vendredi, décembre 01, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 10: Transport Mayhem

OK, for the record, we did everything we could to make this day go smoothly. Carla's flight was at 11h30, so we needed to be there before 10h00, so we left at 7h00 with the intention to stop for coffee and pains au chocolat at my local boulangerie (we made a ritual of it) and then continue straight on to the airport. The trip usually takes 40mins to 1.5 hours depending on traffic, so I thought that getting on the train at 7h30 was a reasonable plan.

We get to the subway station and there's a huge line of people waiting to buy tickets. Fuck. It's the first of the month, so of course everyone and their dog is buying their monthly carte orange metropass. OK, fine, I have a French bank card, so I can use the automated tellers and save some time. 15 minutes later, I have the tickets in hand and we haul Carla's (very heavy) luggage down to the subway platform.

On the way down to the platform, one of the information-display television screens has the message "Signal problem on line 11, traffic greatly disturbed." Aw, fuck. While on the platform, a train arrives quickly, but it is packed to the doors with people. Aw fuck. We let that train pass, and I notice that the "spare" train that is often parked on the next platform over is being pulled out. Good. This one comes along a moment later with only a few people on it. We pile in and position our luggage in a corner.

At the next stop, there a huge, teeming, angry mass of people who pile on until the train is completely full, with those left behind trying desperately to push their way on. Carla and I (along with everyone else) are smashed up against the windows and her luggage. Well f.u.c.k. After waiting almost a minute on the quay (with people still pushing), the doors finally close and the subway starts moving. Halfway through the tunnel to the next station, it lurches violently to a stop, waits for another minute, then pulls into the station. There's another crowd, even larger. Aw, FUCK!

What was terrifying at this moment was that we were only at the fourth station in a line with 13 stops. The train took nearly 5 minutes to lurch from station to station (when it would normally take 30 seconds), and each station had a larger and larger mass of angry morning-rushers who were behaving more and more like animals. By the time we were approaching République (where a lot of them got off), I was becoming truly concerned about a stampede/suffocation situation.

When we finally got to Châtelet, it was 9h00. We had only one hour to get over to the RER B platform (itself a 15-minute walk underground) and then to ride the train out to the airport, and then to scamper our way over to Carla's terminal (the furthest distance away from the RER station). AAAARGH!!!

Well, off we run with luggage in hand, getting an all-over workout as we slung luggage down multiple flights of stairs (mostly downwards, thankfully), maneuvering between rush-hour foot traffic at the same time. We get to the RER platform, and the next train is going to the airport, but it isn't an express train. This one will stop at nearly all the stations between Châtelet and the airport (the express only makes about 4 stops before the airport). Well, there's no use waiting for the next express train, so we piled on and enjoyed a moment of repose, even if we knew the battle wasn't over.

We had made the transfer in about 15 minutes, and the train ride up to the airport terminal 2 was another 40 minutes. By the time we got there, it was 9h55 and we needed to be on the other side of the terminal by 10h00. Carla was already making contingency plans if she missed her flight. Not easily discouraged, we zipped through the terminal on foot (hint: if you take the bus from the RER station to terminal 2A, it takes longer than going on foot because it's the last stop). At 10h05, we arrive, panting, at the Air Canada line. The flight still seems open, and there's virtually no line-up.

We approach the security guard in line, who asks for my sister's passport. He looks at her passport, then says "Columbia?" My sister is Canadian and carries a Canadian passport, but her birthplace is marked as Cartagena, Columbia. I wasn't sure why he needed to know that, and Carla wasn't quite sure what to say, so I just nodded. He smiled, clearly unperturbed by the fact that we were about to miss her plane, and said, "Ah, Columbia. Salsa!" Now, if there's something I've learned in my years of travel, it's that you agree cheerfully with whatever the person holding your passport says. So, nodding with my most "I'm not a terrorist!" grin, I say, "Yes! Salsa!" This was apparently the magic word, because his grin widened and he waved us through to the check-in counters. OK, sure. Fine.

After all of that mess, the check in took about 30 seconds and was problem-free. Boarding was beginning in about 40 minutes and she still had to pass security, so we still didn't waste any time. We took Carla over to submit her tax-refund papers, and then off we went to the security checkpoint. I said my goodbyes, waved her into the security line, and then headed back towards the RER station--this time not running.

After all of this mayhem, it was a bit of a relief to go to work. Sure, I had stuff to do, but there wasn't an intercontinental flight hanging in the balance. After work, I went home and relaxed for a while, then noticed that there were decent number of techno-related events going on this weekend. Well, I hadn't gone out to do what my doctorate thesis is supposedly all about since late October (thanks to Hawaii and then Carla's visit), so what the hell! Next weekend I have to prepare to return to Chicago and Canada, so let's have at it this weekend. I pick out something to do friday night, and then set my alarm clock for 10pm and take a disco nap.

I don't wake up until 6am the next morning

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