Which bird is most normal: a robin, a pink flamingo, or a tuxed-out penguin? Oh, it's too hard to trick you, as you know the right answer is "a robin". Unless you happen to be living in the coldest place on earth, in which case you might conclude that, well, the only bird you ever see is a penguin, so that must be what birds look like. Or unless you are a penguin (are you?). Seeing the world in black and white, penguins might look at robins (probably only on Discovery Channel, although I don't think there is a March of the Robins documentary) and think: punks. And Pink Flamingos is a movie by John Waters, and it (the movie, not Waters) has been described as "outrageously sick, disgusting, and grotesque...but also funny". Wait: that does describe Waters. As for the real flamingos, I mean the fake ones, it seems odd that they have become the iconic trailer park decoration, as they look like they would be more comfortable hanging around with RuPaul than Ron Paul, if you know what I mean. But you get my main point, or you should, to the extent that I have one, if you're paying the least bit of attention: normal is what we're used to. Or to what we are used. Which doesn't sound normal, correct as it may (or may not) be.
Now, what does a bike instructor look like? Exactly. Focused. Stern. Hawklike. Commanding respect from the other students, so that even those standing next to him feel compelled to salute.
Just kidding. Despite my cool demeanor, I was crazy nervous about riding in the "First Ever Officially Sanctioned Mid-East Schwinn Indoor Bike Mini-Marathon" (I think that was the event's name and, if not, I'm still going to call it that). What I needed to calm my nerves was a Heinekin. Or, even better, a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I really hope you are tempted to click on at least one of the three links above, and to increase your temptation I'll just mention that they are very very profane, so don't click if you are offended by offensiveness or if you think Dennis Hopper (RIP) was a virtuous guy. Yeah Blue Velvet was one crazy movie.
The two actual instructors (guides? trainers?), for the marathon, Luz and Carmen, were only mildly crazy. Carmen is in Doha by way of Germany and although she worn a dirndl to the event, she did not actually wear it while riding (sissy). Luz comes from one of those countries -- I hear there are many -- where Spanish is spoken, and I hope she tells me which one it is, so I can give her homeland proper credit. Both Luz and Carmen have the ability to ride really fast (on a stationary bike) for a really long time while being really really positive and motivational and all that and really not getting out of breath and really making me think I could do it too.
They were so good, they made me feel like I could fly. Which I did.
They could not, alas, keep my butt from getting chapped. The mini-marathon consisted of a 45 minute "spin" class, led by Luz (perky! motivational! fast! relentless!), a break for bananas and dates, another 45 minute spin, led by Carmen (bubbly! sprightly! ferocious!), another break for more bananas and dates, and then a final long ride (I almost choked when Luz told me...."I have a surprise for you! The last leg will be a two hour ride!" My gonads immediately shrank with trepidation....). For better or worse (in sickness and health) I was loving and cherishing the fact that we ran out of time before I ran out of gas: the last leg was only about an hour. I made it.
Was this an event, or was it a cult meeting? You be the judge. I'm just saying, when Carmen said: "Sie mussen salut!" (German scholars: yeah, I know that's not the correct translation, but I wanted to make it's meaning obvious in English) that's exactly what we did.
We saluted from our knees, too, and we liked it. Except for the two "white shirts" who were quickly culled from the herd.
Kidding. They weren't culled, just "re-educated". After all, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.
Rosie, the rebellious one behind and to the left of (compliant) me, is from Malaysia, leads spin classes, likes champagne (yes, she was quite clear that she was a Muslim and liked the bubbly), and is married to the Dude who is I think the head economic advisor to the Emir. She's the kind of person, if there is such a kind, who will casually mention over lunch (and champagne, hers not mine, as I was having a lemon mint drink) that oh, yeah, her husband just flew in Jeffrey Sachs (an economist twice listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most important people in the world) for a bit of convo on the economic situation in Qatar. She is sitting between me and Carmen (again, in dirndl) at our post-marathon pasta fest.
Ahmed, from Egypt, is on the far right. He also teaches spin classes, which apparently are one of the main commercial activities in Doha. He is not a terrorist, and certainly not dead one.
Marvin, Luz's husband, is on my right. She told him that he wore the wrong shirt to lunch. He/Luz are in Doha as he is one of the project leaders (I'm not sure if he is a muckety-muck, a muckety, or some other rank) for the construction of the new international airport, which is a project of less economic importance than the spin classes.
Marvin and I are doing the "we just met" dance. Where are you from? I ask.
Marvin: South central Virginia.
Mark: Oh, really? Where?
Marvin: Near Roanoke.
Mark: Really? Where? (Apparently, all the biking also shrank my vocabulary.)
After 7 or 8 more of my "20 questions" I learn that Marvin grew up very close to Laura/my vacation home where the Blackwater River flows into Smith Mountain Lake. This is rural Virginia, folks. Flamingos on front lawns, holding Confederate flags.
Yeah, I met my neighbor in Doha. How normal is that?