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-Two), I led Ohmygod out to the route and we rode “together” to the halfway point of the ride, where I told a couple of white lies to “encourage” him not to join me. It worked and I was able to enjoy my delightful lunch on the main square.
During lunch, I took out the map to review the remaining route and to try to estimate my approximate time of arrival at the next hotel. Dinner was at the hotel, but I needed to get in by 7:00 (or 7:30 at the absolute latest) in order to get a shower, put out any fires that Ohmygod had started, and grab an apéritif before dinner.
The next destination was the quaint little town of Meaux, known in equal parts for its cathedral and its cheese (Brie de Meaux). From Meaux, people are given the option of either riding the 25k to Jouarre (the final destination of the ride), or to take a commuter train to the town just below Jouarre (called confusingly La Ferté-sous-Jouarre–basically “The fertile region under Jouarre”). The former option would involve a bit of traffic, so almost all of the clients elect to take the train from Meaux. Regardless of the route, to get to the evening’s hotel, there was a 4k (2.5 mile) climb up to Jouarre.
My plan was to ride a few laps around the town of Meaux and then by the station to check for any clients in need, and then hammer out the last 25k of the ride up to the hotel.
That was the plan.
I lingered a bit longer at lunch than usual, which was the result of two semi-related events: 1. I wanted to give Ohmygod ample time to get well ahead, and 2. I needed to finish the rather large carafe (500ml) of wine that I had ordered for lunch.
Tough job. I know.
I hopped back on the bike and found my way back to the route. At first, I proceeded along rather slowly, but then I realized that the wine (and freedom from Ohmygod) had more of a psychological effect than physiological one. I rode the 15k rather quickly and made it into Meaux without seeing any other clients since ditching Ohmygod right before lunch in Claye-Souilly.
I cruised into the center of town, and stopped by the cathedral to have an ice cream at one of myriad cafés within seven feet of the national historic site. It was tough to determine which was better: the ice cream, or the view (in the end, the view won).
After polishing off the cone, I rode by the train station in Meaux. There was a bit of a commotion around the turnstiles, so I feared for the worst (the station at Meaux is largely a commuter hub, so most of the tickets are handled through a system very similar to the métro in Paris). I soon saw that Cicely had her bike stuck in the turnstile. It appeared that she had attempted to hoist her bike through the rather formidable gate instead of simply rolling it through the clearly marked door immediately adjacent (I am all too ready to concede that since all indications to the benefit of the door were written in French, Cicely was understandably oblivious).
The rest of the crew (sans Ohmygod) were all there, shouting largely unproductive (and at times contradictory) suggestions that resulted in Cicely appearing utterly flummoxed and incapable of movement. I instinctively glanced up to the departure board and seeing as the arrival of the train was imminent, I concluded that there was really no time for an interrogation.
Besides, I was pretty sure there is never a right answer to the question: “What the hell are you doing?”
After a bit of muscle, and a few stern words (“Stop! Just stop!I I’ve got it from here!”), I finally got Cicely through the turnstile, the bike through the door, and both to the platform just as the train pulled in. The plan was simple: help the group to all get their bikes on the train and then ride the remaining 25k up to the hotel.
That was the plan.
I quickly set up a make-shift production line of sorts: Anne and Ellen were in charge of all the panniers that had been removed from their bikes at my insistence (from experience, nothing slows down the loading of bikes on to a train more than panniers that were still attached to their bike). Paul was to be on the train, and I would hand him the bikes one-by-one. Cicely and Marie were to get on the train and stay the hell out of the way. They had proven to be less than helpful assisting in rapid movements. More than often, they tended to question the premise (or even their own existence) rather than grab a bag and get moving.
As I was hoisting Paul’s bike up onto the train, Ellen shrieked. Assuming the worst (which I really had no idea what that might be), I quickly glanced to her as I passed Paul another bike. She pointed over my left shoulder where I saw that Ohmygod was at the turnstile–the same turnstile where this whole adventure began moments before. Amazingly (or perhaps predictably) Ohmygod was standing there, perplexed how to navigate the identical gate that had assaulted Cicely. As he stood there dazed and confused, he noticed me, looking at him. I could not help but think that he resembled a puppy at the front door, being left at home for the first time.
I paused briefly. It actually seemed like forever, but I halted for a couple of seconds (maybe less) and contemplated my next move. I felt I would be completely justified in continuing to help load the bikes as per the original plan. Departure was imminent and unless I remained vigilant, the train would leave unceremoniously without our full compliment of bikes. This would also entail leaving Ohmygod stuck in the turnstile as the others pulled out of the station, no doubt watching the pathetic creature gaze longingly as if the train were the last helicopter leaving Saigon.
Since the group had essentially just met him, and there was as yet no ill-will toward him, I figured that there might be some backlash to this apparent cold decision, so I quickly formulated an alternative plan.
I ran over to the door, and pulled it open so that Ohmygod could scuttle through, should he so choose. There was still a good 45 seconds before the train was to pull out, so getting the three remaining bikes on board should not be a problem. At this point, Ohmygod was on his own–he had been through this drill before in the Loire Valley, so if he failed to get on the train, I refused to feel any guilt.
As I was returning to the morass of bikes waiting to get on board, there was a loud “boom” that sounded an awful lot like an explosion. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the conductor duck and cover, crouching down very low. Numerous passengers, who were waiting to board the train, appeared to panic and scurried away from the train, covering their heads with their hands. Within a couple seconds, there were 6-10 police officers on the scene. They were there so quickly that it appeared as if it were a planned drill.
I am of the firm opinion that police are never ones to trifle with–and the French police in particular. I am not sure if it is the inherent Napoléon complex that seems to afflict most citizens of France, or if they are trained to be nasty, but the French police, at least in my experience, are always looking to throw their weight (albeit limited) around.
A few of them had drawn their weapons as one was questioning the conductor. I was standing there in the middle of the platform and as one officer approached me, I looked to see if all of the people on my trip were unharmed–they were. In fact, of all the people at the station at that point, they seemed to be the calmest by far. The police officer started to ask me a few questions (in French), but I quickly asked him if he spoke English. Had this been in a café, a bar, a hotel, or a bike shop, I would have gladly had the conversation in French–preferred it actually. But when it is with a French cop who just showed up on the scene of an apparent explosion, brandishing a firearm, I thought it best to converse in my native language.
That first cop did not speak English, so he motioned for me to stay right there as he went off to find someone who could. As he hustled away, I turned and saw that there were three officers surrounding Ohmygod. Clearly, given his appearance, they thought that he was likely responsible for what had just happened. I am not sure if they thought he was some sort of terrorist (after all, he looked much more like a homeless person who had found some abandoned cycling gear), but clearly, they thought he was the problem (in all honesty, I was pretty sure he had something to do with it as well, given his track record, but I doubted there was any nefarious or even premeditated actions on his part since he could not even plan to take a shower without guidance).
Now, I am no expert on terrorism–I think it is safe to say that I have never met a terrorist–but I think if the police would have just thought about it for a minute, they would have eliminated Ohmygod from suspicion almost immediately.
I would guess that one of the most important elements in being a good terrorist would be the ability to blend into a crowd, be inconspicuous.
Ohmygod was anything but inconspicuous.
After a couple tense moments, it became evident that there was not any damage anywhere, and that no one was injured. So as the French police were putting their guns back in their holsters, I returned to the bikes. As it turned out, Paul’s rear tire had blown, and the largely concrete walls and platform served to amplify the “explosion.” I hustled over to one of the group of cops to inform them that we had found the cause of the confusion and we all had a good laugh. (I later realized that I had just spoken French to the cop that thought I only spoke English. Fortunately, he did not seem to notice.)
The whole episode caused the train to be delayed by about 15 minutes, which drives the conductors crazy, but served our purposes well. I decided to take the train in the end since the entire group seemed a bit frazzled–particularly Paul, who clearly felt embarrassed that it was he at the root of all the trouble. When I asked him about his bike, he told me that he had stopped at a bike shop and pumped up his tire a bit. When I asked him how high, he responded “The pump said ’12’–that’s 120 pounds, right?” I thought for a moment to try and decipher his statement. The ’12’ on the pump no doubt meant 12 bar, which is the way most of the rest of the world measures air pressure (one bar is the equivalent of the air pressure at sea level). 12 bar is roughly 180 psi, or twice the recommended pressure for the tire. (Frankly, I was more shocked that he was able to pump the tire that high–he must have really had a good pump and some hidden strength.)
As I went over to the bike to start changing the tire, I passed the conductor, who asked for my ticket. I showed him my rail pass and apologized for the delay that had been caused. He attempted a smile, and moved on to the rest of the group. One-by-one they presented their tickets that they had purchased prior to boarding the train.
He then stopped at Ohmygod.
He asked him in English for his ticket. When Ohmygod responded with only a puzzled look, he then asked in French. Ohmygod seemed to shrug and then started rummaging through his fanny pack. He pulled out a 5 Euro note, and handed it to the conductor. To all observers it seemed as though Ohmygod had not had time to buy a ticket before boarding the train and was now offering to pay the fare to get to La Ferté.
Then he said: “A beer please.”
In perfect German.