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 Fifty-Seven), I was able to successfully avoid Brad and Angelina the previous night, but I “found” Brad, scantily clad in his hotel room in the morning, when it was time to get on the road or risk missing an important train. Presumably, Angelina was in an equal state of undress and they had no intention of leaving their hotel room any time soon. Ohmygod was also mysteriously absent, but I prayed that he was fully clothed wherever he was.
I left Brad and Angelina’s door and headed back to my room to quickly pack and get out on the road. I was moderately worried about Brad and Angelina, but it seemed clear that Brad was finally getting what he had hoped for when he booked and paid for a trip with a woman that he had “met” on Craigslist and only seen a few times.
Surprisingly, I was less worried about Ohmygod. Normally, if there were a client on the trip who disappeared without any notice whatsoever, I would be organizing a search party. But this was Ohmygod—he had the annoying habit of always reappearing just when I thought he was in jail or possibly dead. Not that I was hoping for that but if either of those scenarios were to happen this time, well….
But I wasn’t holding my breath since there would be plenty of time to hold my breath (and my nose) when he finally turned up. He always did. For a guy who was seemingly utterly clueless, he had an uncanny ability to survive relatively unscathed.
Maybe his stench, which acted a bit like the cloud that surrounds Pig Pen in the Peanuts comic strip, was actually a force field—it certainly served to keep people away from him.
Packing took about three minutes. After years of spending my summers leading trips in Europe, I had become rather adept at always being in a stage of relatively packed. I realized a while ago that I hated the whole unpacking/packing aspect of being a tour guide, and the key is to never really unpack. That meant my clothes were almost always wrinkled when they received the call for duty, but that is a price I was willing to pay to avoid spending an hour each day devoted to packing and unpacking.
At our monastery-turned-hotel, we parked our bikes in the interior courtyard, so after squaring the bill (and sliding a train schedule under Brad’s door), I headed out back to find all the other bikes (with the exception of Brad and Angelina’s tandem) had already departed. This was relatively good news and a sign that people still listen to me on occasion.
I glanced at my watch: I had precisely 14 minutes to catch the 9:00 train to Brussels. If I missed that train, I would be camped out in the station for another half an hour at least—the next few trains did not take bikes officially and Flemish conductors are notorious for following the rules to the letter.
Luckily, the train station was just over a couple of kilometers away, and even figuring in a wrong turn or two, I should be fine. I quickly loaded my bike and shoved off, hoping that the others were able to make either the 8:37 or the 8:54 train, I really was looking forward to a nice quiet 30 minute trip to Brussels, not having to field questions about the three “missing” clients—the less I had to say about the situation (and the images it would provoke), the better.
Then, with any luck, I would also board the train from Brussels to the tiny stop of Rochefort-Jumelle alone as well, giving me another hour and twenty minutes of relative quiet. I was not feeling particularly misanthropic, but I had learned over the years that you crave a bit of solitude once in a while (or just about every moment of the day, depending on who else is on the trip).
I made the first train with a relatively cushy four minutes to spare and boarded the train without seeing anyone else on the trip. Arriving in Brussels, I hopped off the train and noticed that there was a bit of commotion in the station, more than what I would consider “normal” for a weekday morning. There was also quite a bit of police scurrying about, which always makes me nervous since, for some reason, police always seem to question rather tall Americans clad in cycling gear.
Or at least that is what it seems like to me.
I checked the enormous departure board and noticed that my train for Rochefort, was delayed. There was no indication as to how long before it would leave, which was odd—usually, the later departure time is calculated and indicated. It did have the track of the train, however, which meant that the train was in the station, so I headed to the platform, hoping to board. When I got there, though, the entire platform was roped off—there was no way to get to my train.
As I stood there, at the head of the platform, clad in my cycling gear and grasping the handlebars of my bike, I pondered my options: wait for the next train (which would mean arriving well past eight), riding the 150 kilometers over hilly terrain (which would get me to Poix-St.-Hubert well past nine), or wait for the current situation to play out. Option three was my only “real” choice. As I nudged my way up to the chain that was erected to prevent temporary access to the platform, I was stopped by a police officer.
Here we go again.
Even though I would consider my French very good, I always act as if I don’t speak a word of the language when I have an interaction with European police. I have found it better to conduct those exchanges in English; if I am going to be accused of something, I want the conversation to be conducted in a language that favors me (at least that is the theory).
Apparently, as it turns out, there was a cycling bag (a pannier) left on the platform, and it had been there unattended for some time and the officer wanted to know if it were mine.
I explained to him that I had just arrived at the station from Gent, assuring him that I had no idea who might have left the pannier there on the platform. Even after denying any knowledge about the item in question, the officer offered up a 2-3 minute chastisement as to why you can’t just leave a bag unattended in the train station. As I nodded and “took my punishment” he seemed to grow increasingly agitated with me even though I had absolutely nothing to do with the headache that was now dominating his time.
Convinced that he had taught me my lesson, he turned and made his way back to the unattended pannier. At about the same time, what must have been the bomb squad cleared a path among the onlookers/travelers and also proceeded down the 20 meters or so to where the bag was resting against an iron pillar. They towed a rather impressive dome behind them, a half-sphere that appeared to be made out of metal or maybe ceramic, which they would then place over the bag and detonate some explosives, thus eradicating the “threat.”
As the crowd around the bag dispersed a bit to allow for the bomb squad to gain access to the bag, I noticed what I should have feared. Jutting out of one of the side pockets was the unmistakable red maple leaf of the Canadian flag. Growing up in Detroit, I have a rather short fuse for Canadians, while most people seem to see them as extremely nice and easy-going. My disdain for Canadians stems from the fact that they seem to be incredibly smug and love to take advantage of living so close to the U.S. (90% of Canadian citizens live within 100 miles of the border), while also tending to be very quick with their criticisms of the U.S. (admittedly many are deserved, but…).
What really drives me nuts, though, is when I see the Canadian flag on luggage, the prevalence of which has coincided with the increasing threat of terrorism. I can’t say for sure, but it seems as though those flags are placed on their belongings as if to say: “I know I look like, talk like, and often act like an American, but see the flag? I am a Canadian!”
In other words: “Please don’t blow me up, could you kindly find a ‘real’ American instead? Thanks and have a wonderful day!”
Drives me nuts.
As I was mentally enumerating my grievances, I noticed that the bag in question, in addition to sporting the Canadian flag, also exhibited a number of stains and a few rips`. I stared at the bag for an extended period, trying to find any reason not to be certain that it belonged to Ohmygod.
As the bomb squad was delicately moving it away from the pillar so that they could lower their dome of death over the bag, they suddenly jumped back as if, well, a bomb was about to go off. After a couple of tense moments and some angry discussions, they re-approached the bag and started to get the dome into position.
I stood there trying to decide if I should say anything, knowing that the world would be a better place if the contents of that bag were to be blown to smithereens. It was not until the dome was in position to carry out the execution that I decided I needed to act. My calculation was simple: As far as I could tell, Ohmygod only had three “outfits” (but he really only wore two) and I was fairly certain that he had not done any laundry over the course of the last two and a half weeks.
One could effectively argue that the destruction of a couple of his garments would bring some much-needed balance to the universe of aromas, and could cause him to have to buy new, clean (at least for a day) garments. My theory? With only a few more days left, it was highly unlikely that Ohmygod would bother to buy new clothes. On more occasions than I care to recall over the previous two and a half weeks, he wore the same set of clothes for several consecutive days (I am guessing that he also wore them to bed, but that is not an image I want to conjure in the slightest), and he would have no qualms about repeating that “feat.”
No, I figured it was better to spread the stench out over two or three different sets of garments than just one. Now, it is quite possible that each item could only hold a certain amount of foulness—somewhat like a sponge holding water—a level each piece likely reached after the first wearing. In that case, it really did not matter if he wore the same two articles every day for the last four days of the trip.
So what to do?
Yes, these thoughts were actually going through my head as the demolition team was moving into place, having no idea that the fetor released from the explosion they were about to conduct could result in the potential deaths of hundreds (or at least the singeing of their nose hairs).
Finally, I decided to try to put an end to the spectacle for no other reason than I needed my train to leave, preferably with me on it.
I quickly locked my bike at the head of the platform and informed the railway personnel that I knew the owner of the abandoned bag. At first, she looked alarmed, quickly giving me the once over, an instantaneous judgment to determine if I looked like a terrorist, I imagine.
Having seemingly passed that test, her demeanor quickly switched to first relief and then instantly on to consternation—she was clearly miffed about the commotion and inconvenience and started to chastise me. I quickly assured her that it was not my bag, but it did belong to one of the people on my trip. This caused her outlook to change once again, presumably, as she decided to cut some slack to one of her brethren, albeit in another service industry.
She told me to follow her, so I ducked under the restraining chain and tried to keep up as she basically sprinted up the platform, shouting “STOP!” several times. Her screams were effective as the bomb squad recoiled from the bag-under-the-dome as if it were, well, a bomb.
She explained that I had come forward to accept responsibility for the item, which caused scornful looks from the bomb squad, police, and railway officials who had gathered for the exercise. I sat there and took the heat (what choice did I have?), and it seemed that a few were less concerned about the bag being unattended than they were disappointed that they did not get the chance to blow something up.
Before they removed the dome, though, they told me that they heard a distinct metallic sound when they were moving the bag and asked me what it might be (still holding out hope, no doubt, that they would still have to push the glorious button).
I told them that I could not be 100% certain, but I was pretty confident that it was fairly innocent. Sufficiently convinced, they raised the dome, and I grabbed the bag, which emitted a clanging sound when I picked it up.
The jumpy bomb squad recoiled, and the police reached for their holstered guns. A bit freaked out by the response, but still confident in my assertion, I put the bag back on the ground and raised both hands in the air. Getting shot would likely ruin my whole day.
Slowly, with one arm still extended, I reached down with the other, unzipped the bag, and reached in.
I slowly removed what I had expected:
A can of beer.
There were, in fact, four cans, two of them empty. All four had been wrapped up in one of Ohmygod’s cycling jerseys, which I had to touch to remove the cans to show the police.
I was no longer worried about my train—my next goal was to find a washroom…
…and a gallon of bleach.