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-Three), we were on the train platform in Meaux, where Paul’s rear tire exploded, causing a bit of a mêlée in the station. We all managed to get on the briefly delayed train, heading just a few kilometers up the line to the town of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, which lies at the base of a rather imposing 4k hill that we needed to climb to get to our hotel.
On the train, once we were all sure that we were not headed to jail, we had a good laugh about the whole episode. Paul, seemingly not over the shock of the explosion, smiled sheepishly as Anne and Ellen both tried to mimic the look on Paul’s face when his inner tube gave way. Paul was being a good sport about the good-natured ribbing, but after Ellen struck a pose that was somewhere between horror and constipation, he came over to see if I needed any help fixing the tire.
The train ride was only fifteen minutes long, and the force of the blowout obviously obliterated the tube, but it also ripped a hole in the tire, rendering it useless as well. One of the “joys” of leading the trips was the “honor” of lugging around an enormous toolkit that was outfitted by Michel, the French mechanic back in Paris. Michel is essentially the French version of MacGyver–he can fix almost anything with a minimal amount of proper tools. He apparently believes the opposite is true for me, however, as he packs just about every bike tool ever invented into my toolkit before I head out, causing it to weigh close to 20 kilos (45 pounds). I rarely use any of what he jams in there, but this time, I was grateful–there were three foldable tires and countless tubes, so I had everything I needed for the repair.
Even though it would likely go much faster without any “assistance” from Paul, I saw that the Ellen and Anne onslaught was taking its toll on him, so I asked him to first retrieve his bike pump in the other car and then had him double-check my work before he proceeded to pump up the tire.
As he started the inflation, much like a parent with a notoriously mischievous child, I instinctively looked around for Ohmygod since he had been far too quiet for far too long. He was sitting with Maggie and Cicely, who at first glance did not seem to mind his company–Cicely, whose back was to me, seemed to be talking to him and he was smiling attentively.
I debated whether I should go over and check on Cicely, since I had little doubt that the situation would quickly take a turn for the worse (the last 10 days had drilled that into my skull). I decided to move a little closer while still surveilling Paul working on the tire: I hoped to better assess the situation and be there to douse any Ohmygod induced fire.
At first, I was surprised. Cicely was indeed engaged with Ohmygod in a conversation, but she was not talking so much as chastising. Apparently, being in such proximity and in closed quarters intensified the omnipresent stench emanating from Ohmygod and it had become too much for Cicely to bear. Maggie appeared both in agreement with the subject matter but also a bit uncomfortable with the tone of Cicely’s diatribe, which was becoming a pronounced castigation.
It was one of those rare moments when I actually felt bad for Ohmygod–Cicely was really giving him an earful. Had I not been under a bit of a time crunch I would have taken a moment to evaluate my sanity for this unexplained empathy. While I was analyzing my psyche, Cicely was interrogating Ohmygod as to the last time he had taken a shower. Just then, the train started to slow down, announcing our arrival in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. Right before I hustled over to help Paul put the wheel back on his bike, I heard Cicely make Ohmygod promise that he would take a shower as soon as he got to the hotel.
We will see how that goes.
If, by any chance, her harangue resulted in Ohmygod bathing, Cicely just found herself a permanent companion if I had anything to do with it.
The train pulled into the station, just as I got Paul’s wheel back on his bike. This resulted in a considerable amount of grease and grime on my hands, but that is precisely why most bike shorts are black. After a few minutes of getting all the bikes and gear in order, I reluctantly led the troupe out of the station. I was reluctant since, quite frankly, I have a terrible sense of direction (yes, I realize the irony in the fact that I am technically a tour guide). In my defense, I always ride the section from Meaux to la Ferté, so I had really no idea how to get from the station to the base of the climb that would take us up to the hotel. Instead of being honest and conveying this to the group, I decided to take the macho, alpha male option and pretend like I knew where I was going. I figured all I had to do was find a really big hill. How hard could that be?
Yeah. That’s actually what I thought.
I started riding out of the station parking lot, which has an oval drive to allow for passenger drop-off, and as I looped around, I saw Paul still standing there, straddling his bike, not appearing as if he were planning to leave anytime soon. Instead of exiting the oval, I continued back around to see what might be the issue with Paul. As I did this, I glanced back over my shoulder to see the other five people follow my path precisely as if they were a group of goslings following their mother.
I cringed, knowing that the “mother” they were following (me) had absolutely no clue where he was going–I was almost certain that I would find a way to lead us onto a highway. Or worse.
It turns out Paul was doing something rather strange: he was reading the route directions.
I really should try that some time.
At that moment, Paul became my new best friend, and decided that Paul should ride up front with me so that we could “make sure that the route directions were accurate.”
You can call me a lot of things, but hopefully “idiot” is not one of them.
“Genius” is more like it.
We got to the base of the hill without any trouble at all (I really should give those “direction” thingys a try one of these days…) and I decided to hammer (bike term: it means to ride very hard) up the hill since there was really no way for the others to get lost–for the next 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) there were no other roads. As long as they kept going up and did not turn around, the road would take them up to Jouarre and right to the hotel.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Maybe “genius” is not quite right either.
I got to the top and waited. Very soon thereafter, Paul and Ohmygod (yes, Ohmygod) pulled up alongside me. They waited with me for a bit, but once the stench became too much to bear (I think a whole 37 seconds had elapsed), I suggested they head park their bikes in the hotel garage, check in, and shower. At the mere mention of the word shower, Ohmygod’s shoulders and head dropped as if he were a teenager who had just been informed that he was grounded for a month.
As they walked their bikes to the garage, I shouted after them: “Grab a beer in the bar and I will meet you there!”
At the mention of that four-letter word, Ohmygod’s gait nearly doubled (had I not already given him the moniker “Ohmygod” I might have opted for “Pavlov”).
The next up the hill were Anne and Ellen. Of course, I heard them first, or at least I heard Ellen screaming. Technically, she was singing, I guess, as there was a little melody in her shouting. She was repeating the following to the tune of the Oscar Meyer Bologna song:
Ellen’s lyrics, shouted with great force:
"My Vagina is killing me it really is on fire, Our guide told me it would get better, he is such a liar. Oh, I do not know why I'm in such pain, but if you ask me, here's what I'll say: A penis would be so much worse than A-V-A-G-I-N-A"
When they got to the top, as Ellen was finishing at least the third refrain of her ditty, I was holding back the laughter as best I could. Ellen actually seemed slightly embarrassed, but Anne was bright red. Seeing Paul emerge from the garage, they rode right on over without saying another word.
Another 10 minutes passed and just as I was about to hop on my bike and head back down the hill to find Cicely and Maggie, the latter pulled up–coming from the opposite direction. I started to ask her what happened (to come up the other side, she had to have taken the much steeper and far busier road), she simply raised her hand, palm out, turned her head, and walked off.
To the wrong hotel.
I shouted after her, and when she turned I pointed her to the garage.
Another 10 minutes passed, and still no Cicely. I got on my bike and headed back down the hill. About two-thirds of the way down (in other words, only a third of the way up), there was CC (I decided at this point to change her name to CC, as in CC Rider), with her feet up on her toppled over bike’s panniers, eating a plum, without an apparent care in the world.
I asked her if everything was OK, and she assured me it was–she was just taking her time getting up “the mountain” (she had maybe gone a mile in the last 45 minutes). I asked her if she wanted me to take her panniers up for her, since it was already past 7:00 and we needed to be at dinner by 8:00. She agreed and I loaded her gear on top of mine. I then jumped on my bike and started heading back up. I turned around to see CC walking her bike up the hill.
I circled back around.
“Do you want me to take the bike, too?”
She laughed nervously, not sure if I was actually insulting her. I pulled alongside her bike, and grabbed it by the stem (the part of the bike that is attached to the handlebars) and started riding up the hill with both bikes.
Yeah, it was a bit extreme, but we were in Champagne and therefore I was thirsty. Her walking her bike up could have taken all night.
I got to the top, locked the bikes in the garage, and made my way to my room.
Miraculously, at 8:00 when we were to move into the dining room, everyone had made it to the bar including Ellen (who declined to sit down), CC (who appeared out of breath), and Ohmygod (who had clearly showered–his hair was once again “Cher-like”–and he was wearing his “nice” clothes–although no tie, thank goodness). I was stunned.
But really thirsty, so I got over it.
We were eating dinner at the hotel and while the rooms are nothing to write home about, the restaurant is very, very good and has a particularly interesting wine list. They only have one champagne on the list, but it is superb: an emphasis on finesse, but with enough structure to hold up to just about all of the entrées. (“Appetizer” is the American equivalent of “entrée” in France and the French use “plat” where Americans use “entrée” I have no idea how us Anglophiles screwed that one up, but it has caused me no shortage of confusion and anguish over the years.)
Perhaps even more surprising was the house rosé that was served en carafe. It was phenomenal. Fruity, yet complex, delicate but with a strong backbone, I was impressed. We were there two nights and I could not get enough of it. I inquired what it was, but the owner would not divulge the producer. He would only tell me that it was from near Bordeaux, it came from a bottle, and that he pretty much bought all the production every year.
Halfway through dinner, the owner of the hotel came over and whispered that there was a slight problem and they would have to move one of the clients to another room. I excused myself from the table and went to talk to the owner in the bar. He took me back behind the bar and pointed at the ceiling. There was a steady drip of water being caught by a bucket on the floor.
Right above the bar was one of our rooms. I hesitated, but asked whose.
The owner simply held his hands about 15 centimeters (six inches) from his head as if he were quaffing his hair.