After sightseeing all day in Paris, I met my friend Iva out for drinks. I hadn’t seen her in two years and we were catching up, laughing, and letting the wine flow.
She took me to a great little tapas bar near the Louvre called Mil’a. We had wine, cheese, various types of cured meats and an incredibly cute French waiter. I was feeling great, nothing beats a good glass (or four) of Malbec and seeing an old friend. Sadly though, I had to catch the last bus home so I left around 11pm and promised to see her soon.
I hopped on the RER A train back to the station near Julie’s apartment. About 45 minutes of me dozing on and off later, I arrived at the Chessy station. Still buzzed, I waited patiently for bus #34. I looked in my Moleskine for directions. “One stop from Chessy,” it read. Great!
This’ll be easy, I thought.
This’ll be quick, I thought.
Half an hour later, I’m still on the bus. Other passengers are dwindling quickly and the bus driver doesn’t speak English. I point to the address I have written down, “Bailly Romanvilliers,” and the driver nods enthusiastically and says “Oui, oui.”
After sitting on the edge of my seat for what seemed like an eternity, we stop at a bus stop and I think I recognize the name. I say merci to the bus driver and hop off, headed for a nice, warm bed and a bottle of cold water to heal my pounding head.
As soon as I get off the bus, I immediately realize this is the wrong stop. The trademark arch near Julie’s apartment isn’t where it’s supposed to be and the street name is incorrect. I look closer at the bus stop sign and notice there’s a smaller line of text underneath it that doesn’t sound familiar. No one else got off at the stop with me and the bus is long gone. And it’s cold. Shit.
I start walking, maybe it’s not so far. I pull out my phone and think “sorry for the roaming charges, Popi,” as I attempt to punch in the address to Google Maps. The phone blinks alive in my hand and immediately dies. Double shit.
Next person I see, I’ll ask to use their phone and call Julie to tell her I’m lost.
Lost, as in wandering the cold, quiets streets of a quaint little neighborhood in a far away suburb of Paris. At 2 AM. On a Wednesday.
An hour goes by. I’m freezing. “Next person I see” still hasn’t been seen. When I say quiet streets, I mean more like silent. No people, no cars, no dogs, no lights on. Don’t these people Netflix binge!?
Another hour goes by. I can’t feel my hands anymore and I’ve seen the same street signs three or four times by now. Still no sign of a living, breathing human being.
This is what I imagine the apocalypse to be like. Something smells like shit. I check my shoes. My soles are clean. The air smells like someone tipped over a port-o-potty that’s been sitting in the sun for four days.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I started knocking on doors. What’s behind door number one?!
Knock, knock, knock.
I keep walking until I see a light on in a room upstairs. I start thanking the person who opens the door in my head and rummage through my purse to see if I have anything gift-like to offer to my savior. Perhaps I could offer them a trip to somewhere with better air. Finally, I’ve been saved! I rap on the door with enthusiasm.
Knock, knock, knock.
Try again Lex, they’re obviously awake.
Knock, knock, knock.
KNOCK KNOCK FRIGGING KNOCK, PEOPLE!
French people sleep like the dead, I thought. I knock on another door down the street and yet again to no avail. The air is so smelly and pungent, I yearn for a skunk to bring relief to my tortured nostrils.
I continue walking because if I don’t keep up movement, my body will freeze and turn into a sad, lost, human popsicle and my last memory will be of how the air smelled like the inside of a large intestine. This is not how I want to die.
But wait… is that a car I hear?
I turn the corner and there’s a big van attempting to parallel park in a not-so-big-van space about two blocks up the road. He’s never gonna fit in that.
I start running full speed toward the van, almost get run over (it is dark, after all) and scare the ever-loving crap out of the guy driving when I bang like a crazy person on his window.
His music is blasting. He turns it down and looks at me like I’ve crawled out of a swamp and asked him to try my Human Stew.
“Please help me!” I say, “I am very, very lost!”
He doesn’t speak English. Of course he doesn’t. I point to Julie’s address in my notebook and motion to his phone. He punches it in and waits for service to connect.
And waits. (Am I sensing a pattern here?)
Anyway, it doesn’t work so I ask in my cave person French to use his phone. I call Julie.
She answers. She’s been worried. I hand him the phone to talk to her. They speak in French for a minute and then he puts Julie back on.
“He’s going to take you here,” she says. THANK GOD.
I scramble in the van and try to make small talk on our ride. He spoke in French, me in English and our conversation may as well have went like this:
“You smell like you’ve been playing in the sewers.”
“Yes, I agree the traffic is great this time of night.”
You get the idea. Ten minutes of babbling later, I’m yelling “merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup!” over my shoulder and running up to Julie’s apartment where she is waiting with a fluffy blanket held out.
I pray I can save my frozen solid hands from frostbite and amputation. It’s looking good.
We trade stories and try to figure out what the hell I did wrong.
“I never told you it was one stop away!” She says. “I said 15-20 minutes!”
I need to work on my listening skills.
So friends, learn from my mistakes and take from them the following tips:
1. Don’t let your phone die when you’re alone in a foreign country and can’t speak the language. Better yet, get an international SIM card.
2. If something smells like shit in Paris, it’s probably not you but you might want to check your shoes just in case.
3. Always get into a random stranger’s van.
Just kidding! Don’t do that last one.
But just know that if you’re in a bind, you can always count on the kindness of strangers. Merci beaucoup Monsieur!