I woke up in my hotel room in Cologne. Cologne is one of the most beautiful cities in the world because of its world-famous cathedral, which is known worldwide for its gorgeous beauty, which is known worldwide.
I know about the world famous beauty of the famed and beautiful Cologne cathedral because twenty-five years ago I had biked over from Bonn to watch the Cologne Six-Day. It was rainy and pitch black outside, and smoky and dim indoors. I was there until midnight and an old man chain smoking no-filters prattled endlessly into my ear. Every few minutes he would cough up a big yellow piece of phlegm or lung into his hand, inspect it, wipe it onto his handkerchief, and clap me on the back.
“Cologne,” he said, “is one of the most beautiful cities in the world!”
“Really?” I’d say as I tried to keep track of who was doing what, which in a six-day is kind of like trying to figure out who’s actually running Greece. It seemed like every time they rang a bell Etienne de Wilde would scamper out from the group and be first, but I still wasn’t sure, and after four hours all I really knew was that Cologne was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
I pedaled home in the pitch black, rainy night and never went back but the old man did such good job that whenever I thought about Cologne thereafter, as I was doing this morning, I automatically knew it was the most beautiful city in the world.
Of course I had no intention of exploring the city and confirming it’s beauty. Why shatter an image that had held true my entire adult life? Instead this morning I had two major objectives:
- Buy bicycles so we could do a bicycle trip.
- Avoid MB Jens.
MB Jens had shown up in the South Bay a week ago on vacation. He had lived in the South Bay for five years on assignment and during that time had made many lifelong friendships despite being a world-class skinflint.
For his vacation he had sent out several hundred form emails requesting a place to stay, a bicycle, plenty of food, transportation, and laundry service. All of his dear friends were busy whatever week he planned to be there except two, one with a bike and one with a bed and car and laundry service.
Before he left to return to Germany, he insisted we get together. “I will make the whole day free for you and your son. We can do big hammer ride on the bicycles.”
“We’ll be on department store bikes in jeans and my son isn’t a compote titmice cyclist.’
“That is okay. We will hammer for only eighty miles and make into strong young German man. I have all the week for you open. It is only that I cannot meet with you on the 16th. What day will you be in Koblenz?”
“That is too bad,” he said. “I will try to rearrange my schedule.”
I went down to the breakfast bar at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Troisdorf. I was ravenous. Our flight had gotten in at midnight. The Cologne airport was gleaming and beautiful and modern; it was nothing like the shed crammed with smelly people it had been in 1989. We were whisked down to the rail station.
Woodrow figured out the timetable, cost, denomination, and departure track. I jammed the machine and broke it. “Why don’t we take a taxi?” He asked.
“We’ll save money. Plus, everything is close in Europe.”
“The train doesn’t come until one.”
“That can’t be right. In Europe the trains come every few minutes.”
We went down to the track and the train came at one. It was filled with drunk teenagers. We alit at Troisdorf, a tiny stop. There were no people or taxis.
“Oh, well, we can walk. How far can it be?”
Woodrow mapped it on my phone just before it died. “Three miles.”
We only got lost four or five times and were sound asleep by three-thirty.