Bro and I had a great final day in Paris. Nothing went according to plan. I had a list of final sights to see, but the lines for those sights were fleshy miles long, and I was not about to spend my last day in Paris crammed together with internationals who had varying interpretations for hygiene and personal space.
Instead, we spent the day checking out whatever caught our eye, eating anything that looked appealing, and drinking everything that was put in front of us.
When it was time to go home, we headed into the station to buy tickets, but the machine wasn’t working and it was Sunday, meaning no one was manning the ticket counter to help, so we did what all of the natives were doing and mashed ourselves between the gate and the wall and headed down to the train platform (lovely trail of bruises down my side, reminding me of my lapses in judgment; and those would be both choosing to break a loosely held law and my ability to mash through narrow spaces).
Bro and I weren’t quite as confident in our nonfeasance as the locals seemed to be. Many Parisians will hold the gate open behind them, or give you a helping hand in dislodging yourself from the small space you have illegally crept through. We, however, were terrified that local authorities would have turned over a new leaf in the past 5 minutes, and would actually be on the lookout for offenders. If you’ve been to Paris in the past few years, you know that this was irrational, and we could have very well been vending human organs on the platform, and no one would have batted an eye. Had Bro and I understood a lick of French, we would have learned that there was a train strike, so there would be just one more train to take us home, which wouldn’t be around for another hour, and the police and train staffers were not on the platform to find two American criminals, but were there to keep everyone calm and to coordinate the situation. We assumed the prior, so we avoided their approach faithfully.
We boarded the train around 1 a.m. and were still shooting nervous glances around and speaking in hushed voices to each other about our plan for when we reached our final destination… since we didn’t have a ticket to get out of the station. Our foreign nervous chatter caught the ear of a fellow passenger, who spoke some English and must have heard us mention our station because he chimed in, “This train is terminated at the next stop. It goes no further tonight.” Another result of the strike, we would later learn.
Bro and I knew the area well enough to understand that that was going to leave us very, very far from home. Our faces simultaneously fell and we whimpered to the stranger, “But…but we need to go further. We don’t know how to get home.” “No problems!” said the guy, “There will be a bus to take us further!” Which. We. Had. No. Ticket. For.
“Well. That’s nice.” I offered.
When the train stopped, apparently everyone was under the impression that there would be just one bus to take the contents of a 10 car train, because everyone shoved past us and bolted for the escalator and then the gates of the station. Bro and I were the only people balking, since we had no way out and no way home. Pale faced at the realization that we may have to aimlessly stroll the streets of the Paris burbs in the wee hours of the morning, we allowed ourselves to be carried along by the urgent, surging crowd. As we were hustled along to the exit gates, we saw a barrier of train employees in their bright red, menacing jackets standing between us and the ticketed turnstiles that we had no way of turning sans ticket.
Overcome with paranoia and assuming that they were all there with their radios and stern faces to catch Bro and I, I yelled, “Hide!” to Bro and we ducked and shoved into the crowd, hearts racing, as we were born out of the station by a human convoy of frantic Parisians. My earlier objection to violations of personal space and poor hygiene forgotten and embraced.
Once outside the station, we heaved a sigh of relief and then focused on our new challenge of getting home. There were 6 buses, which filled in a matter of seconds.
“Bro, I think we should just get on. What’ve we got to lose at this point?” He continued to blubber on about why we couldn’t but I was a full-fledged derelict now, and I wanted to go home, so I fixed my gaze on the mid-bus doors of a bus that still had room on it and no one seemed to be taking tickets. Pulse-pounding and no longer caring whether Bro was with me or not, I began to walk to the bus. My determined pace was interrupted by French blabberty-yabberty and I turned around and about messed myself when I saw that I was being approached by a stern, red-jacketed train man, hand outstretched -the universal sign for “Stop right there.”
“I…sorry…I’m so sorry…” I said, tears welling in my eyes. (What? I had been drinking wine since 4 p.m.)
“Where are you going?”
“To Saint Denis, but I’ll walk. I promise.”
“That bus!” He pointed to the one I had been headed for, “Run!”
I did. And Bro did, too. We packed onboard, bouncing up and down, eager for the doors to shut before the train people realized they had been had. The doors eased shut and we both relaxed for the first time in two hours, and I blame the fear, adrenaline, fatigue, and wine for what happened next.
I began to laugh. Hysterically. Like, lock this lady up, laugh. Like, tears and probably some snot running down my face, laugh. Like, I can’t believe we didn’t get a ticket or get thrown in a dungeon, laugh. You get the picture. Bro joined in. We lost it and we couldn’t get it back. Every single person was staring at us. Braying like donkeys, we conceded, when asked, that yes, we were Americans.
I am sorry to all of my fellow Americans for confirming for the French that we are a bunch of classless asses. But, you know what? Those people had just waited over an hour for a train and then made a mad dash at 1:30 a.m. for buses that they weren’t sure they would fit on, so I have to believe they appreciated the comic relief. Many of them smiled and some even began to laugh. This lasted the duration of our ride to Saint Denis. They say it’s contagious, and I think it is the one thing worth catching in Paris (well…that and a bus home).
Author’s Note: We later learned of the train strike, and due to the delay, no one was required to use their tickets. The ride was free, and the buses were complimentary to make amends for the train being unable to continue its run. Meaning our scheming, 2 hours of internal conflict, and our authority-evasion were for nothing.