“So I can meet my new friend!”
“What new friend?”
“A new friend I met in a chat room.”
“What is this friend’s name?”
“That’s nice. And how old is Mr. Tanaka?”
“I dunno. Twenty or fifty or something. But he is a very nice man.”
So we sat down with her and explained that the Internet is filled with axe-murderers and even though Mr. Tanaka probably seemed like a very nice man the chances were good that he was a bloodthirsty killer and therefore not only would she not be meeting him that summer but henceforth she would follow The Rule: Thou shalt never make physical contact with a virtual friend.
On my way to Berlin I received an invitation from a stranger via my blog to meet up and go for a bike ride once we got there. He seemed like a very nice man and I had completely forgotten about Mr. Tanaka, so a few days later I emailed him.
“Hey, Ben, I’m in town and if the offer’s still good let’s go ride. Signed, Seth.”
He immediately emailed back. “Who is this?”
“The blogger dude you invited for a ride, but no worries.”
“Oh, it’s the world-famous Mr. Wankmeister. I was thrown by the name and the law office address in your email. I had no idea you were a lawyer, I thought you were unemployed. Yeah, let’s ride, mate.”
We squared away the details, then this came: “Is it okay if one of my mates joins us?”
“Sure. The more the merrier.”
“He just got here from France where he’s been doing a bit of riding and I told him about you and he checked out your blog and thought he’d have a go. He’s a super nice guy, great rider too, absolutely doesn’t feel pain.”
Suddenly the “merrier” prediction didn’t seem so apt.
“Okay, but you guys might be riding by yourself as I’m on a mountain bike with flat pedals and am very old and slow.”
“No worries,” he replied, to which I replied, silently, “Worries.”
I got lost en route to the meeting place and was mightily disappointed to find they had waited.
As I’d feared, they had the grim look of Internet axe-murderers, and the label on Ben’s cap that said “SUICIDAL” failed to instill confidence. “I’m Ben, this is Tristan, but we just call him ‘Assassin.'”
“Shocking,” I said. I had broken The Rule and was getting ready to pay. Dearly.
They were both from Tasmania, and if you think Australians are friendly, wait until you meet a Tasmanian. By the time we’d finished introductions they had offered to buy me dinner, treat me to some new beers, help me sell my bikes before leaving Berlin, take me to the airport, let me borrow their girlfriends, and give me a place to stay if I’m ever in Tasmania.
Then we started riding and they tore my legs off.
I spent the first hour doing sprint starts at each traffic signal as Ben bolted away. I spent the second hour clinging to Tristan’s wheel on the forested rollers around Wannsee. My age, heavy bike, wide tires, and flat pedals only encouraged them to twist the knife, even as I remarked on my recent AARP membership.
We finally stopped for coffee, then remounted and did it all over again. They were a bit disappointed that they hadn’t been able to dislodge their dad–they were both 23–but they had a solution.
“Let’s ride again Tuesday. I’m a bit tired today from my 250-km workout yesterday,” said Tristan.
On Tuesday I got up at 4:30, ate black bread with butter, had a cup of instant, and crossed the city for our 6:00 start. I got to Ben’s but no one was waiting out front. I checked my phone to see a message from Tristan sent late the night before explaining how he suddenly couldn’t make it.
I was relieved and it crossed my mind that, after our previous ride, perhaps he was, too.
I spent the morning doing a perfectly slow tour of the city’s monuments, uncrowded, beautiful, peaceful, serene.