Saturday, September 15, 2007
If my lifespan was converted into seconds, the total is in the ballpark of 1,235,088,000. Of the approximate 1.2 billion seconds I’ve been alive, a mere 20 have been spent one-on-one with Lance Armstrong—May 4, 1996 in a Greensboro, NC hotel lobby—and that’s all the time it takes sometimes for primal, survival instincts to kick in to the point where one wonders if a punch to the face is imminent. A punch to my face. But let’s back track a minute to set the stage for this fleeting encounter with a future 7x Tour de France champion.
Stage 4 of the 1996 Tour DuPont was a sweltering affair…110 searing miles of shade-free tarmac between Raleigh, NC and Greensboro, NC made even more uncomfortable by nearly 110 miles of headwinds, to boot. Everyone in the peloton was surely looking forward to their air-conditioned rooms at the race hotel situated about 50 meters past the finish line. Well…maybe not the Euro pros, who seem to have a superstitious aversion to AC. Tony Rominger and company probably donned both leg warmers and long-sleeved jerseys immediately post-race and cranked the heat in their rooms to fully recreate the stifling oppression of crappy French hotels in summertime (but I digress…). Lance Armstrong, due to extended post-stage podium commitments, media commitments and a trip to drug-testing controls, was the last rider (by a longshot) to walk into the Four Seasons lobby. He made a steadfast beeline to the elevators, undoubtedly dreaming about cracking open a few Shiner Bocks in an Artic-cooled luxury suite, and ran smack into a stalker parked in front of the elevator bank with a Sharpie in hand asking to autograph a 2-page, Graham Watson book spread.
That stalker would be me.
And this is a closed-caption translation of the expression on Lance’s face since not a word was spoken in our entire 20 second encounter: “Fuck…fuck…fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckityfuckfuck…I—just—want—to—lie—down …upstairs…with cold beer…and you’re in my way”. In a fervor of activity Lance tossed his bike up against the wall, started signing away, and then simultaneously 1. his bike started to tip over in slow motion and 2. the elevator door next to us opened. The casualty in this equation was me. Or more accurately, my Graham Watson book. By the time I could pick the book and pen up off the floor (both dropped by Lance in a heartbeat in lieu of saving his bike from hitting the deck) Lance was already safely ensconced in an elevator several floors above me and rising. Here is what he left me with:
It kind of looks like he managed “Lance A” before he had to pitch my book.
If many hundred of years in the future somebody finds it and tries to read Lance’s cryptic scrawl, it will probably be analogous to this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
KNIGHT: There! Look!
LAUNCELOT: What does it say?
GALAHAD: What language is that?
ARTHUR: Brother Maynard, you’re our scholar!
MAYNARD: It’s Aramaic!
GALAHAD: Of course! Joseph of Aramathea!
KNIGHT: What does it say?
MAYNARD: It reads, ‘Here may be found the last words of Joseph of
Aramathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail
in the Castle of uuggggggh’.
MAYNARD: ‘… the Castle of uuggggggh’.
BEDEMIR: What is that?
MAYNARD: He must have died while carving it.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, come on!
MAYNARD: Well, that’s what it says.
ARTHUR: Look, if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘aaggggh’.
He’d just say it!
MAYNARD: Well, that’s what’s carved in the rock!
GALAHAD: Perhaps he was dictating.
ARTHUR: Oh, shut up. Well, does it say anything else?
MAYNARD: No. Just, ‘uuggggggh’.
Or is this case…Lance Aaaauuugggh.