8 a.m. to 12 p.m. That’s all we had and that’s all they were going to give us. Four puny hours to a. go on a bicycle ride around the Danish island of Bornholm and b. find a record store which carried Songs in A&E. With the best set of circumstances, even with the stars aligned and the winds to our backs, it was nothing short of a one-in-a-million shot. Kind of like finding a public restroom in Copenhagen; you know there has to be one, but damn if everything doesn’t seem like it is conspiring against you finding one.
Weather-wise, the morning was perfect. Crisp and invigorating sea air and the same cobalt blue which I had come to associate with Danish skies. The bike tour was only supposed to be three hours which, by my calculations, would leave me an hour to run into the capital city of Rønne to try to find a record store. Luckily, the bike shop was located within a stone’s throw of the town, so it was simply a matter of me ingratiating myself with the guide well enough to ask him where a record store might be.
This part was going to be tricky. You know when you were a kid and your parents told you to never talk to strangers because little Susie McInstein down the street got kidnapped by Arab slave traders and they forced her into slavery where she was sold to a brothel where she had to entertain dwarf circus carnies and other nightmares directly from a Nick Cave song? And after she got a bit long in the tooth, they chopped her up and made her into stew?
What? Your parents never told you that?
Well, mine did and I blame them that this is the reason why, to this day, I get sweaty when I have to talk to strangers. Parenthetically, I also get queasy whenever I eat stew or see a dwarf. Once, in Chicago, while exiting a bookstore, my so-called friend, Victor tapped my shoulder and told me to look around. There, at waist level, was a dwarf. I’m sure he was probably a swell guy, but little people really freak me out, so I jumped and shouted “ahhhh!” It wasn’t one of my better moments and I can only defend myself by saying that I was taken totally by surprise and was also nursing the worst hangover I’ve ever had.
Author’s note:[It is a bad idea to drink Ten High Lifes, before moving on to untold quantities of Woodford Reserve. It is also a tremendously bad idea to eat a plate of bacon and hash browns before taking a cab with no shocks back to your hotel. Just trust me on that one.]
My parents are also probably somewhat responsible for my chronic insomnia too. As a child, I had a problem with wetting the bed, so, the good parents they are, they sought a solution. In those days, any problem could be quickly and cheaply solved with a short drive to Sears. I don’t think I was there when they bought it and, certainly, being as young as I was, I wouldn’t have had the cognitive acumen to figure out what they had planned. So I imagine that the “Thumb Sucking, Paste Eating, Bed Wetting” section of the Eastgate Sears was where they found that psyche tormentor: the mattress pad bed wetting alarm.
Basically, it was a piece of foil that had electrical sensors in it that would be activated when contact with liquid, in this case urine, was made. When contact was made, an alarm would sound which would, theoretically, wake the bed-wetter and prevent any soggy damage being done. This was all well and good if not for the monster who lived in the closet, located across from my bed.
In my childlike mind, I had long reasoned that if I lay very still and very quiet, the monster wouldn’t know I was there and, consequently, would not eat me. I was so convinced that the slightest noise, the tiniest movement would alert the monster to my presence, so I’d not wake in the night to use the toilet and that is the reason why I would wake up to a damp mattress. So, you can see why having an alarm ringing in the middle of the night would be a problem.
I’d lay in the bottom bunk on top of this shiny, silver pad, staring at the closet door, my vision penetrating the darkness scanning for the slightest outward movement of the door. This vigilance would often continue through the wee hours of the morning before exhaustion would set in and I’d fall asleep around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. with school starting three hours later. Fortunately, I could fall asleep in class which is the reason why I received poor grades and was once referred to by a certain 5th grade teacher as “that sleepy kid who is probably a retard.” Author’s note:[sadly, this is true.] Granted, my monster in the closet terror induced sleep deprivation wasn’t the only reason why my academic performance was subpar. If I was the kind of person to use my mild dyslexia, learning disabilities and disinterest as a crutch, I would. But, I’m not. Even though I totally could. But, I won’t.
That said, I’ll bet dyslexics are terrific with palindromes and are huge Abba fans.
None of that changed the fact that I am lousy talking with strangers and I needed to overcome this fear to garner the required information. At the bike shop, we were given helmets, bicycles with cool, little bells and a release form before we headed out to see the best Bornholm had to offer. As we toured a neighborhood that was destroyed by Soviet bombs during the Second World War and later rebuilt with colorfully painted homes generously donated by the Swedish, I was mentally running lines:
Excuse me, are there any record stores nearby?
Excuse me, do you know if there are any record stores nearby?
Excuse me, is there a record store nearby?
Each time I landed on an appropriate phrase, I talked myself out of it, figuring that our guide, a charismatic Danish fellow with impeccable English and a razor sharp wit wouldn’t understand me and direct me to a facility which stores medical information or, maybe, the Guinness World Records Museum. I bided my time as we rode on a train track converted into a paved bike path. The surroundings did make me a bit homesick as Bornholm looks quite a bit like Southwest Ohio; if, that is, Southwest Ohio was surrounded by a massive body of water rather than a fetid Ohio River.
After a time, we left the security of the bike trail and on to the main road, a proposition I was a bit nervous about. During the Summer months, I spend a lot of time on my bicycle, frequently riding to and from my work. However, those rides on public roads are somewhat nerve-wracking for me as there is a very contentious relationship between motorists and cyclists. On one hand, the cyclists expect to be given a reasonable amount of space between a car and the curb and to be treated, as the law states, as any other vehicle on a street. The motorists, on the other hand, expect that cyclists to be easy targets to throw their soda cans, spit upon, swerve in front of, run into the curb, or drive within inches of their rear wheel honking the entire time. They do this, apparently, because we have the unmitigated gall to force them to pass us with a bit of caution and courtesy and because they are sociopathic assholes who deserve to be beaten to death with rusty ball-peen hammers.
Sorry about that, but after you’ve been caused to crash or nearly crashed numerous times causing damage to you and your bike and your favorite uncle was killed by a gutless hit and run driver and left to die alone in a ditch on a lonely Pennsylvania country road, you tend to lose your sense of humor about such things.
But, biking in Bornholm was a completely different matter. Cars and trucks moved out of your way and yielded to bicycles. I had seen such behavior in Copenhagen and on a previous trip to Amsterdam, but I cynically thought that it was just those cities’ attempt to impress me. Here I was, riding on a road, enjoying myself, not worrying that the next car was going to try to make a statistic of me.
We rode until we reached the Østerlârs Round Church. Our guide, whose name I don’t remember, so I’ll just call him what I assume to be a typical Danish name, Petr, gathered us in a circle and divided us into two distinct groups: dudes and dames. He explained that in a neighboring building would be something the ladies would enjoy and in another, would be something for us fellas. The mind raced thinking up the possibilities; what could it be? I figured that the ladies place would have cookbooks or washing machines since that is pretty much what they like, right? Secretly, I was hoping that Petr’s idea of manly pursuits involved a combination shooting range and indie record store.
I was a bit disappointed when he swung the door of a garage open to reveal a rusty, broken down 1940’s something Ford convertible. Back in its day, I am sure the thing was breathtaking, but time, salty air and neglect had turned it into something best relegated for the scrap yard. Disappointed that I didn’t find the CD or get to shoot a firearm, I left the musty garage and tracked Michelle down. I found her in a lace shop. A gaudy, tremendously expensive lace shop. I told her what I had seen and she couldn’t hide the disappointment in not getting to see the rusted out hulk of a car. That’s the kind of woman Michelle is and that’s why she is top shelf.
We left the building and strolled around the round church, marveling at the ancient artwork that adorned its walls. The building was in the process of being renovated and artists were restoring the art after Calvinists decided art = the debbil and covered it up in whitewash. After a bit, we jumped on the bikes and headed off to the next stop, passing Nordic runes carved in stone.
Wait, are the stones runes and the writing something else? I never played Dungeons and Dragons so I’ve never been able to figure that one out.
I lied, I played it once with Mike, but it took too long. During lengthy games of these sorts, I develop a suicidal streak and decide to waste my character so I could go and do something else. This is why I don’t play Dungeon and Dragons, Axis and Allies or can barely make it through a game of Monopoly. It is also the only reason why I am not a surgeon: “Dr. Baxter, this heart transplant is simply taking too long and the Reds are playing in an hour. Pull the plug and let’s go get a couple of beers.”
I also don’t play Dungeon and Dragons because I have been able to maintain reasonably healthy relationships and moved out of my parent’s basement quite a while ago.
Our cycling eventually took us to a herring smokehouse. If you’ve never had the opportunity to eat herring, I can’t recommend it enough provided you enjoy eating a dried out collection of thin, razor sharp bones which perforate your gums and lodge in your throat and which taste of damp cigarettes. And with some rock salt coating it? Yum, that, friends, is fine dining . Thankfully, the Danish are fairly adept at brewing beer, so a couple of glasses of Tuborg masked the taste and soothed my devastated mouth. Pushing the plate of partially eaten fish away, I looked out to the Baltic Seas and watched the big fluffy clouds floating lazily while stray cats rubbed against my calves.
At this point in our trip, Petr was becoming increasingly edgy about getting us back to the ship on time. We had an older woman with us who, while quite fit and spry for her age, wasn’t a threat to win, let alone qualify, for the Tour de France (Biking Around France for a Couple of Weeks). About an hour into the trip, our guide spent a lot of his energy trying to convince this poor woman that she should just hire a cab on her own dime and return to the dock even though she was keeping a pretty good pace and having a good time. Finally, at that smokehouse, it was decided that Petr would ride on ahead with some of the faster cyclists, while the slow ones would be left to fend for themselves. Apparently, this is Danish hospitality at its finest. Michelle and I decided to stay with the slower group, which, at that point, was the poor woman and two others who were worried about leaving her behind. “Go to the crossroads about two miles up and turn left. That gets you back to the dock” were Petr’s parting words to us.
That was his way of saying “Good-bye,” I guess.
Here we were, a motley gang straddling our Danish bicycles, having little to no idea where we were and how far we had left to go. Checking my watch, I saw that we had an hour and a half, so I told the group that I’d ride ahead and try to figure out a path to take. The first problem came when I discovered a crossroad about 300 yards from where we started. On a hunch, I took the wider of the two and directed the rest of the tour on through. We rode through primeval forests and past pastures, all the while looking at my watch torn between the resignation of never finding a record store and the stomach wrenching fear that the ship would leave without us. It should go without saying which thought was dominant.
A few wrong turns aside and a harrowing quarter mile ride on a stretch of road where the motorists were apparently attempting to break land speed records, we did make it back to the bike shop. Sweaty, exhausted and a bit perturbed from the inconvenience and lack of Songs in A&E acquisitions, I was looking a bit forward to giving Petr a piece of my mind. Luckily for him, he had the good sense to have taken another tour group out which, no doubt, he’d later abandoned and left to die in the forest. It was too bad too, because, after consulting the Rick Steves’ book, I taught myself how to say ” Hvor er de toilet dem besidder en Sæbesprøjte sæk i deres tåbelig, deres Skrigende røget fisk.” (Where is the you are a toilet, you screaming smoked fish).
I tried, but being tired, cranky and a complete dolt when it comes to foreign languages, my hope for tongue lashing was probably best left not said. We walked to the dock and were the last people to board. Moments later, the ship set sail and Bornholm became a mostly good, slightly fishy tasting memory. Tomorrow would be the second to last day and my only remaining chance for Spiritualized salvation and optimism was at an all time low.