Saturday, August 13, 2011

The French Holiday - Part Two

This is the most discombobulated trip I've ever taken.  
The latest disaster began last Thursday night, which now seems like a bazillion years ago.  I had kept possession of my daughter's passport for safety.   She was carrying it around during our daily excursions and I was afraid some pickpocket would nab it from her.  So I put her passport in a bag with Kellie’s and mine and never thought about the passports again until last Thursday evening, around 8 p.m., when my daughter, Dani, asked me for her passport.  She had a noon flight home the next day.  I couldn't find her passport, mine was missing too, so was Kellie's.
Thus began a panicked search for the passports.  Dani and I tossed every piece of luggage we had.  We searched the house.  Dani and I both have OCD so we repeated the process several times for good measure.  When Kellie returned from her bicycle ride with our daughter, Kyra, she rechecked our work, no passports.
I distinctly remember lecturing Dani about proper passport safety while traveling.  I remember taking her passport.  Beyond that, any recollection of what I may have done with all three passports is lost in the mental fog that starts rolling in as one passes 50.  
If the passports were not with us in the Loire Valley, then we, and by we I mean I, must have left them in the apartment we were staying at while we were in Paris.  Dani packed her suitcase, Kellie and I quickly grabbed a few things, and we jumped in the car for quick 300-kilometer drive back to Paris. It was 9:30 p.m.
Kellie drove.  By mutual agreement, and for the benefit of our marriage, I'm not permitted to drive in Europe, or any other time we are outside the U.S.  If it were not such a terrible inconvenience, I'm sure she would also revoke my U.S. driving privileges.  
The ride to Paris was very quiet.  Earphones plugged Dani's ears.  Kellie focused on driving.  Only my apparently unwelcome attempts to engage Kellie in conversation punctuated the silence.
We arrived at the apartment just after 1 a.m.  Kellie and I do house swapping, which is how we scored the apartment in Paris and the house in the Loire Valley.  Our host's friend, Joelle, met us with the keys. We rushed up to the apartment, sure that the passports lying on some table or shelf.  Our certainty quickly faded when the passports were not to be found in the most likely places.
Thus began a second panicked search for the passports.  Dani and I tossed every piece of furniture.  We searched the entire apartment.  Dani and I both have OCD so we repeated the process several times for good measure.  Kellie rechecked our work, no passports.  We finally went to bed.  It was 3 a.m.
The wake up alarm sounded at 7 a.m.  We ate, posed for passport photos and made it to the U.S. Embassy by 9:30 a.m.  Obtaining temporary emergency passports was remarkably easy.  The passport clerk told us that we could exchange the temporary passports for regular 10-year passports once we returned to the states, except for me.  My new passport would be valid for only a single year.  Seven years ago I lost a passport, so I was on passport probation.  
Despite how quickly we got our new passports, Dani could not make her departure time and rebooked the same flight for the following day.  Relieved that everything worked out, we hugged and said goodbye to Dani.  Kellie and I had to get back to the Loire Valley where our other two children were waiting for us.  We left them stranded with little food and no money.  It was noon, and with any luck at all, we would be back in Loire by 3 p.m.  
We had no luck at all.  The car jerked as we drove. Kellie depressed the clutch and tried to shift but the car refused to go into second gear.  Gliding now, we came to a red light.  Kellie depressed the clutch as she applied the brake but the car stalled anyway.  A line of Parisians gathered behind us.  Nanoseconds after the light turned green, the Parisians started helping us with their horns.  Unable to get the car in gear, I jumped out to push the car to the side of the road.  A motorcycle pulled up and the rider jumped off to help push.  I got back in the car and we debated about what to do next.
With the engine off, the gears shifted easily.  So I got out and pushed the car while Kellie started the engine with the car in gear.  It worked and I ran alongside and jumped in the passenger seat.  Again, the engine stalled when Kellie attempted second gear, so we repeated the push start process.
Kellie had now decided that she was going to remain in gear, pedestrians and red lights be damned.  We crept along in first gear, running red lights, weaving through pedestrians, avoiding other cars, and spreading American goodwill among the locals.   
Ahead, Kellie saw a gas station. It was on the other side of the street; we were going to have to make a U-turn at the next light, which for the moment was still green.  But as we reached the intersection the light turned red. Kellie was going for it.  She turned left into oncoming traffic.  Looking at the approaching bus, I closed my eyes and wondered if atheism had been a bad choice.  I heard the blare of horns.  Kellie made it into the gas station and we parked.
We had the car towed to a nearby auto shop.  No one spoke English except for the Moroccan who seemed to be running things. The head mechanic checked the car immediately after the tow truck driver released it from the hitch.  He quickly concluded there was nothing wrong with the car.  Incredulous, Kellie took the car for a test drive.  Before she departed she asked if it was possible to just drive around the block; the mechanic nodded yes.  She probably should have asked the Moroccan since the mechanic did not speak any English.  Kellie did not return. 

I explained to the Moroccan that Kellie was probably lost.  He asked the tow truck diver to take me and go look for my wife.  I jumped back into the tow truck with the driver who didn’t speak English and we began our search.  We didn’t find Kellie.  Back at the shop again, the Moroccan lent me his iPhone (mine would not connect to the network) and I called Kellie.  As expected, she got lost in a series of one-way streets and dead ends.  She ditched the car and was awaiting my call at a nearby Starbucks.
Kellie was just two blocks away.  The tow truck driver took off on foot to get her.  Minutes later they drove up; the tow truck driver was behind the wheel of our vehicle, and the car was apparently working just fine.  This time I got in and checked it myself – it seemed to shift without a problem.
Frustrated, tired, and annoyed, we paid the towing bill and got back in the car.  We didn’t get 20 feet before the damn car jerked to a halt.  A warning light illuminated on the dashboard.  Eventually, we got to the root of the problem; oil was leaking from the clutch.  The car would not be leaving Paris on Friday.  It was 4 p.m.
We finally caught a break.  Insurance covered the cost of our trip back to Loire. The Moroccan helped with the arrangements. Within half an hour, the insurance company arranged for a taxi to pick us up at the auto shop, take us to the train station where they made a first class reservation for us, and had another taxi waiting to pick us up when the train arrived back in Loire.
When we got to the train station, there was no reservation.  Even though we had a reservation code, the clerk could only look up the reservation by our name, which was obviously misspelled. With so many ways to mangle Cereola, there was little chance of finding our reservation.  We paid for another pair of tickets.  Later, when we met the taxi driver at our destination, we saw the misspelling.  Only the fourth letter was incorrect, an L versus an E, which made the spelling CerLola.  Since then, I have not been able to get the song Lola out of my head.
We ultimately concluded that a pickpocket must have taken the passports.  I am fairly certain that I placed the passports in the outside pocket of one of my bags.  And yes, I use a man-bag, I have several of them.  That’s what I get for carrying a man-bag.  The next pickpocket better beware.  The outside pocket now contains dirty socks and underwear.
I’ve left a lot out but this post is already too long.  Let’s tally up the damage:

Gas for the drive to Paris
Snacks for the drive to Paris
Metro tickets in Paris
Passport photos X3
Temporary passports X3
Tow truck
Train tickets to Loire

There’s nothing priceless here.  Total cost of this fiasco, €725, or $1015.
I need a vacation from this vacation.

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