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 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 Forty-Two), it was officially the last day of the Champagne trip, following which Anne, Ellen, Paul, and CC were due to depart, leaving me with Maggie and Ohmygod (and several new clients) to continue on to Belgium. We were having our last dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in town when Paul announced that he had just signed CC and himself up for the next week in Belgium, which caused CC to run out of the room.
The next few hours I spent in a daze, which was only slightly induced by the vast amounts of champagne I was consuming. By the time we had left the table near midnight that evening, the eight of us had consumed no fewer than 12 bottles of champagne and eight beers (one guess as to who drank all of the beer). Through all of that alcohol, there were several confessions, revellations, and resolutions made by just about everyone.
The first revelation was that CC (who had eventually rejoined us at the table) was married and had four kids at home under the age of five. Her husband had encouraged her to go on the trip, I guess as a way to apologize for her being continuously pregnant for the most of the decade. She said that he had practically forced her to go on the trip and, she stressed, that her husband had urged her to “have as much fun as she wanted.” She did not elaborate on whether he gave any indication on what “as much fun as she wanted” entailed, but as I scanned the room to look for reaction, it was clear that no one was going to ask if an extra-marital affair was on the list.
She added that while she would love to stay another week (while casting a furtive smile at Paul), she needed to get home to her kids, whom she missed dearly. She did not mention missing her husband….
I can not entirely explain what happened next, but it appeared as though Paul felt it were some sort of group therapy session since as soon as CC said she missed her kids (it was clear that their existence came as a shock to Paul as well), he blurted out that his wife was HIV positive. Every chin at the table dropped a solid four inches except CC’s whose chin audibly made a smack on the table, and Ohmygod’s, who actually started laughing uncontrollably. The rest of the table immediately transferred their collective gaze at the cackling hyena, stunned that he would find the situation laughable.
After a few moments, it became clear that Ohmygod had not been paying attention at all to the conversation, but rather had been trying to capture a fly with his empty beer mug. He had succeeded in his quest just as Paul had made the startling admission, which evidently lead to his uproarious outburst.
Paul then proceeded to let the table know that he and his wife had not been intimate since long before her contracting the virus, and he had also had himself tested biweekly for the past year just to be certain, at which point he turned to CC and shook his head discretely and violently at the same time. This did little to assuage CC, who seemingly recoiled not so much in fear of contracting the virus, but more out of disgust of this grave omission on his part. (If I were a therapist, I would no doubt have to point out the hypocrisy in her attitude as Paul clearly had no idea about her situation, either. But, as my “salary” would indicate, I was no where close to being a psychiatrist, so I swallowed my retort.)
Next up was Maggie who let the table know that her dissertation chair, with whom she had an affair, had left his wife shortly after she got on the plane to come to France (he was the one who took her to the airport and a apparently promised that he would leave his wife while she was gone to prove his devotion). Well, he apparently decided to take it up a notch as he had proposed to Maggie via email right before Paul’s room caught fire (which, although she left this part unsaid, prompted her to pose as my wife so that she could disrobe in my bed).
She had not spoken to her actual fiancé in over a week, which was six days longer than they had ever gone without speaking since high school when they started “going out.” Clearly she was a bit of a wreck since she refilled her champagne glass three times during the four minutes that she took to explain her predicament.
Next up were Anne and Ellen, who kept their come to Jesus moment rather short. Anne started off by apologizing since they had not exactly been truthful when replying to a question early in the week regarding their professions back in the U.S. They had said that Anne was a teacher and Ellen worked for the Post Office. Now, Anne told us they were actually real estate moguls on the East Coast, owning dozens of properties from Annapolis to Bar Harbor.
I immediately wanted to ask why they were so fixated on how much everything cost all the time, but I was pre-empted by Ohmygod who held up his hand as if he were in school and was hoping to get the teacher’s attention.
After all at the table turned his way, not sure what sort of revelation he had in store for the group, he proceeded to recite the alphabet.
In one continuous belch.
That particular “talent” apparently requires the downing of two beers in rapid succession. He seemed determine to prove it by ordering another pair of beers, despite all of our protests, which was then followed once more by his “talent.” He ordered four more beers over the next hour, two at a time, and each duo of beers was immediately followed by another “performance.”.
Other than those four renditions of the alphabet, the evening was actually a ton of fun, which made me wonder why it always seem to take a full week for these people to finally enjoy one another’s company.
The following morning, I woke with a bit of a headache and the realization that I would have to handle the burned out bathroom issue. As I approached the desk, I noticed saw Madame Dampierre, but there was something odd about her; she was actually smiling, which I am rather certain I had never seen before. The last thing I wanted to do was sour her mood, but I had to mention the bathroom. Once I did, her response was beyond odd–she smiled even more broadly and simply said that Paul had “already taken care of it.” I pondered for a second as to what might have made her on the verge of giddy. For a moment I imagined that the libidinous Paul somehow made the octogenarian feel young again with his wile and charm, thus easing what otherwise could have resulted in a meltdown of Napoleonic proportions.
Or else he gave her a boatload of cash.
I entered the breakfast room where Anne, Ellen, and a surprisingly upbeat Paul were seated together in the corner. CC was already gone as she had an early train to get back to Paris for a morning flight. There was no sign of either Maggie or Ohmygod, which was just fine with me.
Chit chat was at a minimum over croissants as we all seemed to be feeling the effects of the previous night’s frivolity.
That provided me with a bit of time to go over the layout of the day again. Looking over the itinerary, I realized a couple of things. First, I was going to spend a lot of time on trains:
- There was the TGV (France’s bullet train) back into Paris.
- A transfer from the Gare de l’Est to the Gare du Nord (not a big deal since they are virtually right next to each other).
- Another TGV to Lille on the Belgian border.
- A quick transfer on to a local train to Kortrijk, Belgium.
- And another transfer in Kortrijk to Bruges.
It also meant that I would not really get to ride at all other than the marginal distance from the Bruges train station to our hotel across town.
Thus, in my obsessive quest to get a decent ride in every day unless it were entirely impossible, I quickly planned out a way that would get me another hour or so on the bike. I realized that I could take the local train to La Ferté-Milon and then ride the 35 kilometers (20 miles) down to Meaux. From there, another train back to Paris, where I would then rejoin the itinerary.
It was a rather flawless and brilliant idea with one small exception: I opened my mouth. For some strange reason, I mentioned it to the group at breakfast. I told them so that they would know why I would not be on the train with them, and therefore the added necessity to follow the day’s itinerary very carefully. I could have easily lied and simply told them that I had to do a bit of research in Reims for another restaurant or another hotel (in case, gee, I don’t know, a client sets a bathroom on fire and the hotel kicks us out), but I lacked the foresight and the ethical acuity to pull that off.
So I told them the truth.
No sooner were the words out of my mouth when I heard: “Can I come with you?”
It was Ohmygod, who must have been down wind from me since I had no idea that he had entered the room.
I’m such an idiot.
At that point I had enough–he had caused me to question whether life was really worth living for over two weeks now and here he was again determined to suck up any “me” time I was able to eek out. I turned to him and I paused for a moment to think of a way to say “Hell no!” without appearing like the world’s biggest jerk in front of the others (although by this point, I am fairly certain that they all would not only understand, but also wonder why I hadn’t issued a harsher rebuke), but before I could come up with a suitably witty yet firm remark, I made another mistake.
I looked at his face.
There, beneath the grime, a few crumbs from the morning croissant, and just below his left eye what appeared to be a dollop of dried crème anglaise from his île flottante from the previous night, I saw a slight glimmer of hope in his eye. It was somewhere between the look of a five year old sitting on Santa’s lap, asking for a puppy for Christmas and a fifty year old unkempt, stenching, overweight Canadian asking if he could have just one more beer after last call.
And I caved.
Yep. I knuckled under, I rolled over, I folded like a cheap lawn chair in a Texas hurricane.
I said “sure.” What an idiot.
Hoping that he would have a change of heart, I informed him that we would have to leave in the next twenty minutes if we hoped to make the train (which was mostly true). A panicked look came over his face, and without saying a word, he grabbed another croissant, crammed the entire thing into his mouth, and rushed out of the room.
I sat there for a moment contemplating my new-found depth of stupidity, but, realizing that I indeed was on a tight schedule, indicated to Paul that I would see him on the Paris train to Lille later on that afternoon. I also asked him to look after Maggie and make sure that she got moving and on the TGV that would whisk them back to the capital later in the day.
As I rose, I bid Anne and Ellen farewell and as I did, Anne handed me an envelope that clearly contained a card. I never know how to react in such situations, so I calmly thanked her and put the envelope in my pocket. Anne seemed to be welling up a bit as she asked if she could have a hug. Shocked, I assented and then rushed out of the room.
Surprisingly, the next couple of hours went rather smoothly. Ohmygod and I made it to the Reims station in plenty of time (it is only a few hundred meters away from the hotel) and the train ride to La Ferté was uneventful as I told Ohmygod that I needed to do some paperwork on the train (which was true). We got off the train and had an hour and a half to ride the down to Meaux, which was plenty of time.
The ride went very well, too. I knew from previous experience that Ohymgod was a fairly good cyclist and we hammered out the 35 kilometers in just over an hour. We headed into the station a good twenty minutes before our train, so I locked up my bike and told Ohmygod that I was going to buy a L’Equipe, the French daily sports newspaper to read about the Tour de France, which had just started.
Five minutes later, after finding a paper, I returned to where I had locked up my bike, but there was no Ohmygod. Just then, a TGV roared through the station, the train that was hopefully carrying Paul and Maggie to Paris (the train makes no stops from Reims to Paris, but does pass through some of the stations at breakneck speeds along the way).
For the uninitiated, seeing and hearing a TGV pass can be a frightening episode as they travel at 300 km an hour (nearly 200 miles an hour). As this one passed, there was a strange metallic sound, followed by a loud “pop” and once the train had cleared the station, several SNCF (the French national railroad) workers went scurrying over to the platform.
As it turned out, I essentially followed them since our train was scheduled to leave from the same platform. As I came up from the underground passage, my heart dropped. There at the top of the stairs was Ohmygod and I feared he had to be at the root of the issue. He was standing there, clad in his soiled cycling clothes, helmet firmly in place over his matted hair, mouth agape, with a stunned look on his face.
And no bike.