Segway with the Bulls

Geoffrey B. Cain

Robert woke up and was not sure where he was. He could hear Susan breathing gently next to him but the surroundings did not tell him where he was. It is not that they were unfamiliar. No, they were too familiar. The same clean lines, muted tones, wood veneers, low and efficient, clean, and economical. The same Danish modern look throughout the Greyline Hotel chain whether you are in Istanbul or Jerusalem, Rome or Paris, London or Copenhagen. And Robert generally liked it that way. He knew how to work the cleverly recessed light panels and fixtures. He knew exactly where his clothes would go and how much room he had in the shower. Despite the fact that he thought the rooms were a little too small, a little too cold, and a little too efficient he at least knew what he was getting. There was a certain comfort in the uniformity and the newness that reminded him of everything that was the best of home. Outside of the hotel, he was sure the streets teemed with the desperate and the poor, taxi cabs belching leaded gasoline, aggressive vendors, angry police, impatient waiters, tour guides, other tourists, stalls of unrefrigerated food, the ancient greasy black walls of unrenovated buildings, and unchecked urban decay left intact through some misguided sense of history. But inside the hotel, he knew his room waited with its tiny, lukewarm shower, and a faint low-pitched hum from a transformer burning out in a low-watt, eco-friendly light bulb that almost gives just enough light. And another faint, barely audible, even lower pitched hum that comes through the vents from the compressor used to drive the thermodynamic refrigeration cycle of the building's HVAC system. Robert used to design such systems before he retired early. Such sounds were music to his ears that lulled him to sleep.

The light that came through the window gave no clue to where he was. He ruled out London. Surely they were in Brussels by now. Susan wanted to tour the great art museums and do some wine tasting on the Mediterranean coast. He thought that all of the really great art in Europe was already acquired by the various American robber barons of the last century. One can see them in the National Gallery, New York, or Chicago. How can any bowl of fruit in France be better than the one's that were acquired by art experts years ago? But Susan was passionate about these trips, and he knew enough not to say this out loud. He accepted that someone like Susan, with her humanities degree and her love of the arts, complemented a man like himself, an engineer with a mathematical mind.

He thought about dinner last night. It was the Dulce Carne de Giocomina. It was what he always ordered abroad. The Greyline Hotels always served it but sometimes with local variations. That is what made it interesting. It generally consisted of breaded and fried chunks of pork in a sweet pepper sauce over pasta, usually rigatoni. In Rome, it was garnished with capers and pecorino romano. In Amsterdam, it was a cream sauce and topped with a poached egg. In Austria or Switzerland (he couldn't remember which) it was topped with melted cheese and some kind of ham. He thought about last night's meal and it drew a blank. There wasn't a cheese course, there wasn't a recommended wine, and it was nearly the same as Rome, Florence, and Austria. “Where are we?” he thought.

"We have to get there really early," said Susan, rolling over. "What time is it?" The red LEDs on the clock radio read 5:30 a.m. "Come on we will be late." It was getting more and more difficult for Robert to get up - he had a sedentary job and never really bothered to exercise until he had retired: he was not in good shape and had bad knees. The travel and all of the walking around took a lot out of him. Susan was in the same boat though, just more enthusiastic.

"Where are we going first?" he asked, hoping to get a clue as to where they were.

"We will grab a coffee and a roll or something in the lobby," she said, "we meet the others in the lobby, we will head down to the rental place to meet the other guide, and we will be just in time for the bulls."

Spain, he thought; we are in Spain. Susan had always wanted to go to Spain. It had been all worked out.

They were in Pamplona for the festival of San Fermin. They were there as part of a package deal: hotel, Bull Run, and premium tickets at the bullfight. They were met by others who were also there for the package deal. They were all dressed in the white T-shirts with the faux red cummerbund painted on them and the tour leader was handing out the traditional red neck scarves.

"I am not sure if I can do this," said Robert. "My knees are no good. I feel like I am just asking for it."

"Don't be ridiculous," she said with a frown, "its all been planned. It will be exhilarating. And besides, we have gone over all of this before. It is perfectly safe. There are 98% less casualties than running the bulls the old way. It will be fun."

Robert thought that there was something strange about how she said that. Somewhere beneath the eons of layers of the yellow dust of the streets of Pamplona was a thin red sacrificial layer of 98% less casualties.

It was going to be a hot day today. He could tell. It was early and yet the sun already felt like it was beating down. He began to sweat.

But she was right, he probably could do this. He had already ridden a Segway on the Champs Elysee in Paris. The local tourist board successfully lobbied the city to pave over some of the cobblestones with asphalt to make way for the innovation. He had ridden Segways in Berlin and through Red Square in Moscow. He knew how to do this. He just wanted to keep up. They were to get on the Segways and travel down a special corridor next to the street that had been especially created for them. But there were just too many people. Masses of young men holding one another and praying. Masses of young virile men chanting. There were masses of young men already drunk. The dust began to rise as the police marched forward and the first rocket was fired down the street. A young child was selling leathery triangles of what might have been horsehide as "bulls’ ears." The corridor would make it safe. He had seen the drawings in the brochure. It had been all worked out.

He stood tall in the Segway. A brass band began to play; randomly at first but slowly they mustered themselves into a rhythmic tune of some sort that apparently required no particular key to be agreed upon. A fight was breaking out down the street and three policemen ran towards the dusty circle of spectators.

Some of the young men had not been around Segways before and seemed nervous. They seemed fitful and easily startled. Suddenly, a small group lurched forward in the stray blast of a coronet and the firing of the rocket. Robert fell forward and the Segway followed the young men down the street. The size of the bulls sent a shock through Robert. The other Segways peeled off into their corridor as the bulls made their way down the street. Their guide’s safely behind them and the gate of the corridor protecting them from harm. Robert was impressed that the young men could run so much faster than him. The locals waved their hats and screamed. He thought that they were very emotional. He turned around to see where the other Segways and Susan were and then he saw them coming: three large bulls, running up the street, their hooves exploding in the dust. He leaned forward to go faster and accidentally knocked down one of the young men. Other young men jumped out of the way of the machine, swearing at the top of their lungs. Some of the young men accidently ran into the corridor and were now running for their lives in front of the Segways. Their pilots did not see the young men but were transfixed by the bulls that ran next to them. A scream shot up through the crowd as Susan recognized Robert on the Segway ahead of the bulls.

It all happened so fast. The wheel of Robert's Segway was clipped by the heel of a bull and sent him careening into the corridor gate and into the waiting arms of an ambulance attendant. One unfortunate young man, who had drunk a considerable amount of wine that morning and the previous night, was hit by a Segway rider and sent to the hospital with a broken leg. Two other runners were gored after Robert's Segway impeded their run across the square.
Robert didn't mind the hospital so much. Once he got over the fear of foreign medicine, he began to appreciate the appointments of a Spanish hospital room. The faucet never really turns off, the light is not quite bright enough, the bed is just a little bit too short, the blankets just a little too thin, and there is not really enough room, but there was something about the place that made him feel at home. It was a small room. The doctors and the nurses always seem to be walking over one another. But fortunately the food is much better. And to his surprise, for dinner, there was Carne Dulce de Giacomina.


About the Author

Geoffrey B. Cain is an artist and educator who lives in Loleta, CA, where he writes novels, short stories, and poetry. His work has appeared in Border Crossing, the Sonoma Mandala, Tom Cat, Deluge 6, Lowestoft Chronicle, and other fine publications.