[NOTE: enervé is a “false friend” of the English term, “enervated.” enervé means “frustrated, upset.”]
Although the rest of the day was relatively innocuous, the start of my day was, well, something else.
I left my apartment, a bit behind schedule, and walked over to the nearest Vélib station. All the bikes were taken or broken or, in one case, blocked (i.e., the light on the bike lock was red instead of green). Dammit.
Well, there are other Vélib kiosks around here. I walked over to one of the kiosks on the larger boulevard nearby, and all the bikes were taken or damaged. Fuck.
I walked over to another kiosk a bit further down the boulevard and found that there was one lone bike that was both in good condition and not locked. I put my Navigo pass on the bike lock and it beeped red. What the fuck?
I went over to the terminal at the center of the bike stand and pressed my card to the card-reader. It tells me that I already have a bike out. Fuck.
Something must’ve happened when I returned home from the Rex Saturday night / Sunday morning by Vélib. The rental rate scheme of Vélib was designed to encourage short trips, which means that the rate increases the longer you have the bike out. At more than 24 hours, I can only imagine how much money is currently sitting on my card as a balance. Well, it’s time to make a phone call, as this will only get more expensive the longer I wait. I called the help number marked on the terminal and navigated my way through the phone tree to a live operator. I started walking back toward the Parmentier métro station as I waited for the operator to answer.
Just as I heard the operator come on the line, I hear a loud but hollow thud, scrape and crunch of plastic tumbling and cracking. I thought maybe someone had tipped over their recycling bin as they took it out onto the street. As I turned around, I saw a small car completing its turn to the left, some movement just behind it toward the rear of the car, and a motorcycle helmet, empty, sailing over the top of the car. Holy shit.
As I came around the other side of the car, I saw a dent in the rear drivers-side door panel, a motorbike on its side, and a woman, looking a bit dazed. She seemed, at first, to be ready to get up and brush herself off, as she started to lift herself off the ground and the other driver got out of his car and approached her. But, a second later, her eyes widened, she looked down, clutched her left shin where her black stocking had been torn, and started to scream. Oh no.
She was quickly lost from my view as other witnesses gathered around to tend to her and pull out cell phones. I suddenly remembered that I also had a phone to my ear and there was a feminine voice making confused noises. I ducked around a corner to get away from the woman’s screams and the noise of cars honking as traffic backed up. There were already people helping her, people calling emergency services and at least two dozen witnesses, so my presence wasn’t likely to be needed or helpful; but I still felt bad about walking away and continuing with my business. Regardless of how useless I might be in the situation, I felt some responsibility to just be there and somehow validate, reflect or relay the frightening impact of the moment. I was supposed to stay in the scene, even if I was of no other use.
With all this running through my mind, I tried to articulate my problem with bike rental in French. My veneer of fluency was gone. I spoke in short, telegraphic sentences; fragments that didn’t connect well. I forgot proper technical terms and found myself substituting and misusing more common words instead. I made enough sense for the woman to understand my problem. She seemed to know what to do, as she started to ask me when I had last rented a bike, where I dropped it off, and so on. The details were suddenly jumbled in my head and, as the screams echoing around the corner began to fade, I had to close my eyes and stop walking to get everything straight.
“At which station did you re-attach your bike? What station number?” I didn’t know the number, so I gave her the intersection of streets and the neighborhood. No good, she said, there were too many stations in that area and it would take her forever to find the right one manually. Well, I wasn’t far from the station in question, so I told her I would run over there and check the number myself.
As I ran past the scene of the crash, the woman was sitting up, head down, leaning silently against the driver of the car who had his arms around her while a cluster of people paced nervously with cellphones to their ears.
I got to the bike station, read off the number, and waited for the woman to tell me what to do. She asked me to guess the precise number of the lock I used to re-attach the bike and, after a bit of intense memory work, I gave her a range of 4 or 5 locks. As it turns out, that “blocked” bike I had seen at the beginning of my day was the same bike I had used and returned Sunday morning. I could quite figure out why, but the bike wasn’t properly registered in the system as “returned.” The woman tells me that I there will be a 35€ charge that will eventually be reimbursed from my account, but in the meanwhile I can’t use my card for 48 hours. Well, alright.
This should’ve been the moment where I throw my hands in the air and curse loudly (which I can do with great fluency in French) about how nothing is going right for me today. What I had just witnessed a minute earlier, however, put things into perspective and effectively cut off my mounting frustration. I went to the bike terminal again and bought a temporary 1-day pass, which doesn’t need to use my transit card.
As I biked past the scene of the crash one more time, there was an eerie silence as the rush-hour drivers silenced their honking at the sight of an ambulance. She was being lifted into the vehicle on a stretcher as I crossed the street and dipped into the bike lanes.