As we waited to board I looked at the 300-lb. hippo sucking on a 32-oz. Coke and stuffing the extra large fries and Big Mac down his throat and I knew that on this full flight to Philly I would be seated next to him. How did I know? This was my fate. He would require three seatbelt extenders and would piss into his barf bag. He would sweat on me and fart in my general direction. My only consolations were that I was on an airplane rather than a Conestoga wagon and that I wouldn’t be murdered by Indians.
They were small consolations.
Mrs. WM and I got separated as we boarded. It was Southwest’s free-for-all. She got a choice seat, somehow. I waded to the back, the last of the C-boarders, knowing that the only slot remaining would be next to the Human Big Mac.
Towards the tail I saw the last open seat. I hung my head in defeat, knowing what awaited, when what to my eyes should appear but a vacant middle seat next to a smoking hot, 20-something woman. I eased in. To the seat.
The plane took off. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She had already glanced at me, and accurately sized me up: Old. Bearded. Skinny. Wrinkly. Likely to embark on a tale about “When I was a young man.” She pointedly looked out the window.
Once we were at cruising altitude and the captain had told us to take off our pants I removed the Southwest in-flight magazine. I flipped through it. It was stupid and filled with restaurants I’d never visit and casinos I was too broke to become even more broke at. Then I saw him. The man. The myth. The 35+ Masters studmuffins.
I saw Charon Smith.
There he was in a full-color ad, staring out at me from the page of a magazine that had more readers in a month than the New York Times. I don’t remember what he was hawking, some recovery juice or another, but there he was, massive arms flexed, Surf City team kit perfectly reproduced in a full-color ad, handsome face hidden behind the (lame) Oakley shades, and legs cut up better than a slice of tuna at a sushi shop.
I nudged Miss Hotness next to me. “See this guy?” I said, pointing at the ad.
“I know that dude.”
She perked up, taking in Charon’s studly arms and studly legs. “Really? How?”
It all happened so quickly! Here’s what I wanted to say:
Charon isn’t the team captain, he’s the general of the peloton. He has class, he’s humble in victory and congratulatory in defeat, he races clean, he trains hard, and every year he gets better and better and better. He’s admired by many, respected by all, and mentors new riders whether they’re on his team or not. He gives you a push when you’re gassed even if you’re on the other team, and he beats you fair and square. If everyone in the world were like Charon, the world would be a better place.
But instead, I said “I’m his coach.”
Now Miss Hotnesss was really interested. “Really? You’re a cycling coach?”
“Yeah. This guy is Charon Smith. He’s one of the top pros in Europe. It’s like being an F-1 driver, only cooler.”
Miss Hotness was really interested as she checked out Charon’s hunky arms and legs. “Wow. And you’re his coach?”
“Oh, sure. I discovered him when he was a teenager. He was a skinny little punk trying to gain weight in a gym. I used to be a bodybuilder.”
She looked at my narrow arms and narrower neck. “Really? You don’t look like one.”
“I lost all that weight. But I met Charon and taught him how to lift, how to put on muscle, and most importantly how to race his bike. He’s the fastest sprinter in Europe and the US. Hits 60 miles per hour. On his bike.”
Miss Hotpants was really ogling the photo. “That’s incredible.”
“Yep,” I said. “Taught him everything he knows.”
“I like to ride my bicycle,” she said shyly.
“Really? You live in Philly?”
“No, I live in LA. I’m just going to Philly to visit my parents.”
“Well, as a professional cycling coach I’d be glad to help you get to the next level. I’m not bragging, but Charon is going to be riding the Tour de France this year thanks to my coaching, and I’d be happy to, you know, show you a few tricks.”
“That would be awesome!” She was looking at me with a mixture of admiration and respect and trembling fear.
“Oh, it’s no big deal.”
“What’s your name?” she asked, almost timidly.
“David,” I said. “David Perez.”
“How can I get hold of you?”
“Friend me on Facebook. I’m the only David Perez in San Pedro.”
“Okay,” she said, glowing. “I will.”