Every now and then life gives you a sign that you’re in the right or wrong place, doing the right or wrong thing. I received such a sign this evening in St. Ouen.
It began inauspiciously after losing track of time in Paris. I get to Gare du Nord as the sky is turning pink around the edges. I saunter to the counter du billets. I buy my ticket and the lady tells me to transfer in St. Ouen. I take a leisurely stroll to the correct track, and notice that a train just left. But the next one towards St. Ouen is in ten minutes. No problems.
I’m on the next train. Ahhh, it’s lovely the way the descending sun sets off the few clouds, and Sacre Coeur glows against the darkening sky. Then it occurs to me that I could soon be facing the thing I fear most (aside from French hair salons). A rush of disturbing thoughts interupt my peace.
Would it be better to be stranded in Pontoise or St. Ouen? Would a cab driver accept an IOU? It’s been awhile since I hitchhiked. Do people still stick out their thumbs? Is that the international symbol for please give me a ride, I missed my train? Will I be murdered or raped? Or hit by a speeding driver on the narrow, poorly lit cobbled roads? Well, if so, at least they’ve got a decent healthcare system here. Maybe my injured nearly lifeless body won’t be found for days (after intense suffering), I’ll be taken to a hospital, but it will be too late. God, who will feed my kitties? If only I had a cellphone. I could call someone and ask them to feed the kitties when I’m gone. Damn, I should have had that Falafel in the Marais. I hate to die on an empty stomach.
I tell myself to shut up and enjoy the scenery.
Nose against train window, I watch the ugly Paris suburb turn into greenery and old stone houses. Before I know it, I’m in St. Ouen. I’ve regained my sense of denial, despite the fact that there’s not one train going towards Persan (the direction I’m going) on the overhead schedule and it’s totally dark now.
I wait patiently, knowing it’s going to be okay, because I worried so effectively about it on the train from Paris to St. Ouen. It doesn’t bother me that I’m the only one on the platform. Or that there’s only one train listed as still running on the monitor. And it’s going the wrong way.
The distance as the crow flies is only 3.2 miles, but it’s getting dark, the roads are narrow, I’m not all that familiar with the route and I can’t afford a taxi. I might as well be stranded on a desert island. But I’m still telling myself that there’s just something wrong with the monitor.
After waiting 15 minutes. a train approaches, but it’s heading towards Pontoise. I ask the conductor when the train to Auvers arrives. A conversation between the security guy and the conductor reveals, that I’ve missed the last train to Auvers. I’m not sure if I understand their words or their expressions, but I know I’m in trouble.
Calmly, I reply “merde” as my brain descends into a dark, lifeless zone that I’m fairly certain was the same place Bush’s brain was on 9/11 during those 7 minutes he stared blankly while clutching the little goat book.
Fortunately, I have better advisors than Bush. While I sit there like an idiot, they keep talking. In a matter of seconds, I’m on my own private express train to Auvers, riding shotgun next to the engineer. I’m so relieved and grateful I forget to be afraid of being alone in a train with a stranger who only speaks French. He tells me he has to take the train to the train garage anyways and is glad to help. He also shows me a picture of his Chevy and complains about the absurdly expensive price of Chevy parts here in France and how he’d like to go to the US and get cheap parts. At least someone is buying American cars. I tell him maybe we can work out a healthcare/automotive exchange.
So as quick as it took I Dream of Jeannie to blink her way out of a bad situation, so did I. Except unlike Jeannie, I can take no responsibility for whatever magic just occurred. Unless these people decided to help me based on the charming way I said “merde.”
Is it because this train system isn’t run by machines and bureaucrats that it’s possible for an act of human kindness to occur? WTF is going on here? Aren’t the French supposed to be rude and hate Americans? I’m utterly baffled. Can you in a million years imagine this happening in the US? In five minutes, I’m in Auvers.
I “merci” the conductor profusely and head back to Rue du Pois and my kitties. I can hear the theme from the Mary Tyler Moore show rising in my head again. (which reminds me, I’ve got to get a beret.)
For the first time in a long, long time, I’ve beaten Murphy’s law. Sure, what could go wrong, did go wrong. And it still turned out all right. More than all right, in fact. Excellent.
As someone who tries to find a reason for everything, I take this turn of events as a sign. Maybe that I’m supposed to be here. Or that everything is going to be okay. Or to remind me there are still nice people in the world (at least in France). I’m not sure what exactly, but it has to mean something deep and profound. Maybe I should just trust the universe. Give in to the will of nature or god or whatever. Just relax and know that the thing I fear most isn’t so frightening.
Or it could be a sign of the Apocalypse.
Filed under: Auvers sur Oise, Deep thoughts, mileage, Pontoise, trains, transportation, travel, travel humor, Val d' Oise Tagged: | acts of kindness, french train system, kindness of strangers, murphy's law, St. Ouen, transilien, transit