Marolt: The road less traveled might not actually be a road
September 3, 2013
I have been easily confused as long as I can remember, but when I was younger I didn't realize it.
About 15 years ago we were in France. If I was cognizant of exactly where in France we were, I wouldn't have this story to tell. I remember that I got on a plane in Chicago, and about 10 hours later I was driving a Mercedes-Benz that seemed a lot more like a Toyota Corolla past the ancient remains of a Roman aqueduct next to the bullet train's tracks at around 100 kilometers per hour, which felt really fast, and yet cars were zooming past me like I was in a Range Rover with Florida plates on Independence Pass.
It was too much for me. My body ached with jet lag, and I was jittery from thick Euro java, but nobody else would take the wheel. I pulled off the superhighway and stared at a map. It might as well have been a Picasso for all I could understand of it. It looked nice. After a while, my interpretation was that there was a quiet country road nearby that would get us to where our hotel reservation dictated, albeit a little later than expected. It seemed a worthwhile trade-off.
We drove around for a bit before I found it. I knew I was in the right place because I saw a river just like the map said there would be. It was just what I needed. Even if it was a little narrow and without shoulders or a centerline, there was no traffic on it. Even the Europeans didn't have the patience for this. It was going to be a slow trip, but it suited me fine.
I guess we had crept along for about a half hour before we found a nice place next to the river with a small beach that looked perfect for lunch. We had the foresight to pick up a bottle of wine, some cheese and a loaf of bread at a gas station before we veered onto the unbeaten path. I pulled the car right up close to the water, and we sat on our jackets in the grass and drank directly from the bottle because we had forgotten cups.
If I spoke any French at all, I would have told the couple of cyclists having their own picnic next to us to take a picture, as it would last longer than their stares. There was no good reason for their rude scowls. Yes, we are Americans, and we are observing our exaggerated Western sense of personal space and not intruding on your fun in any way, so buzz off. I shrugged my shoulders in universal body language that indicated that it was a free country after all, right?
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We continued on our peaceful journey and encountered many more bicycle riders, and I knew why motorists avoided this route. French cyclists rule the back roads. When it comes to sharing the right of way, they are ruder than our own Boulder variety. They won't go single file to let you pass. They give you dirty looks. They're unnaturally adroit at rude hand gestures. Thirty kilometers of this agonizing putzing along behind black Lycra-clad French butts, and I was beside myself anxious to get back on the highway.
We got to the next town where we could finally get off this scenic route. Ha! Imagine my surprise when the road ended with a steel post in the middle of it at a manicured park. It turned out that our "road" was actually a bike path! I veered off into the grass and drove through the landscaping and over the curb onto a legitimate street, hoping that any Inspector Clouseaus who might be watching got the clue that we were clueless American tourists.
This came back to me the other day as I drove up Owl Creek Road past the red barn and spotted a group of five tourists huddled beneath the shade of the trees, smiling and enjoying themselves. I knew they were tourists by the five motor scooters that were parked next to them on the bike path.
I admit that my first instinct was anger. I wanted to show these fools who was local. It passed quickly, though. They weren't hurting anybody and potentially only bothering those who might decide to let themselves be bothered. I smiled to myself and hoped that they would figure out their gaff eventually. Then they would go home with a good story to tell.
Roger Marolt looks forward to his next great moment of cluelessness. Life is too long to always know what you're doing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.