If you're an avid follower of this blog (I mean, who isn't?), you probably know that I was recently held against my will in London by a horrible Icelandic barbarian. No, I'm not referring to musical demi-star Bjork...but rather Eyjafjallajokull, the evil Icelandic volcano. During my lengthy and unexpected stay in London, I managed to have some fun, ride a good bit and meet some great people. I also managed to acquire a fantastically pretentious fake British accent that will put Madonna and Gwenyth Paltrow's fake accents to shame. Additionally, my entire vocabulary has changed as a result of my prolonged stay. That's right folks...I now take lifts to people's flats, so I can take off my knickers and go to the loo (not to be confused with the Louvre, the fictitious museum that appears in the literary masterpiece The DaVinci Code). Why do I desperately need to go to the loo? Because I ate too many crumpets (not to be confused with trumpets, the instruments widely used in the cringe-inducing work of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones). So if you talk to me in the next few weeks, please excuse my inability to understand you when you tell me about your new apartment. Rest assured that I will soon tell all of you a good bit more regarding my stay in England...but in the meantime there's something else I must tell you about. See the name of this post? That's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about what we shall henceforth simply refer to as "The Jonathan Vaughters Incident". If you are a Bike Snob fan, you are also allowed to refer to it as "TJVI" if you wish, and if it will make you feel more at ease while visiting this humble little corner of the interweb.
"Please have your passports ready"
Having been finally released from the shackles of the evil volcano overlord, my wife and I boarded a USA-bound airplane this past weekend. Upon arriving to New York City's famed JFK airport, we made our way down into the dry-heave inducing passport control/immigration area, which lies somewhere in the piss-stained basement of that airport. As usual, the crowd going into the hellish passport control area was sizable, due to the arrival of a second large airplane from Brussels (according to what the largely unreadable and broken LED panels told me). As a legal permanent resident (but not citizen) of these United States Of America, I was kindly allowed by the security staff to join my wife in the lengthy line (queue, as we say back in England) intended for US citizens. The line was marked off by cheap velvet rope-type devices. We all made our way slowly though the winding line, often seeing the same people on the next parallel line over and over again. This sensation gave me flashbacks of standing in line at Six Flags waiting to go on a ride, while having to look at all the acne-filled teenagers around me. This time, however, it was not an overweight teenager who I saw coming towards me, but one Jonathan Vaughters. He was wearing a double breasted suit, a fancy dress shirt, and his sideburns were unusually pointy (even for him.) As we walked towards each other, I thought surely we would pass like two ships in the night. No words said, no acknowledgment. Just me in my stinky clothing from an unexpectedly long stay in London, and his pointy sideburns passing by each other. But then it happened. Out of nowhere, as I went by him I uttered the words:
"Good luck this season Jonathan."
They came out as easily and effortlessly as an old lady's uncontrollable fart. Unlike a stinky old-person fart (which usually smell like boiled cabbage), my comment was well received. Vaughters smiled, nodded and said "thank you." His reaction didn't make things any better. Why on earth had I wished him good luck? It's not as though I wish him or his team bad luck...but I was rather amazed by the fact that words of any kind had come out of my mouth. It's as though I had been suddenly overcome with a transient case of Tourret's Syndrome. Why did I have to acknowledge him? It's not as though he's a super-star celebrity. It's not as though I deeply care for him or admire him (as I do Dennis Anderson, driver of Grave Digger). I mean, he was a pro and he's done a great job getting Garmin/Slipstream/Chipotle/Transitions off the ground...but in the grand scheme of things, he's just some dude. A dude with with sweet sideburns, but still just a dude. I was embarrassed for having said anything at all. If I had to say something, why couldn't it have been something smart and insightful like:
"Are you contractually obligated, like much of the cycling press is, to state over and over again that Zabriskie is funny"
"Dude, just between us...you saw crazy amounts of needles and blood centrifuge machines in the US Postal team bus. Am I right or am I right? Is the sharpness and pointy nature of your sideburns an homage to the US Postal needles?"
"Can you show me how to do that trick where you make the one side of your face blow up like a tangerine? I need an excuse for having missed work for like ten days while I was being held hostage by a volcano in London."
But it was not to be. Instead, I had simply wished him good luck, and suddenly felt like a celebrity-stalking idiot for having even acknowledged him. Look, in my lifetime I've been around true celebrities...I'm talking about high level Hollywood heavy-hitters, so I'm not one to even acknowledge the existence of people such as Vaughters. For example, and I'm not saying this to show off: back in Colombia I once had the great honor of working with the guy who dubbed over ALF's voice into Spanish for the TV show. I'm serious. Again, I'm not saying this to show off or anything...but merely to explain to you that I normally wouldn't get all excited around someone who's managed to win a stage at Redlands, or managed to get his face to plump up like a fat lady's swollen foot. You see, I've been around A list stars....but somehow my tiny outburst while waiting in line would indicate otherwise.
After having seen me unexpectedly speak to a complete stranger, my wife rightfully asked who the person was. "He owns a cycling team", is how I put it, in order to keep things simple. My wife responded with, "He's all dressed up, and his sideburns look like he's in Beverly Hills 90210". I agreed, and told her he was kinda' known for his pointy sideburns, and for looking like he was an extra in 90210. I also acknowledged her keen eye, and accurate pop culture reference.
"Sir, please step over here with your bag" (Diverging points of view)
My wife and I successfully made it through passport control, with Vaughters right behind us on the same line. We now had to go through another security screening since we had a connecting flight.
My wife made it through the security screening without any trouble. I wasn't so lucky. While my place of birth (Colombia) is sometimes an issue, it was something else that created a problem this time. Namely, a big rock in my suitcase. As my carry-on luggage made it through the x-ray machine, the woman behind the screen called three of her colleagues over. I was told to step "over here" with my bag. I suspected that my idiotic souvenir from Roubaix might be the issue.
Checking in at Heathrow, I had been asked about it. "Is this a rock? Why does it have a screw going into it?" I had explained that it was the replica of a trophy, a souvenir I had bought. As soon as I said this, the security agent at Heathrow had given me the same pity-filled look that he'd give a grown man who has just soiled his pants while standing in front of him. Still, he had allowed me to continue my travels with the cobblestone in my bag. It was probably my fantastic fake British accent that had made him see that we were just two countrymen having a chat. But now, standing in a US airport, it seemed as though American authorities were not going to be as kind to me as the British ones had been. In their eyes, I was just a wetback with a godamned rock in his bag.
Sure enough, the TSA agent opened my bag and went right for the huge cobblestone. I suddenly became self-conscious. Sure, bringing back a cobblestone is a stupid thing to do. As a blogger whose writings are read by tens of people, I should be above buying such a stupid souvenir. I should be jaded and aloof, and to be honest, I am both of those things most of the time. But riding the Paris-Roubaix route was humbling, as I wrote in this lengthy post. Having been humbled lead to me buying not just one cheap replica of the trophy given to the winner, but two. This is because I purchased one for my brother as his birthday present. How could I not buy him one? His birthday was coming up, and we had done this ride together. How many of you are lucky enough to do such a ride with a sibling? If you are lucky enough to do such a thing, make sure you buy him/her a damn rock at the end of it. It's the least you can do. I mean, nothing says "you're super awesome" like a rock on a cheap wooden pedestal can. By the way, you can hear my brother's account of the ride on his podcast, which also includes some interesting interviews from the trip, like one with the guy whose job it is to put up the arrows to mark the Roubaix course.
Anyway, at the end of the ride, after I took my fake victory lap around the real velodrome, I broke down and bought myself the stupid cobblestone. Why? Perhaps because I was woozy from a long day of ridding, giddy from the fact that I was actually there, and probably hallucinating from extreme exhaustion and hunger. But that had been many days before my arrival to JFK airport. I was now in standing before a TSA agent who was asking me why I had a stupid rock in my bag. It was a perfectly good question to ask. He also wanted to know why this big rock had a screw coming out of it. I explained that it was originally attached to a base, but I had unscrewed it for the trip to ensure that the base wouldn't brake off. "Why would a rock have a base?", the guy asked. It was yet another perfectly good question to ask. You don't think about these sorts of things until you are confronted by a slightly pudgy guy in cheap polyester pants and an oversized polo shirt.
As the TSA agent angrily looked at me while holding the cobble in his hands, I looked over to my left to see my wife sitting a few yards away, waiting for me. As I began to answer the agent, I looked to my right, and saw Vaughters on the other side of the security screening, looking in my direction. Without putting much thought into it, I told the TSA agent that the rock was part of a trophy for a bike race, which takes place on cobbled roads. "And you won the race then?", he asked. "Yes, yes I did", I told him. How else would I explain the fact that I have this weird trophy? Why would I actually pay for a replica of a rock/trophy? I had to tell him I had won, in order for him to believe me.
In essence, I had just told this guy I was Fabian Cancellara, with Jonathan Vaughters being well within earshot. As soon as I said it, I imagined further interrogation in a dark room somewhere in a JFK basement. I imagined TSA agents comparing my face to pictures of Cancellara, and me being forced to stick out my jaw to match his brutal underbite. Luckily, none of this happened. The agent did continue to lecture me though, all in an animated and angry voice. "This could be a weapon you know? Think about it! The thing has a screw coming out of it! How can I not take this away from you right now?" He said. "Look, you won the race, it's your trophy. I see the base for it here in your bag, so I'm letting you keep it, but bringing it in your carry-on luggage was a stupid idea. I'm happy you won the race, but this was just dumb"
It's at this point of the story that two different points of view come into play. Mine and my wife's. Let me explain.
After getting my stern lecture. I was free to go, along with my cheesy souvenir. Mr Pointy Sideburns had seen the whole thing, which struck me as funny. My wife and I made our way to our gate, and I pointed out how funny it was that "the guy who owns the cycling team" had seen me being lectured about the cobble stone, and that I had lied about being the winner of the race...which he had most likely heard. My wife looked at me and said "but the guy with the sideburns wasn't there". I told her he was, but she disagreed. I told her that I was not just saying so because it made for a better story (which it did) but because I had seen him while I was answering questions from the security guy. She disagreed, she thought I was imagining this in order to make the story better. I soon realized that she had not seen Vaughter due to her vantage point. Much like JFK's assassination (which is just super funny, since we at the airport named after him), the Jonathan Vaugthers Incident is a complicated one, and many things have to be taken into account to fully understand the diverging points of view.
"Thanks to my tiny little glasses, I can clearly see a fourth-rate blogger being lectured by a TSA agent. I can also see him lying about being Fabian Cancellara."
Let me explain. My wife was sitting in a corner of the room, from which large x-ray equipment blocked her view of other passengers about to go through security. I, on the other hand, had a much better view of the room while I was being scolded by the angry TSA agent. She disagrees with this argument as well. In order to settle matters, I contacted airport security in order to have them pull the video from the surveillance cameras, which would in turn become like the Zapruder film of this ordeal. I told them that it was for a widely read cycling blog, and that it would help me prove that I was right to my wife...which is way more important than anything else in the world. Sadly, airport staff refused to release the video, and also asked me why on earth anyone would write a blog about cycling. I didn't have an answer to their question, so I silently hung up the phone and started writing this post.
Epilogue - Uncertainty and Vande Velde's punk rock jacket
So where does this whole story leave me? I don't know. It leaves me as a sad little man. It leaves me as a man who actually takes a brief moment in his life and dissects it to the point of making a long-ass post about it. It leaves me as a man who was already self-conscious about having bought a rock as a souvenir (two of them), and is now admitting to having done so on the internet to upwards of twelve people. With all this in mind, I feel unsettled...restless. What is a man to do? I don't know. The only thing I can think of is to share a picture of Christian Vande Velde wearing his sweet punk rock jacket (circa 1991), which was posted on Mr Vaughter's Twitter account. Just looking at it will make us all feel much, much better. Thanks to Cycling Inquisition reader Mr. Thomas for sending me the picture and giving me a timely heads up.
In closing I'd like to say that if for some reason Jonathan Vaughters reads this, perhaps he can help me settle the argument between my wife and me.
You know, now that I think about it, I'd rather not know. My wife is right. It makes for a better story this way.