name again, this time with more determination in the voice. I stopped, clicked out of my pedals, and turned around. There, about a block and a half away, I saw Marie sitting on the ground with her map spread out next to her.
“Um, hey! What are you doing here?”
“Well, I decided I wanted to get some food for the ride and since Cicely and Paul were riding rather slowly, I figured I could come back and get some food in Paris.”
“Well, you are about a half a mile away from where I left you–in the opposite direction of where you need to go.”
“Really? No wonder I could not find where I am on the map.”
I decided to leave out the fact that she was looking at a map of Champagne, not Paris–I figured that since she had a Ph.D., she had to know the difference. At one point, while I was still in the process of interrogating her, she held up her hand to tell me to stop, took a tissue out of her panniers, and proceeded to clean up the dried blood on the back of my calf. After a few more exchanges, I started to see the picture a little more clearly:
- Marie had a horrible sense of direction. This was why she was following me so closely before–she was deathly afraid of getting lost.
- At that precise moment, I changed her name from Marie to Maggie, which was short for Magellan. Yes, I am a bit of a jerk.
- Although I am typically terrible at picking up on things of this nature, Maggie was either an incredible flirt or she had a crush on me.
All this and I have yet to see Ohmygod.