Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pt.12 Masters of LaMetro, Joyless Jetset, Missing the Train

This is a story of our only trip to France. If you'd like to follow the exciting adventure from the beginning follow this link to PART ONE

Pt.12 - Masters of LaMetro, Joyless Jetset, Missing the Train

Day 4 — Saturday, August 22

Leaving our Beloved Concierge
We woke, I ordered hot water again, snuck the attendant another tip — 5 francs. Today we were leaving Paris. We looked at the over breakfast from the 27th floor. It was humid and hazy today. But, for some reason, I didn’t feel the need to eat anything. That dam fruit juice. It was so good, though. Probably did me good in the long run. By the end of today, we would be on the other side of France, boarding the Rhone river cruise boat.

We finished our packing with the suitcases we had not stored. This time, we had one overnight bag, Joyce’s suitcase, and mine, both with wheels. I put the extra bag on top of my suitcase, and wheeled the stack. We left with an hour to get to the train station. The train station Gare de Lyon is connected to the Gare de Lyon Metro station. We headed out, checked our key cards in at the desk, and wheeled our suitcases out into the street. We headed down the now-familiar route to the Charles Michel metro stop, and went down the stairs. We had a routine for whenever we encountered stairs instead of escalators: Joyce took the carry-on bag, and I grabbed the wheel units by their handles, and carried them up or down the stairs, and then, setting them upright, and re-engaging the push handles, we resumed our way.
Epiphany in La Metro
We bought tickets, told the clerk where we had to go. I asked the ticket clerk to confirm my planned route, because I was not sure, and with the train departure time less than an hour away, we could not afford any mis-steps. The clerk began to write something on a blue pad. Joyce, getting frantic, and thinking that he was selling us more tickets, said that we already had tickets, and we didn’t need any more. He looked at her, but kept on writing. She shook her head, saying, no, we already have tickets — finally heading for the turnstyles, urging me to do the same. Still, I hesitated. This guy was trying to help me. He saw what was going on, and began writing even more furiously on his blue pad. Just as I was about to bound out — the other choice being to figure out where Joyce had headed once she got through the turnstyles by herself.

The clerk handed me a form — a list. This little blue piece of paper turned out to be the most important paper of my whole vacation — the Metro Rosetta Stone. In five languages, there were instructions of which trains to take, with blanks left for the clerk to write in the trains and destinations. As if the clouds suddenly opened up, and the sun shone through — I came to the sudden realization that I had mastered the Metro. All the missing pieces of information fell into place. “De La Station” — from the station — here “Charles Michels” is filled in with a rubber stamp. That’s where we’re starting. Next step — the train. No choice here — there’s only one train at Charles Michels. But which way? There were two set of tracks. The next step on the Rosetta Stone — “Prenez la direction” Voila! The direction! Train directions are named after the last stop on the route. So, now when faced with the yellow 10— Boulogne or the yellow 10 — Austerlitz, I look at the blue page, and “prenez la direction” has the handwritten “Austerlitz”. We boarded, with confidence a yellow 10 train labelled “Austerlitz”. Because Gare Austerlitz is the last stop on the route. So, we’re going to Gare de Lyon— where do we transfer? The next line on the blue paper — “Changez a” — transfer at — he wrote “La Motte Picquet”. We checked the sign over the train door — we were headed in the right direction! At La Motte Picquet, we got out and transferred to “prenez la direction” “Creteil”. So, knowing that this list could be trusted, we did not board the purple “8" train that said “Balarde” because that was the wrong direction. We took “Creteil”, to “Concorde”, and followed the signs to the yellow number One train “Chateau de Vincennes”. I was not believing how well we were doing.

We heard an accordion getting closer in one of the long, endless tunnels leading to the yellow number one. The accordioniste was standing up against a wall, and was playing Strauss waltzes, and La Vie en Rose, his case open for tips. Joyce turned on her tape recorder, and wrapped it up in her throw. To quote the tape, “He wouldn’t even know I’m recording him.” I followed behind, with my suitcase, and stopped briefly to listen. From now on, only good things would happen to us. I threw a tip into his case — a 10-franc piece — Joyce would never know, until she asked me. There’s always music. The music coming at this point in the trip — the first music I had heard in all of Paris — it almost seemed staged. It was the second-best thing that had happened to date, next to the blue rosetta stone, which I kept in my sweaty suitcoat pocket.
How to Miss The Train
I always wore my suitcoat when we were moving camp, because of all the pockets. My billfold in one inside pocket, and, in the other — all the tickets, plane, train, and boat. My sunglasses in the lower pocket, because of the changing climate. It was hot, but it kept me organized.
We continued to the “Chateau de Vincennes” yellow one train at the Concorde station. Our next stop would be “sortez a” Gare de Lyon — exit at Gare de Lyon. Voila! You’re there. Well, voila we were there, all right, but we had about two minutes until the train was scheduled to depart for Lyon.

We went through a hallway which pointed to “the trains” — it was a long way — there were tunnels, conveyor sidewalks, and escalators — we emerged in what looked — and smelled — like a Greyhound station: the Eurail depot. It was past departure time. There were instructions for taking the train printed on the inside cover of the ticket book. “Arrive ½ hour before departure time” Well, I guess we didn’t do that one very well. “Find your train number and departure on the electronic board, to find out which gate your train will be departing from” We saw it briefly on the board — the train had already departed. The next time we looked at the board, the train was not even listed. The board had gone on to other things.

Homeless in Hell

So, I broke the news to Joyce. She always went into a trance-like state of shock when we were traveling the trains— if she just did as she was told, she would eventually arrive, she didn’t want to interfere, or get blamed for wrong choices. We wandered around aimlessly for awhile, deciding we’d have to do something that wasn’t on the schedule to get out of this giant, hot, sweating Greyhound station. There was no information booth in sight. With time at a premium — just maybe this one train was delayed, and we could get on . . . the closest thing I could find was the ticket booth.

A Smelly and Joyless Waste of Humanity
There were three booths, fed by a single line, the one in front of the line going to the next available window. Everyone in the line seemed sullen and humorless. This was going to be a revolting experience. Music, or rather, an insistent electronic drum beat, a slow repetitive cadence at about two beats per second, was coming from a huge olive-green backpack lying on the floor next to an olive-green-clad student-age boy with a scraggly red goatee. I hated him most of all. He was sullen, smelly, and indifferent.

Travellers with backpacks always seem to radiate an aura of indifferent superiority. The jaded attitude of a traveler, who, while he has not seen it all, has, at least seen more than you could ever possibly see, and has gotten no joy from it. Some jet-setter brat rebelling against his family. Someone who has scratched fleas off of his body at a youth hostel. Someone who has contracted a social disease from another jaded jet-setter “just backpacking across Europe”. Instead of being contented and carefree, they are jaded and indifferent. They pursue pleasure with a plodding sullenness, and devour it without any appreciation. What a waste.

Shoulda Learned French Words from the "Missing La Train" Chapter!
If that wasn’t enough to drive me ever deeper into hopeless despair, it was now about 10 minutes past the departure of our train, and one of the window signs, a digital red display over each window, which had read “billets” now read “ferme”. From “tickets” to “closed”. So now the line would move even slower. Finally, after endless announcements from the hollow overhead speaker, that, even if I could understand French I would not have been able to hear clearly. When your train has taken off, you imagine that all the announcements are about the departure of your train.

Now, I was at the front of the line, almost twenty minutes after my train’s departure. I had no idea how to convey my plight to the clerk, who spoke no English at all. I just pushed the ticket under the bulletproof glass of his cage, pointing to the departure time and shrugging my shoulders. He studied the ticket and asked me if I could make the 12:05. It was 11:55. I said I could, and he went to work fixing another ticket to replace the old one, at no charge.

With 10 minutes to go, how can we possibly find the right train, and get on it before departure? Or are we still there 10 years later? We'll find out next time..... HAHA it's a serial!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52


Lydia said...

I KNEW the Rosetta Stone was blue - I KNEW IT!!!

Your description of the backpack aura is spot on.

I love this story.

Leslie Hanna said...

Great story! Looking forward to the next chapter.