Got to the bike shop about 9:50AM, sat and waited until the lights went on and the front door opened … at 10:10. Ten minutes isn’t late in France. It’s kind of early.
“Parlez vous Anglais?” I asked the bike-shop guy.
“A little,” the guy said.
Could tell this was about the extent of his English. Had no idea how to say “broken spoke” in French, so I showed it to him.
“Ooh la la,” Bike Shop Guy said. He gave me a smile and a confident look, and my brain calmed down a bit. There’s nothing like a good bike mechanic to calm down a buzzing brain.
But first, before Bike Shop Guy could fix my wheel, he had some work to do. He took several bikes and lined them up outside the shop. Then he swept the inside of the shop. This is the difference between a French bike shop and an American bike shop. At the American bike shop, all this would have been done before 10AM.
You know what? What the hell’s the hurry? So what if he opened up a few minutes late and then did his chores. I’m on a bike trip. It’s not like I have a deadline. Or have to be somewhere at a certain time. Marc, be here, be now, enjoy the moment. And relax. That’s one of the things I’ve had to try and do because of my TBI: slow down and try and relax. Which is easier said than done. For example: emptying the dishwasher. Used to be able to whiz through unloading the dishwasher. It was a thing of beauty, precision and efficiency. Maddie was in awe. Not so much anymore. Start whirling away in fast motion, like I used to do, and quickly get all anxious and stressed and the dishes start clanking against one another, and the noise hurts my head, and the faster I try to go, the more they start clanking and the more anxious I get and … Marc, take a freakin’ breath and relax. It’s only the damn dishes. What’s your hurry?
It’s the same with paying the bills, or folding the laundry or looking stuff up on the internet. I try to go fast, like I always did, and get all frazzled and anxious and need to stop and consciously slow down and relax. Hey, it’s not easy to suddenly have to change the way you do pretty much everything in your life at the age of 34. Habits have been formed that are hard to break. Being a newspaper reporter is all about doing things fast. Really fast. On deadline. Under stressful conditions. Have to constantly remind myself to slow the hell down. Go ahead, try it. I dare you. Do something you do on a regular basis, like the some of the stuff I just mentioned, and then try and do it at half the speed you’ve always done it. It’s not easy.
BTW: Typing’s is the hardest thing to slow down. Just can’t seem to do it. It’s happening right now! Even when I try and go slow my fingers start going a little faster and faster, and the thoughts spill out a little quicker, the fingers speed up to keep pace and … mistakes are made. Lots of mistakes. Like 10 per sentence, which is double the number I used to make. You wouldn’t believe the way I can mangle words. For example, I just spelled mangle: mnagel. Try not to let it get me frustrated because, well, it’s the way my brain and fingers now operate. Whether I like it or not. And getting frustrated stresses me out and makes me more anxious and irritable and pissed off at myself and the asshole who did this to us. Damn, haven’t thought about and cursed out Maddie’s murderer in several days. I’d like to mnagel the crap out of him.
OK Marc, calm down, take a deep breath.
Finally, once all the bikes were set up just so, and the shop was swept spotless, Bike Shop Guy sprang into action. He put my bike on the stand, took out the broken spoke, put in a new spoke and trued up my horribly out of true wheel by tightening and loosening several other spokes until the tension was just right all around and my wheel spun perfectly.
He made a few other adjustments and voila, my bike was complete again!
I paid the bill – only 10 Euros – and was out the door at 11:07 and on my way to Bayeux.
“Bon journey,” Bike Shop Guy said.
“Merci,” I said.
The ride from Honfleur was along the coast and through several resort towns: Deaville, Houlgate, Cabourg. In another month or so, this area will be crawling with tourists.
Up a big hill to the cliffs that run along the coast and down into the town of Arromanches. This is where the British built Port Winston (named after Churchill) on D-Day. They towed in all these old ships, sunk them in a semi- circle, and then filled in the open spots with 600,000 tons of concrete. And they did it while the Germans shelled the hell out of them. There’s a Musee Debarquement, but I didn’t go in. Instead, got a sandwich and sat by the beach, trying to imagine what it must have been like on June 6, 1944. Carnage. Lots of carnage.
Six more miles to Bayeux. Decided to stay at the Family Home/Auberge de Jeunese that my Let’s Go France recommended: “Homey 1- to 7-person rooms in a labyrinthine layout surrounding a courtyard with a giant chessboard.”
This is my first night in a youth hostel. They’re so much cheaper than hotels, so I’ll keep an eye out for them from now on.
BTW: I have come to rely on my Let’s Go France to help me figure out where to stay and where to eat and which tourist attractions are worth visiting. Having it with me gives me a sense of comfort and reduces my anxiety of the unknown. I know this sounds a little nutty, especially since I’ve had internet access most nights and can – and do – look things up. My Let’s Go France is my bike-traveling Bible (or Torah), and provides me with a sense of faith that everything will be OK on my epic French bike trip. It’s sort of like that episode of Gilligan’s Island, the one where Gilligan makes wings out of feathers and is flying.
He’s actually flying.
Then the damn Skipper has to go and ruin everything by telling Gilligan he can’t fly.
“I can’t?” says Gilligan, who is flying.
“Of course not,” the Skipper says, even though Gilligan is flying.
And with that, Gilligan, who now no longer believes he can fly, thanks to the Skipper and all his negativity, stops flapping his wings, and crashes to the ground. He lands on top of the Skipper, who starts chasing him around, hitting him with his hat.
It’s no Seinfeld, but the message is clear: You gotta have faith in yourself … and your Let’s Go France.
There’s another message: Marc, you watch way too much television.
BTW: Mom and Dad got me my Let’s Go France book, back before our anniversary trip. It the 2011 version, but everything they wrote about back in 2011 still seems to be here, just a little more expensive. I’ll tell them how helpful it is in my next email. Not sure if I’ll tell them about the Gilligan’s Island analogy.
Realized earlier this evening that I haven’t really talked to anyone, other than asking if they had a hotel room for the night, or if I could have a bier, pastis or deux chocolate croissants, since I’ve been in France. Other than that annoying woman in the Moet & Chandon cave who kept asking about my wife. And the bike mechanic who didn’t speak English.
Until today that is. And, despite the hermit-like tendencies I’ve developed the past year, it was great to hang out with and talk to people.
The Family Home/Auberge de Jeunese is a step or two above – and a little more expensive – than a typical youth hostel. This means there are more than just backpacking American and European college students staying here. There are actual adults. And actual families.
They put me in a little room on the top floor with this guy Dwayne, a backpacking American college student from Washington State University. Dwayne’s a little strange. He has big, scary eyes and never seems to blink. He’s nervous about something and did a lot of pacing and mumbling to himself. Dwayne didn’t say what’s bothering him, and I wasn’t about to ask. Think he’s harmless, just a little on the intense side. OK, a lot on the intense side. Like super intense. Should I be worried? Maybe I’ll ask if he wants a Lexapro.
He asked me where I went to college, which was kind of flattering. But come on Dwayne (or maybe it’s Duane), I’m 34. Sure, I look young for my age, at least that’s what people used to say before the incident. But college? Seriously?
Told Dwayne I graduated a few years ago and was a freelance writer. “What are you writing?” he asked.
“About biking through Normandy and Brittany.”
Dwayne sure asked a lot of questions.
“Travel and Leisure magazine.”
Total lie. But there was no way I was about to tell Dwayne: Well, my wife was murdered and I almost died, got laid off from my job as a newspaper reporter and decided to bike around France to try and figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. And you?
It’s not so much that I wanted to lie. It’s just that when you’re in a youth hostel, everyone expects you to tell them your “story” and the whole freelancing, Travel & Leisure thing was a lot easier – and less painful – than the truth. It just sort of spilled out. And who knows, maybe I will write a freelance article for Travel & Leisure about biking through Normandy and Brittany. I’ve never actually read Travel & Leisure, but it’s the only travel magazine I could think of. Does Travel & Leisure even do articles about bike trips? Or is biking not considered leisurely enough for them? Maybe I should have said I was doing the article for Bicycling magazine. Or the New York Times. Then again, does it really matter? It’s all a big, fat lie. And, come to think of it, technically, I am now a freelance writer.
“Where’s your wife?” Dwayne asked.
Damn, this wedding band is making things complicated. Should I take it off? No, I can’t.
“She’s back home, I’m meeting her in Paris.”
They serve dinner at the Family Home/Auberge de Jeunese, and about 15 of us gathered in the dining room around a big table.
There was an older American couple from Dayton, Ohio who are here to see the invasion beaches, museums and cemeteries. My guess is they’re in their 60s. The guy’s father served in World War II. He wasn’t part of the Normandy invasion, but landed in France a week after D-Day. And survived the war. The guy, Freddie, is a civilian employee at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton and knows an awful lot about the history of WWII. And was more than happy to go on and on and on about what he knew. He talked really fast and quite loudly. Too much Freddie is bad for my brain.
Mary, who is maybe 30, and a sculptress from Los Angeles. She has long auburn hair and a lot of freckles. She said she was here in Bayeux to see the famous tapestry.
“What famous tapestry?” I asked.
Mary looked at me like I was an idiot … and then explained there’s a museum in Bayeux that has this 900-year-old tapestry. It tells the story of the famous battle in which William the Conqueror and his army came over from England and defeated King Harold and his army to seize control of Normandy. Harold died in the battle when he got shot with an arrow. In his eye.
May have to see this famous tapestry, which, from Mary’s brief description, sounds like it could be the world’s first superhero comic book.
Mary had this strange – and sort of endearing – way of speaking. She elongates the last word of every sentence, as in: “Marc, you’re not very smart, are youuuuuuuuuuu.” She didn’t actually say this, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking ittttttttt.
Freddie also knew the story of the tapestry and William the Conqueror – they’d seen it earlier today – and he went on and on about it.
Mat, from Quebec, who is about 25 to 27, and had one of those hipster beards going. It was big and bushy and looked very itchy. He’s also traveling by bike, but is headed east while I’m heading west. He’s a grad student in something or other. He told me but I forget. Geography? Geometry? I’m pretty sure it’s something that starts with a G. Greek? Grammer? We filled each other in on the routes to ride and where to stay. He highly recommended St. Malo and said the youth hostel in Dinan is really nice.
BTW: All Canadians put a Canadian flag patch on their knapsacks. Partly because they’re proud to be Canadian, but also because they want to make sure people from other countries don’t mistake them for an American.
A Taiwanese family of four who live in Denver, but are spending the summer in Paris. The father is some sort of visiting professor of Asian studies. The kids – about 10 and 12 – seemed bored and spent the evening playing their video games.
Three business major guys, from Michigan State, who had spent the day at Pointe du Hoc and the American cemetery and kept saying how “awesome” everything was, like it was some kind of amusement park with roller coasters. They did a Bus Verts tour from the bus station in Bayeux that hit all the D-Day highlights.
“Dude, we should have rented bikes like these dudes,” one of the Michigan State dudes said, pointing toward Mat and me.
Two girls from Penn State who had started out in Paris and were headed to London.
The Michigan State guys and Dwayne, Mary and Mat and the Penn State girls all went off to a café after dinner. They asked me to come with them, but had to pass. Was tempting, but dinner was enough. All the conversation, coming at me from so many directions, was exhausting and my head was starting to hurt. Needed some quiet time.
The Michigan State guys were totally interested in the Penn State girls, although it was hard to tell if the Penn State girls were into the Michigan State guys. Think one of the Penn State girls was into Mat, but Mat seemed more interested in Mary. Trust me on this; I’m an astute observer of my fellow humans. It comes from all my years as a reporter.
“Where’s your wife?” Mary asked, before they headed off to the café. She too noticed my wedding band.
I told her – and everyone else at the table – the same lie I told Dwayne (since he was sitting at the table): She’s meeting me in Paris in a few days. Also told everyone I used to work for a newspaper near Philadelphia, the Examiner (just in case they Googled me) and that I’m now a freelance writer. Travel & Leisure. Biking in Normandy and Brittany article. Maybe an eBook. They seemed to buy it. Why not? Sounds plausible. Some of it’s true.