It is the beginning of another month (more or less) 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 three 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 Thirty-Seven), we were just leaving dinner during which I encouraged everyone to attend the Sound and Light show at the cathedral, which really is incredible. Once Ohmygod intimated that he would go, all interest in the event quickly waned from the others in the group. It seems as though Ohmygod had finally eroded all support from the group, including his two biggest (only?) allies, Anne and Ellen. I mentioned that I would be skipping the show and going instead to my favorite bar for a beer, which had the desired effect: Ohmygod decided to eschew the cathedral and head to the bar with me.
The bar in question is in the main pedestrian street of the city, the Place Drouet d’Erlon, not far from our hotel. Although as a rule, there are not a ton of bars in Reims that have a good selection of Belgian beers (Reims is the capital of Champagne, after all), the Glue Pot has a few, and it is a rather “happening” place. Since Reims is the last town in Champagne on the trip (the trip usually continues onto Belgium afterward) I have been there a lot, I have chatted up a few of the servers, and there is one bartender that, well, I always hope is there.
Over my several years as a guide on these trips, it is not unusual for our groups to get loud and even somewhat obnoxious when alcohol is involved, which it almost always is (particularly when compared to the docile, chain-smoking Europeans). This invariably draws attention, stares, glares, and a fair amount of disdain. I am always aware of them, and at first I tried to quiet my group down so as to not offend the “locals” since I would likely be back in the same location on the next trip soon enough (I also saw it as an attempt to make Americans more aware of their seemingly inherent arrogant behavior). Over the years, I realized this was a bit futile (particularly in regards to the previous parenthetical) so I have tried very hard to ignore the collective reaction of the local population when my group partakes on an alcohol induced increase in volume.
I am able to do this, for the most part, by reminding myself that I am technically working, and therefore need to resist the temptation to furtively exit the bar. I do wish Americans could learn to be more civil in public places, particularly when abroad, but then I also wish that I had an unlimited budget to spend on bikes and champagne.
Yeah, I am a bit of a dreamer.
This time, however, we were getting stares for different reasons altogether. Perhaps it was because I was intently reading while this foul-smelling guy with matted down, long (well past his shoulders) gray hair, dressed in cycling clothes and wearing biking gloves was babbling on about the Province of Ontario and the city of Toronto, while sucking down beer as if someone had just told him that the first one to drink 10 of them would get a lifetime of free food from both Harvey’s and Tim Hortons.
I am not sure, but maybe that was the reason. Regardless, the stares were very difficult to ignore this time.
Since the bar had several dozen different beers on offer, when the server came over for our order, just as Ohmygod was about to go through the tortuous escapade of asking what beers were on tap, I cut him off and told the server that we would both have Rodenbachs.
Ohmygod’s head turned so quickly to me that I feared that he would not be able to stop the momentum from it spinning all the way around. The violent motion was accompanied with a steely glare that made me feel as if I were a courtroom judge and I had just found him guilty of a heinous crime, and ruled that as punishment, he had to move out of his mother’s house.
Sensing a possible meltdown that would undoubtedly lead to more stares, I told him that Rodenbach was essentially the beer of West Flanders, the area of Belgium where we would travel in just two days. I explained that it was the most popular of all the West Flanders red ales, and once we made it to Belgium, he could sample all of them and let me know if it deserved its reputation at the top of the heap. This seemed to appease the beast a bit, but he clearly was reserving opinion until he tasted the brew.
As we were waiting for our order, I tried to appear as though I was intently reading my novel. There was really no other reason other than I felt as if I was out of small talk. Over the past two weeks I had asked every possible question I could muster and frankly, that well had run dry. I knew as much as I wanted about the only subjects that seemed to interest him: Canadian beer, his job (he was a “grip” at a community channel (essentially a local cable access channel), and, of course, his mother.
Instead, I kept my nose in my book knowing all along that Ohmygod would never initiate any conversation. Even though I knew it was not a good idea, I glanced up a couple of times to check out the inevitable train wreck in front of me. Each time I looked, he was a bit like “that guy” on an airplane that just sits there for the entire flight, staring blankly forward, motionless. No book, no headphones, no Sudoku, no blinking, nothing. Just staring at the seat back twelve inches in front of him.
The beers finally arrived and, as expected, Ohmygod dove right in, drinking more than half without a breath. As he returned his glass to the table, I contemplated asking whether he liked the beer, but before I could even conger up a question (I did not care if he thought it was good–I knew it was, nor did I really care if he liked it–I knew he wouldn’t), he did what I should have anticipated given all such previous episodes.
In fact it was less a burp and more of foghorn, the type of sound that would wake even the soundest sleeper from their slumber.
For a moment, all conversation in the bar stopped and every eye in the bar turned to our table. As I tried to shoulder the embarrassment and retreated to my book, I noticed Ohmygod with his arm straight out and finger extended.
Pointing at me.
Yes, after what could safely be described as a life-threatening, ear-splitting, nausea-enducing eructation, the perpetrator and my nemesis, was literally fingering me for the crime.
There was absolutely nothing to do in such a situation, but cast a weak smile and blush. Although if one looked carefully at the scene of the “crime” they would have noticed that Ohmygod’s glass was half empty and mine had barely been touched–circumstantial evidence certainly, but enough for reasonable doubt. Unfortunately we were not in a court of law, we were in a bar with a bunch of chain-smoking French people.
And they all thought I was guilty.
So I did what any normal person would do: I returned to my book, ignoring all of the glares and sniggers that were occuring throughout the bar.
I also hoped that Ohmygod would die a fiery death after a lightening bolt struck him down and caused his greasy hair to ignite. Unfortunately, that would probably be the only item on his person that would catch on fire since I am pretty sure that lycra is not flammable.
I will have to look into that.
After things settled down a bit, I finished my beer and actually ordered another (Ohmygod was already on his fourth or fifth at that point), which I finished and then quietly slipped out of the bar. It was fairly easy to do since Ohmygod had engaged the server in his favorite game of “What do you have on tap?” and I made my exit early on during the third repetition of the dozen or so beers en pression.
On the way out the door, I has sure to pay the bartender; my “favorite” bartender had just shown up (and therefore missed the gros rot [large burp] incident). I considered staying a bit and chatting her up, but I figured I would cut my losses and call it a night. Besides, the longer I stayed, the greater the probability that Ohmygod would stick me with his portion of the check, which at this point was a significant sum.
The following day was a busy one: a tour of Veuve Clicquot, a bike ride out into the countryside to visit one of my favorite producers, the co-op in Mailly, then back into Reims to organize a blind tasting for the guests on the trip, and finally, the final dinner for this leg of the trip, which would mean saying goodbye to Paul, CC, Anne, and Ellen.
Yes, that meant that Marie and Ohmygod were both with me for another week in Belgium.
Now, there was something to look forward to with eager anticipation.
As in Epernay, there are hundreds of miles of tunnels below Reims. The tunnels were started by the Romans as they mined the chalk to be used in the construction of many of their buildings (chalk is fairly easy to mine as it is soft and pourous under ground, but once exposed to air, it hardens and is a fine building material). During the late Middle Ages and the Rennaissance, the French did some mining of their own to build many of the castles that dot the country.
Today, champagne producers use the caves for storage to age their wines as the depth of the caves ensures a constant 55° Farenheit (12-13° Celsius) throughout the year. Most of the large houses in town offer a tour of the facilities and a trip down into the caves, which is always impressive even after several dozen tours. There are a slew of fine tours in Reims, but my three favorites are Pommery (great carvings in the chalk galleries, a couple hundred feet below ground), Veuve Clicquot (the Veuve tends to be disparaged by the elite in the wine world due to its popularity among the masses, but I always say, there has to be a reason that it is so popular–they make great champagne), and Ruinart (one of the older houses in town, and perhaps the most informative tour).
This go around, I settled on Veuve Clicquot–it is really a wonderful tour and it had been a while since I had been, so I figured it was time to go back.
The tour started promptly at 10:00 a.m., so I had set a rendezvous at the house for 9:45. I thought about meeting in the hotel lobby, but Veuve is a solid mile and a half from the hotel and herding all the working parts over there that early in the morning could prove to be futile. Plus, this required a bit of independence and wherewithal on the part of the clients, which could serve to self-select a few of them away from going on the tour.
Yes, I was hoping that Ohmygod would be one of those who opted out.
Yes, I know I will likely rot in hell, but enough is enough–and I had another whole week with the guy….
When I pulled into the Veuve parking lot, all hope was dashed: there stood Ohmygod, who amazingly had showed up on time. In fact, he was actually early.
I couldn’t resist: “Ohmygod, I am impressed! You are actually early for our appointment, what’s the occasion?”
“Early? You said to be here at 8:45, I have been waiting for at least 30 minutes!”
I glanced at my watch, which read 9:40. If he had been waiting for 30 minutes, that meant he showed up at some time past 9:00, which would have made him late for the perceived 8:45 meeting time. He continued on babbling as I pondered the somewhat existential question of whether he was actually late or not: If someone shows up late for what they perceive to be the actual meeting time, but they turn out being early because they were incorrect about the actual time, are they actually late or early?
Ohmygod was still babbling and it was becoming annoying.
So I mentally marked him down as being late.
The rest of the group (with the exception of Anne and Ellen) showed up a few minutes before ten (which is precisely why I made the rendezvous 15 minutes before we needed to be there) and we all shuffled into the building.
We were soon greeted by our tour guide, who was, in a word, stunning. I have never made a secret about the fact that I fall in love easily with French women. Perhaps it is the accent or the pouty, full lips, but all elements being equal, I become a freshman in high school again every time I am around an attractive French woman. And this one was a knock-out.
This might be trouble.
She introduced herself (I think) and then went around supplying each of us with a Veuve Clicquot yellow cape, as it is rather chilly in the caves. They were a cross between what Sherlock Holmes and Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music would wear, and though I thought them to be rather silly, when your future wife tells you to put on a cape, you do so without hesitation.
She (I will call her Sylvie, since I really can’t recall her name as I was still in a fog when she said it) paused when she approached Ohmygod before handing him a cape. I am not sure if it was his appearance (matted hair, stained bike clothes), his vocabulary (“Hmmmm. Chirp”), or his stench (considerable), but she was a professional and handed him a cape as well (although it did seem as though she extended her arm a bit more so as to not get too close).
[An interesting note worth pointing out: the next time I took a group to Veuve Clicquot, they were no longer providing capes to the people on the tour. I inquired why that was, and all the guide at the time would say was that it became too expensive to have them cleaned.]
After the disbursement of the capes, we were immediately on our way down into the caves. I knew, given the tour of Moët a couple of days prior, that I should keep Ohmygod on a rather short leash. On the other hand, there was Sylvie being adorable, sexy, and distracting all at once.
Screw Ohmygod, I was going to keep a close watch on Sylvie. After all, what could go wrong?