The motorized cans of corn came down the broad avenue in Portsmouth, England, where preparations for D Day took place 50 years ago. The cans of corn were followed by 10-foot-tall motorized boxes of Kellogg's cornflakes and bran flakes and Special K. The cereals were followed by motorized candy bars and by motorized papier-m�ch� computers and by Coca-Cola trucks each the size of a small house and by gendarmes in their snappy uniforms and...gendarmes? Yes, gendarmes. The gendarmes were followed by the bicycle riders.
"Did you see that, Jim?" Tony asked Jim.
"A moving can of corn, it was," Jim told Tony.
Barriers had been placed along the esplanade, past Lord Nelson's HMS Victory and past the Royal Naval Museum all the way to the D-Day Museum, and stands had been erected beyond some of the barriers. An announcer screamed words in French through a sound system. The words were full of excitement, presumably about the bicycle race, but perhaps about the corn. A Royal Air Force stunt team, the Red Arrows, drowned out the commentary for a moment—seven jet fighters in formation, leaving clouds of red, white and blue exhaust that stretched across the sky to create a half-mile-long French flag.
"I went to France about a month ago," Tony told Jim. "Remember that? I had some cheese in a restaurant. Very good. Very expensive. I said to the waitress, 'This cheese is from sheep milk, isn't it?' She said, 'No, no, very expensive.' She thought I was saying that the milk was cheap."
"It's a problem, Tony," Jim told Tony. "The language and all."
The time was three o'clock in the afternoon. The two retired men—Tony Voaden, in his proper tweed sport coat and more than proper regimental mustache, and red-faced Jim Herbert, 30 years in the Royal Marines—were together as part of a park-bench routine. Every day at this time they meet, sit together, face the sea and talk about the weather, life, the world. Today they could not even see the sea. They could not even sit on their normal bench, which had been blocked off by the barriers. The Tour de France had come to England.
"Quite a bit of business," Tony told Jim.
"Quite," Tony agreed.
Nothing ever had happened here quite like this. Not even on D Day.