A French Connection

My train rolled into Paris a bit late. I had 45 minutes left to make my connection, from Paris to the South of France. The catch though, was that I had to get to an entirely different Train Station. When I purchased my ticket in the US (mistake number 1), I was told it was a connecting train and there lies my story: the French notion of just what really does that mean... Hence, a French Connection.

As I ran off the Quai and down to the Metro Station, I was confident that if I ran all the way (ok, so I did have a heavy suitcase but still), I could make it. After all, the metro is extremely reliable and fast. It was a direct line and a 10 minute ride. Of course you have to factor in the stairs on either end but even so, I confess I was banking on escalators, after all this was a connecting train route; thus ran my thoughts as I hurried as best I could down the old gray stairs to the ticket booth.
The moment I saw it, my heart sank: 30 or so people stood in line, motionless, as if suspended in time, behind the single open ticket window. I stood frozen in disbelief. This meant at least a 30 minute wait… at best. I looked on for a few seconds, even got in line. I waited a bit. Still no movement. I was dumbfounded: they can't do this to tourists... I'll miss my connection. I looked at my fellow passengers for signs of life but found none. I briefly entertained wild hopes that the line would somehow vanish quickly, maybe a second ticket counter would open; three more were available. A few seconds passed. Still nothing. I could wait no longer. American scrappiness took over, that indomitable can-do spirit unable to stand by while precious minutes ticked away. I broke rank and dragged my suitcase back upstairs to find a taxi. Energized by sheer motion I could think again: “outrageous” I fumed proudly, “this would never happen in America.” But at least a taxi would be a quick affair, I consoled myself. My transfer time was now down to 20 minutes. I did find taxis outside but no drivers. I asked a passer-by and got the typical "how should I know and/or why should I care" shrug of the shoulder. I remembered again why I loved America. Someone else pointed the way so I ran, turned the corner, looked and almost fainted. This line was not only longer than the last one, but they stood three abreast! No movement whatsoever here either. Time stood still. Again. But I knew the clock was ticking. I had hit the wall and it wasn't moving.

In retrospect, I don't know what I was thinking anyway, Parisian traffic jams are notorious and it all was plugged up around the station already. I just could not believe I was going to miss my train. I simply could not accept it. I was roiling with emotions and adrenaline but spinning my wheels. Everyone seemed so content to wait. To make matters worse, my ticket was non-exchangeable and non-refundable - I found that out moments after I bought it in the US- I’ll never do it that way again - always buy your ticket in Europe.
Then a man approached me in line, he was dressed in full leather regalia. Holding his helmet, he said something beckoning about a motor-taxi. I dismissed him as a heckler but he insisted so I showed him my suitcase thinking that would take care of him. What an idiot I was: as if he hadn't noticed. He said something about 30 euros anywhere I want to go in Paris. Stingily, I dismissed him again. Back to waiting. Back to nothing. I was definitely up the proverbial creek. When he came up the third time, I threw caution to the wind and turned: ok, let's go! He smiled and quickly led me through the crowd to where he had parked his motorbike. There were dozens of them, gigantic machines with leather riders, right there on the broad sidewalk of Paris! He marched me up to his and got busy.

His manner reassured me instantly and I quickly swallowed my humble pie. His bike was enormous. He outfitted me like a child with a helmet, secured my suitcase over the tail rack and coached me kindly onto the ample backseat of the expansive bike. I silently kissed my habit of wearing comfy travel pants. He then snapped a heavy insulated windbreaker over my legs, effectively strapping me in. I was beginning to like this. He got on, turned on the powerful motor and, using his feet for balance, negotiated our way across the sidewalk and onto to the busy streets of Paris. We were off!
What a ride folks, what a hoot!! Suddenly I was having the time of my life. I heard a click in my ears as he came on the radio: "how are you doing back there?" "Just fine" I chattered gaily. It was a beautiful spring day and I told him so, as if he couldn't see it for himself. Yes, he said, it had been the first clear day in a long time. Another brief but grateful inner moment ensued.  

You should have seen us slalom biking through Paris, it was just great. He was darting here and there, squeezing between buses, cars and trucks, I could have touched them all but I opted to hang on to my purse instead. I was snuggled tight, it was comfort itself. What a ride. Sitting back, face to the sun I laughed: if I don't make it on time, this will have been worth it. He said many business men now used motor-taxis. Made sense to me, I replied still laughing. We were now careening through traffic, congested roundabouts taken at a 45o angle, pushing the throttle into the turn! That's when he asked me if I had ever ridden a motorcycle before, once or twice I said but I ride a bicycle! "So you're used to being on two wheels?" "Oh, yes" I blurted, keeping to myself the picture of my uncool bike with its huge rearview mirror and shopping baskets waiting for me in the shed at home. It had sounded like a compliment and I took it so. Little ole me who's afraid of fast freeway driving and roadside ditches. I felt on top of the world.
All too soon it seemed, we were pulling up to my destination. Getting nervous again, I thrust the agreed upon 30 euros in his hand, wiggled fairly awkwardly but eagerly off my seat and was about to start running when he held me back in that fatherly style and took off my helmet: you'll be fine, he scolded me gently. I was, too, with a good 10 minutes to spare before the train actually eased out of the Station. It was one of those fast trains that sped seamlessly across central France on its brand new tracks and what used to take 11 hours now took three!

So that's my French Connection Story. Later that evening, I told my mother and sister all about it; they laughed hysterically, who on earth routed you through Paris they asked. The moral of the story is this: wait till you get there to buy your ticket from an informed person OR... grab a motor-taxi! 

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