Caution: Use of foul language.
Clunk! The tires of the airplane touched down on the tarmac at Palermo in the mid-morning. I was feeling groggy after several flights from the U.S. with longish stopovers. Palermo was my final destination and marked the beginning of my planned bike tour in Sicily. Such tours have become my favored getaways for years. I am an attorney specializing in medical malpractice and lead a very stressful life. This trip was intended to help me relax and certainly not to get involved in the melee that I am about to describe.
On arrival at the airport, our group, numbering a dozen, was corralled together by our guides at a predetermined location. Everyone set about introducing themselves to the others. From the airport, we were bussed to our hotel and assigned rooms where we parked our luggage. We were then told to gather at 7 o'clock that evening in a nearby restaurant for the opening dinner.
Walking to the restaurant, I spied a young woman, part of the group, who was walking by herself and radiating some negative vibes. I approached her and extended my hand in a friendly gesture. “Hi, I’m Leo” I said. She acknowledged me but seemed nervous. She introduced herself as Kelly and said that she was an analyst at a private equity firm in New York City.
I asked her how long she had been riding a bike to break the ice. She replied: “I must confess that I have only ridden a bike a couple of times, literally around the block from my apartment. I am hoping hat I can quickly get into the swing of things.” I tried to reassure her about the challenges of the next day, perhaps with insufficient enthusiasm. I did advise her to stick close to the guides until she learned the ropes on the road.
The next morning, the group reassembled near the front of the hotel where the bikes had been lined up. This was the initial bike fitting and orientation stage. Getting on a strange bike is always challenging. I suddenly heard a commotion next to me and saw Kelly, who I had met the previous night, engaged in a heated discussion with one of our guides.
“This bike is a piece of shit,” she said. “It’s not safe to ride. “I was assured by the company that would provide high-end equipment. I want a different bike and I want it now.” The guide responded: “We have been using bikes like these for years. They function very well and we have had very few complaints about them. We can’t supply a substitute for you on such short notice. If you are not satisfied, you can drop out of the trip and we will give you a refund and chalk this off as a misunderstanding.”
The other members of the group were staring, perhaps too intently, at their own bikes but eavesdropping on the conversation from afar. Most, I suspect, were wishing for the dispute to go away, wanting to start the day’s ride and anxious about any tension. Not an auspicious beginning.
One member of the group, Greg sidled up to Kelly and spoke to her firmly and in a low voice. I was nearby and could overhear their conversation. “I would exercise more control of your language, young lady,” he said to her. “You have upset both myself, others in the group, and the guides by your choice of language. There can be consequences for such talk.”
Kelly was caught off-guard by this interaction and moved away from Greg. He then turned to me and said softly: “This young lady is going to cause problems. Mark my words. She may require some special attention on the road and I think that you may be able to help me. I see you as a kindred spirit.” All of this sounded a bit ominous to me but I made no further comment.
Soon after, we pushed off on our bikes, riding through scenic countryside, punctuated by olive groves, The weather was cooperating beautifully. There was a general sense of harmony and contentment in the group, stimulated by the warm Sicilian air bathing our faces. The roads were well paved and their was little traffic except for a few trucks and farm vehicles. This was exactly what biking was all about — the day’s trip was going very well and I was starting to relax after a rocky start.
By prearrangement, the group stopped at a farm house for a rustic Sicilian lunch with cured meats, pasta, salad, and fruit tarts for desert. A few people in the group, including Greg, were giving side-eyes to Kelly, prompted by her earlier outburst. I could not say that she was riding effortlessly but she was keeping up with the group. Not bad for a beginner.
Kelly was riding in a group of three others near the end of the first day’s ride. They had come to a crossroad and were forced to brake abruptly due to a farm truck moving across their path. Kelly’s balance was disturbed and her bike tipped over. She scraped her right knee on the pavement and the wound started to ooze blood. One of our guides was nearby and quickly applied a gauze pad to her knee.
Kelly seemed to be quite shaken by this minor accident. She rotated her head, staring at her adjacent fellow riders who were watching her with concern and shouted at them: “You assholes, I told you to give me room when I was riding. I am going to sue the shit all of you and the company for proving me with such a lousy bike and not paying enough attention to my safety.” Following this, everyone quickly mounted their bikes and rode back to the hotel, murmuring quietly to each other and consciously ignoring her.
The next morning after breakfast and as we gathered around our bikes for the next day’s ride, Kelly appeared in the restaurant and walked into the middle of the crowd. There was a nervous twitter among the group as she cleared her throat and spoke loudly to all around her. “I am sure that all of you are happy to see that I am in good shape and ready to ride today. No thanks to any of you. I am asking that you keep a five foot distance between your bikes and mine from now on.” Those around her murmured acceptance in unison of this new “rule” from her.
Everything seemed to go well during the second morning’s ride. She appeared to be riding in a bubble with no one venturing near her from any angle. In the early afternoon and shortly after lunch, her front wheel dipped into a pothole in the road that all of the other riders around her had managed to avoid. She then fell off the bike and struck the pavement on her right side.
Then, in what is sometimes called a secondary collision, her head hit the asphalt. After this, she sat up but appeared to be slightly dazed. All of this happened so quickly that it took the riders in the nearby group by surprise. Everyone dismounted from their bikes and surrounded her. There was a low, audible buzz among the group, anticipating the next set of set of events in this ongoing Kelly saga.
The guides ran over to her and helped her into an upright position by the side of the road. She opened her eyes, glanced around and regained some measure of consciousness. “What happened?” she said. The guide told her that she had fallen off here bike and hit her head. She spoke slowly at first but then became more lucid. After about ten minutes, the guides helped her walk around. One of them said: “I think that you have had a mild concussion and you need to get back to the hotel for some rest.”
Unexpectedly, Kelly turned to the entire group standing in a semicircle around her and said: “I understand that I have been a burden during this trip and I beg for your forgiveness. I have been extremely nervous because of my lack of biking inexperience and I have behaved in a poor way. I want to apologize to all of you. I think that I can recover quickly from this latest injury and hope to ride with all of you tomorrow. I will do the best I can. You have all been wonderful friends to me.” Following her little soliloquy, she walked to the minibus and maneuvered herself into the front seat. The driver then took her back to the hotel.
We all turned around and headed back to our bikes, dumbfounded by this new turn of events. Greg, one of my fellow riders. turned to me and said: “Could we have a little discussion in private off to the side of the road.” I nodded my head somewhat somewhat reluctantly and walked with him away from the group. “You may not know this but I am a neurologist. I am going to put on my professional hat for a moment to share some thoughts with you because I see you as a kindred spirit."
“I have only seen this once before, but Kelly seems to have suffered what is called in my field a salubrious concussion. Simply put, it consists of a patent suffering a blow to the head and, after recovery, becoming a much more likable and friendly person than before. I suspect that we will all be beneficiaries of this turn of events regarding Kelly during the rest of the trip.
However, I do need your help on a small matter. Like me, you seem to be action oriented and concerned about group harmony. I have one note of concern here about my ‘diagnosis’ of Kelly’s condition. There are suggestions in the medical literature that sometimes these beneficial personality changes from the concussion do not last and the patient regresses to his or her former personality. This would be unfortunate for both her and the rest of the group. So I would like to draw up a little pact between us two.”
“If tomorrow on the ride, if Kelly reverts to some of her former verbal and personality excesses, I am going to apply some additional therapy. I will overtake her from the rear on the road and slam her rear wheel with my front wheel. This should be sufficient to force her to fall off her bike again. Hopefully, this will cause her to regain her pleasant demeanor.
"Make a big fuss over her when she falls, as before, so that nobody suspects what 'we' have done.” I was, of course, was shocked by Greg’s candid revelation of his plan to me, particularly by my involvement. This could not continue. However, I kept my mouth shut for the time being, looking for some way out of the situation that I had gotten sucked into by my new "friend."
I encountered Kelly in the lobby of the hotel that evening and approached her quietly. “You know, your riding has improved greatly. I do have one major concern, however, about you continuing on this trip. Your biking accidents may cause the formation of thrombi, clots, in your legs. They can break loose from arteries in your legs and travel in the blood stream to your lungs and even brain and cause damage. I have some experience in these matters as a medical malpractice lawyer.
"You may be putting your life on the line by continuing with this trip. I also have some doubts about your access to quality health care here. You need to act quickly.” Kelly replied: “I have been thinking along the same lines. I was looking for an excuse to bail out from the trip and you have now given me one that makes sense and allows me to feel good about myself.”
She then scurried out of the lobby and up to her room to pack. I joined the rest of the group for dinner, purposely sitting next to Greg and waiting for an opportunity to tell him privately that Kelly would soon be on the run back to the U.S. and that his plan for the next day was now unnecessary. “Well, we solved that problem,” he said to me. “Now let’s turn to another matter. I have noticed that some of your riding skills need improvement. We can attend to this during the ride tomorrow.”