This travel piece was posted on my first blog in June, 2009.
Before I tell you this story, I need to introduce you to the little travel demon that’s attached himself to us from the first morning of the trip. We’ll call him the “little fuquier.” First, he smugly threw fire bolts into my lower body, especially satisfied to watch me search for bathrooms as frequently as I did good photo ops in Paris. Then, when things seemed calm and without incident, he gobbled Mike’s ATM card. The little fuquier likely had something to do with delaying the money transfer that Fidelity had promised in Paris to fix that problem as well. No money showed up. He’s no doubt given the money to his ne’er-do-well little fuquier cousins to party their asses off with on the rue Oberkampf. Then, still needing attention (sort of like Kim Jong Il lately) he tampered with Europecar arrangements in Beziers, stranding us at the train station. He has been one busy little fuquier to be sure.
We hadn’t heard much from him for a spell, that is until today. And what a day he’s had. Paul Theroux, the celebrated travel writer said, “travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” He must have met the little fuquier, because glamorous is not an adjective I’d use to describe our experiences today. Oh, sure. We were (and are) in a glamorous spot. I was getting a glamorous tan in the 90-degree heat. But being stuck on a median on the Promenade Anglais from 1:45 until 4:45 pm. is not a glam setting. And the Promenade fringes some pretty great digs in Nice, let me tell you. In fact, as I stood there waiting for the Europecar rescue vehicle that never arrived, I almost had enough energy to fantasize Johnny Depp in some little apartment overlooking the sea. Almost. But after two or three hours in the hot sun with a broken down car hitched on the median, traffic whizzing by, not even Johnny Depp sounded good. Yes, that’s how beaten I was. Not even Johnny Depp sounded good!
The day started sunny and uneventful. Sure, I was still dreading the drive to Nice. The day before had been trying behind the wheel from Meg and Simon’s Maison-Hirondelles, a charming little bed and breakfast about twenty minutes out of Beziers. It is challenging enough to drive in a new country where the traffic signs are unfamiliar and the roads are narrow and arranged in medieval labyrinths. But we decided to bring along Sally–Mike’s name for the bitch-in-the-box GPS, the most hot and cold broad ever to work the satellites. Sally would nicely say “In 300 meters turn right” or “take the second left in the round about,” and I would oblige, shifting the VW rig down and buzzing in the direction she’d told me to go.
But then Sally started to act like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction. She’d give a direction you could not possibly follow. She’d coolly say, “recalculating.” And then all hell would break loose. When we needed Sally to be rational the most was when she most went off the beam. She boiled rabbits in the middle of town, in heavy traffic, and then she’d say something brilliant like–”at destination.” But we weren’t at our f-in destination. Then she’d come back on and act completely sweet and rational–telling us where we were and where to turn. I tell you. I don’t know how Michael Douglas did it. (Not that the ass didn’t deserve some of what he got in that film. It should be a required preparation for governors of South Carolina; they’d have to view it right before taking the oath of office.)
We left Aix-en-Provence after a quick breakfast there. Sally hadn’t had her coffee and had trouble getting us out of town. By that time I’d learned to not trust the bitch and just looked for signs to Nice.
Only two hours to Nice. We had it timed so we’d get there right when the car rental office opened at two, drop the car, catch a cab to our hotel, deposit our bags, and explore the city. I wanted to see the Chagall museum. Traffic was dicey by the turn off to St. Tropez, but the French do a wonderful job of keeping to the right on the freeway, so you can get into a certain rhythm. I drove in that French rhythm, my mind occasionally drifting from the backs of tanker trucks to floating Chagall dream people in azure skies.
When we got to Nice we had a half tank of gas. Savvy travelers that we are, rather than let the car rental company gouge us for the cost of refilling it at their rates, we stopped on the Promenade to fill up.
And that’s where the little fuquier must have decided to have a last bit of fun with us. We pulled up to diesel and tried to get our credit card to work in it. The card, of course, would not work. So Mike went in to inquire as to how to get it to work. The man came out and directed us to a different pumping station, one in which we could just pay by card inside. Great. He was helpful, but it was all a bit confusing. I pulled the car up, got out and went in to pay with the credit card. Mike filled us up.
Off we sailed east on the Promenade Anglais, which ribbons along the Mediterranean. We were about three kilometers from the Europecar office when the car started to sputter, spit and cough. It died right in traffic at a light. I tried to start it. Desperate. Cars are honking behind me. Come on. Come on. Shit. Finally. It started. I coaxed it along a bit farther, revving the engine for all it was worth in first to the next stop, desperately trying to find a place to pull off. It gasped and stopped again. More honking. I’m saying “shit” “what the f” (you name it). I can pretty much call an inanimate object every epithet known to womankind. Mike says, “God, maybe it wasn’t diesel I put in.” If I’d still had my fallopian tubes, they’d have sprung from my body and choked him.
There are moments in every marriage when you want to scream at the top of your lungs at the one you love so much. I wanted to reach over and grab him by his 150+ IQ and slap some “attention-to-detail” sense into him. I kept my hands to myself.
I limped and lurched us over to a left turn in the median finally where the car gave up for good. A cambien (phone) sat in close proximity, so Mike took the Europecar paperwork and phone card and trudged off to slay that dragon. I tried to talk myself down as I waved people around.
I watched Mike struggle with the phone conversation, using his hands to convey his meaning. (Yeah, like that will help.) It was taking forever to just talk to Europecar. Finally he came back to the car. They were coming, but it had been a long and arduous task to get through all the bullshit on the phone. “God, I’m sorry. I still think I put in diesel, but that must be what happened in the confusion,” he said.
By that time I’d had enough time to cool down. To realize that this was the guy who’d stuck with me through 23 hours of childbirth. Through five months of vomiting at the beginning of the pregnancy. Through sixteen years of migraines. Through brain surgery. Through losing my parents. Through paying off student loans. Through eight long years of George W. Bush. “It could have happened to either one of us. I love you,” I said. Within a few minutes, I knew I really meant it.
And it could have. It’s called traveling. It’s called being out of your comfort zone. It’s being humbled by circumstances beyond our understanding and hence beyond our control.
The rest of the story of the “big Promenade strand” is the two police officers who rode up on their bikes and assisted us. They stayed with us, called assistance for us, recalled assistance for us, and tried in vain to get Europecar to help us. (This was before Europecar knew why the car stalled.) Finally, after waiting going on three hours, one of the officers said, “Let’s try to start it.” It miraculously started. They escorted us the kilometer and a quarter to the office (yes, we were that close). The two officers were so nice. One spoke English. He went into the Europecar office and basically told them they had treated us poorly (like that helped). In the end, the extra insurance for complete coverage I took out will not cover this SNAFU. It was our mistake, and we’ll pay for it handsomely no doubt.
On the brighter side, our hotel is lovely, and we actually had Wifi (or at least we did until I changed the battery on my computer and lost the configurations). I’ll see if I can post this later.
As we prepare to leave France in the morning, we hope the little fuquier stays put. We’re happy to take with us the kindness of the French. We’re overjoyed to have new friends. We’re exhausted as well.
Other things GPS might stand for:
Going Past Site
Getting Pissed Swiftly
Global Proof of Suckers
Glorified Pitiful Service