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-Four), I had made the unfortunate decision to get another ride in before returning to Paris at the end of a week in Champagne. Unfortunate since Ohmygod joined me on the ride and while we were waiting on a train to take us the rest of the way into the city, his bike was destroyed by a rushing TGV. We then spent time collecting what items were still salvageable from just about every visible inch of the tracks in question.
We eventually made it into Paris, where I got a new bike ready for the native Canadian. I had just stepped outside to see him trip and stumble while carrying all the items we had scraped off the tracks in black plastic bags. He also had procured a beer moments before, which somehow survived the fall.
Ohmygod hopped up to his feet, took a large gulp of the Heineken, gathered up his three black plastic bags loaded with his belongings, and strolled over to the office. He apparently didn’t notice (or did not care) that the fall had caused what appeared to be a small cut on his left shin that created a single stream of blood to start making its way down his leg.
I thought for a moment that he might just be an odd combination of social misfit and uncoördinated badass when he passed by me on the way through the door without saying a word or acknowledging my presence in any way. But then a small bee, perhaps disoriented by the odor emitted by Ohmygod, started buzzing about his head. Ohmygod reacted as if he were part hyperactive traffic cop, waving his arms frantically, and part actress in a horrible terror movie, shrieking loudly after seeing her boyfriend’s arm hacked off with a chainsaw.
Once the offending insect flew off, Ohmygod immediately calmed down completely, pulling the proverbial plug on his antics. It was at this point that he noticed me standing there, or to be more precise, that he expressed any outward sign of realizing there was another human in the room.
Without saying a word (since silence seemed to be his preferred method of “communication”), I motioned over to the bike that the mechanic had prepared to replace the one that had been destroyed by the TGV.
I considered pairing my point with a well-timed grunt, to mimic (as well as mock) his most emitted exclamation, but I resisted. I had once seen a documentary that showed that apes had the ability to communicate their feelings, needs, and wants through vocalizations and I did not want him to get the wrong idea.
For more than the requisite moment, he stared oddly at the tip of my finger, waiting for either sparks to fly out of it or wondering if he should extend his finger as if he thought I wanted to act out one of the more famous scenes from the Sistine Chapel.
His face eventually shifted from slight confusion to unbridled joy when he followed the direction of my point and discovered “his” “new” bike. The bike, in fact, was far from new: It had to be at least twenty years old and even an untrained eye would have had to question whether it were capable of rudimentary transport.
I actually felt bad for Ohmygod, but the decision by the powers that be in the company to put him on a bike that clearly had not been used in a decade was a wise one—if Ohmygod rode it off a cliff, only the company mechanic would rue the loss of the bike.
Ohmygod, however, was ecstatic. Like a kid on Christmas morning, he leapt at the bike, grabbed it, and practically ran with it outside. There, he slightly increased his gallop and hopped on the bike without stopping, reminiscent of the Lone Ranger mounting Silver while the latter was in full gallop.
I thought I should yell after him, but I knew it would be pointless. Besides, he would find out soon enough that the bike had no pedals–I had yet to mount his pedals that had been reclaimed from the bike/TGV carnage.
Indeed, after attempting in vain several times to locate the non-existent pedals, the bike gradually lost its initial speed. Instead of braking or even putting his feet down to control the bike, Ohmygod did nothing. There was not even any apparent panic as he and the bike, without any way to provide any forward momentum, slowly tipped to the left and tumbled to the cobblestones.
Ohmygod jumped right back up, as if the ignominious fall were intentional, picked up his bike, and strolled back to the office.
I took the bike (whose handlebars were now askew) and told Ohmygod that our train to Bruges would not leave for another hour and a half, and I would need at least 30 minutes to put his pedals on and fix the handlebars. (The truth, however, was that both of those tasks would only take a combined three minutes, but I wanted some time sans Ohmygod, taking the calculated risk that he had no clue.)
I added that his mother had sent him a couple of hundred Euros to buy new clothes (which was true—she sent it when she paid for the destroyed bike) and he should go over to Les Halles (a huge underground mall) to shop before we needed to head back to the train station.
Without so much as a peep, he held out his hand to receive the funds, then turned quickly toward the door once I placed the bills in his very dirty hand.
Had I known he would have this obedient response to his mother’s directives, I would have invoked her name early and often during the preceding two weeks.
Once he left, I quickly adjusted the handlebars and threw on the pedals, leaving me close to an hour before we needed to leave for the train station. So I did what anyone else in my situation would do.
I made myself a Kir Royale.
While the history of the standard Kir is rather well known (the post-WWII mayor of the capital of Dijon, Félix Kir, liked to serve a concoction of crème de cassis and Aligoté—the often bitter and “undrinkable” (according to Félix) lesser known white wine from the region—to visiting delegations to the city), the origins of the Kir Royale are a bit murkier.
The drink, also an aperitif, is essentially a Kir with bubbles, as both drinks are made in the same way. The only difference? Substituting a sparkling wine for the Aligoté. There is also some evidence to support the notion that Chambord (a raspberry liqueur from the eponymous town) is to be used instead of crème de cassis, but that contention is not universally accepted.
Regardless, it is delicious.
So delicious I had two.
Shortly after the second (and right before I would have made a third), Ohmygod strolled in, which was shocking on a couple of fronts. He was on time yet again, and even though this now seemed to be a bit of a habit, I was not willing to accept it as such. I only had another seven days with him (yes, I was counting) and I would continue to provide him with meeting times that were at least thirty minutes early than what were actually required.
He was also wearing a cycling outfit that I had strangely never seen before, but it had the characteristic stain down the front, thus “branding” it as his own.
There were a few oddities about the jersey, however. First, it was at least two sizes too small, which served to accentuate his prodigious mid-section (which needed no assistance in that regard). Second, it was white. Why his mother, no doubt aware of his proclivity for the slovenly treatment of apparel, would ever buy him a garment of that color is incomprehensible. Third, the stain looked rather fresh—it was not a typical shade of gray or brown, but rather a vibrant pink, which appeared to be glowing on the contrasting background.
Once Ohmygod raised his left arm to take another sip of his raspberry Yop (a drinkable yogurt), it all became clear: the pink liquid rushed out of the bottle far too quickly for the mouth to handle, dripping down his unshaven face and on to his jersey.
The raised arm also revealed a tag dangling from the armpit (no doubt trying to escape the stench), which alerted me to the fact that he had just purchased it minutes before, and already had broken it in.
Nonetheless, I was actually glad to see him (perhaps “relieved” is a better word—no that does not work either—I need a word to describe how a hungry prisoner feels when he finally receives his practically inedible prison food) as that meant we had a fighting chance to make the first of our three trains that would eventually deposit us in Bruges, one of my absolute favorite European towns.
As such, I strapped my gear to my bike, indicating that Ohmygod should do the same, and after a few tense moments with a bungee cord, we were on our way to the Gare du Nord. Since the high-speed train from Paris to Brussels (the Thalys) does not allow bikes, we needed to first take a TGV to Lille, then transfer to a train to Kortrijk (just across the border in Belgium), and then a third train would land us in Bruges.
Once we left the office, the trip really went off without a hitch surprisingly. I debated for a while whether or not to sit with Ohmygod during the trip, but since I had a first class Eurail pass, I told him that I was required to sit in first class (which is not the case, but it sounds convincing) for the entire trip. I made sure that he was in the car adjacent to mine, however, so that I could verify that he got off at the appropriate stop and, perhaps more importantly, ensure that he did not get off the train at the wrong stop.
There was a moment, at the station in Tourcoing, when after the train had been stopped for a good minute and all the passengers had already boarded the train, Ohmygod leapt from his seat and darted out the door. Before I could panic, he reached down to his shoe, and then quickly got back on the train.
Odd behavior, certainly, until moments later I saw him gazing fondly at his newly acquired 2€ coin.
We got off the train in Bruges and quickly mounted our bikes for the ten-minute ride to the hotel. I only got lost one time along the way, which I thought was fairly good given Bruges’ labyrinth of streets and canals (I love Bruges, but calling it “the Venice of the North” is a bit of a stretch) and my woefully inept sense of direction.
We made it to the hotel shortly before nine, which was nothing short of a minor miracle given that less than 10 hours earlier we were picking up the carnage of a bicycle/TGV showdown that was more than a tad bit ugly (hint: never bet against the TGV in such instances). We parked our bikes in the adjacent garage, took our bags up to our rooms and then headed out.
I had left word with the restaurant to instruct the others on the trip to head to the restaurant for the 8:00 reservation that I had made. I also informed them that we would likely be late (I honestly felt that we had little chance to make it to Bruges before 11:00, but I did not share that pessimism in the message).
During the five-minute walk, I considered making some idle conversation with Ohmygod, but I refrained after ruminating about the possible topics: “How is your new bike?” (Didn’t care), “How were the new clothes?” (I could see for myself: not good), “Are you looking forward to drinking some Belgian beer?” (Knew the answer).
There was one question, however, that popped up right before we reached the door: “Are you looking forward to meeting the new people on the trip?”
As soon as I asked it, all color drained from his face. Apparently, it had not registered that there would be four new clients joining us for the next seven days.
Before he could ponder a retort, though, the door to the restaurant swung open, revealing the prominent bar just beyond the threshold. Any anxiety that he had about meeting the newcomers was washed away by the half-dozen or so people seated at the bar, each with a rather large beer in front of them.
He abandoned the still unanswered question as he practically skipped into the room, and sat down at the bar next to a no doubt startled couple, who apparently had never seen a near 50-year-old man, dressed in new, yet clearly stained extremely tight-fitting cycling apparel, with matted down, beyond shoulder length gray hair, sporting a bike helmet still tightly buckled under his chin.
And who smelled like a Venetian sewer.
I tapped him on the shoulder and told him we needed to go meet the others. Just before the last hint of color faded once again from his face, I added: “Come on, your first beer is on me.”
Which, of course, was all it took.
We found our way to the table, where the group seemed to be just finishing their first course. Luckily, there were still two seats available at the end of the table. Unfortunately, that meant I would be seated right across from Ohmygod for dinner, which I had been able to avoid for several days, thus maintaining my appetite.
Although it was apparent that the group of six had at least made casual introductions, so I felt no need to perform a “getting to know you” icebreaker when we sat down. Nonetheless, through the course of the meal, I was able to glean a few tidbits from all at the table.
First, to my Ohmygod’s immediate right was Paul (his scrunched up nose revealed how he felt about his new dining neighbor), who even though CC did not agree to stay on for another week (despite endless lobbying from Paul), was determined to make the most of his extra week on the bike.
Next to Paul was Maggie, and although Paul tried repeatedly to strike up idle conversation with Maggie (due in part to the fact that he had positioned his chair at close to a 45 degree angle, with his back facing the pungent Ohmygod), she was not very interested at all in obliging.
A large part of the reason might have been a result of the person sitting to her right, whom I call Adonis. He was objectively, a very good-looking guy and, surprisingly for this trip, he actually seemed pretty normal. Immediately, he and Maggie seemed to hit it off, much to the chagrin of Paul, who, now that CC had left the trip, had clearly set his sights on Maggie to liven up his now decidedly quieter nights.
Across from Adonis were a couple: Brad and Angelina. When I looked over my dossier for the trip, it indicated that the two of them would be sharing a room and had requested to share a bed (instead of having twin beds). Well, it was pretty clear that they were not a “couple” in the traditional sense. In fact, they had just met one another hours before when they came to Bruges separately.
Last, to my immediate left, was Anita, a youngish 30-something, who, while not particularly attractive, she was not unattractive either. She also was the type of person that from the moment I met her, it was clear that she craved attention. She had the rather annoying tendency to try to finish most of my sentences (being wrong 98% of the time), which she did not so much to appear smart or “in the know” but rather to foist away the conversation so that she could once again talk about herself. Over the course of about 15 minutes I learned that she lives in Miami within steps of the beach, which she never visits since her skin is far too delicate, she has been married (and divorced) twice (the last of which occurred shortly after her husband found her in bed with another man—she had been under the assumption that they were in an open marriage—apparently he had not assumed the same), she has two kids (16 and 12) that she left at home alone during her trip (when I asked if that were actually legal she assured me that her 16 year-old daughter was very mature for her age), and she hopes to someday make the Olympic team.
And then there was Ohmygod, who was already showing his new “friends” his one talent of burping the alphabet.
It is going to be another interesting week.