Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's a Small World, After All!

We've all heard, and probably used, and more than likely SANG this: "It's a Small World, After All". Who hasn't gotten stuck on that ride at least once in their lives until you are ready to jump out of your little boat and throttle those joyous little dolls from around the world. Or it could just be me and I have anger issues. You don't have to choose...for me, probably both. But I was at a Geocaching event a couple of nights ago and this woman kept looking at me. Finally she asked what my name was. Warily, I told her. She said, "I thought that was you!" She then told me her name and I was like, "Oh, my god!" and then we jumped up and hugged each other. Given that Las Vegas now has over 2 million citizens, it seems odd that you would meet people you know at such random gatherings. Although, after I broke up with my last boyfriend, I kept running into HIM everywhere. And I wasn't even stalking him! But anyway, this lady and I had taken a Cultural Anthropology course about 10 years ago and while we've kept in touch, first with my original blog, then my MySpace and currently on Facebook, this was the first time we'd seen each other face to face since that class. Small world. See? But, I have another story to go along with this saying that takes it to a whole new level. 

To set it up, let's go back to February of 2000. I belonged to a special club that made European travel deals that were very good. I was making good money, had lots of time off and was wanting to see the world. On this occasion, my club was offering a 12-day Alsace, France driving tour. I will say this and you will hear me say it in other posts frequently: I do NOT do group tours. If I wanted to hang out with American tourists I would have stayed home in Vegas! I almost exclusively like to travel either alone or with my mom, and our usually unattainable list of too many things to see. Things tour buses don't often go to.  For this trip however, I asked two coworkers if they'd like to go, and they accepted. First problem: princesses. When I am traveling and don't know anyone, why the hell do I care what I look like? Up, shower, out the door to see as much as possible. Why do you need 2 hours to get ready? Especially since this was a driving vacation through the Eastern border of France in February? We had a little rain, a little snow, and all that hard make-up and hair work was shot by lunch time. Second problem: tiny car. Princesses require more luggage it seems. Our car was barely more than a smart car and loading up every morning was always a challenge in geometry, not to mention it was difficult to keep moving at a fast pace on the main motorways, though the four little squirrels in the engine were trying their hardest. Third: My two friends did not speak a word of French. Not ONE. I spoke only a little French that I had picked up while working for Club Med, a class at the community college, and my trusty English-French dictionary, but for the most part, it was enough. Bottom line was, I was the only French-speaker in the group and that wasn't saying much! 

But enough on that. We'll return to this later on down the train track. Looking at our schedule and our predetermined lodgings set with the deal from my travel club, I came up with a pretty good itinerary and we managed to cover a good deal of Eastern France, and I even managed to swing us into Germany for one day and Switzerland on another and still stay on track. While we started at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we got our rental car and following the lodging schedule, we headed out. But not to Paris. That would be the last two days of the trip. Our first stop was Reims as we headed to the border and Alsace. Saving all that for another blog entry, I will say this: In France, they drive on the same side of the road as we do. Not that it mattered, having spent the previous summer driving on the wrong side of the road in England, Scotland and Wales. I figured I was invincible on the international driving venue! Uh, no. 

(One of our stops was the Chateau Septmont. We wanted to get in there so bad, but they were closed that day.)

On our last night in Paris, we split up and my two non-French speaking friends wanted to go check out this night club. I asked if they were sure they could get there and back to the hotel alright and they said sure, and I reminded them we needed to leave early in the morning for the airport. I had met a really cool American guy on the top of Notre Dame cathedral while making faces for gargoyle photos, and we went for a beer at a cafe instead. I made it back to the hotel first, and it was just after midnight. My two friends were not back yet. Oh, dear. Worry started to kick in. I think they came back around 3 or 4 in the morning. Yet more for that other story! 

(A shot of us on top of the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower behind us.)

Needless to say, we were dragging when we had to get up and leave around 7:30am to go to the airport. In case you're wondering, that's rush hour in Paris, too. Our hotel was located a couple of blocks off one of the numerous 'spokes' that shoot off from the freaking GINORMOUS Arc de Triomphe round-about. This monster of a traffic death-trap is bad during all hours of the day but especially THIS time of day! Again, as a master of the round-abouts in the UK, I didn't think it would be a problem until I got in it. It has about 9 lanes of traffic entering, circling and exiting all these different spokes of roads and their idiot cabbies are insane! I was trying to be polite and follow the rules of get in the inner lanes depending on how far you have to go around and leave the outside lanes for people getting on and off at the next immediate road. But cabs don't care! They'd come shooting across in front of me like it was a straight street! And honk at ME! To further make you understand how bad this round-about is, in order to get to the Arc, you have to go through an underground tunnel that comes up in the central part of the round-about where the Arc is. Once I got the car in the round-about, I was too shell-shocked and too nice to push my way to the outside to get off on our road, so we had to make a few laps before frustration, lack of time and a little motion sickness finally made me play the game their way. I hit the gas and prayed. I may have even closed my eyes. That might have helped, actually. 

(A time lapse image of the Arc de Triomphe and it's formidable round-about.)

When we got off on the wrong road, I had to stop for a second to catch my breath and wait for the adrenaline shakes to go away. Then we started off again. Except now, we didn't know where we were or how to get to the airport without going back the way we just came, and THAT was NOT happening! I drove while the two girls tried to make sense of the map. It didn't go well. We got stuck in construction. Then I turned the wrong way on a one-way street and while I stopped immediately, this bus had to pull up right in front of us and lay on the horn (there were 3 other empty lanes available). Finally, SOMEHOW, we made it back to the highway and were headed to the airport again. But our trial wasn't over yet! We had lost a lot of time. I was now panicking that we weren't going to make it in time for check-in, security, customs, etc., etc. 

When we got to the airport area, I was looking for the sign for rental car returns. I saw it, and took the turn, but we never found the car rental area. Having deja vu of the Arc de Triomphe, we got stuck going around and around the airport but couldn't get where we needed to be. At one point, I saw a gas station with a policeman and I stopped to ask him where to go. My French was bad, his English worse. He couldn't help at all. And so it started again. Finally, on one of our laps, we spotted the Hertz car rental shuttle and I started honking. We pulled up next to him, rolled down the window and we understood each other enough to tell him we needed to return the car but couldn't find it. He told us to follow him, and we did. We pulled up in front of the doors of the airport where the rental counter was. I asked the van driver what to do with the car and (I think!) he said just leave it and take the keys in. We were now 30 minutes away from departure. Uh, oh.

Heading his advice, we grabbed our luggage, ran past the counter and threw the keys and bolted for baggage check and customs. I heard the girl at the car rental counter calling to us from behind, but I told the girls to just keep moving. But, after all that, the customs officer advised us, there was no way we were going to make our plane. Ugh. So we went to the ticket counter to see about changing flights and they were very nice about it. They got us on a flight leaving about 2 hours later and didn't even charge us for the change. I felt at this point I could relax. A bit, anyway. 

I must interrupt for a moment for a little more background: When I moved to this area about 20 years ago, there were less than five female officers on the entire police department in the then little town near Vegas. They were opening a new jail and needed five female officers to help man it. I was hired with four others. 

Charles de Gaulle Airport is not small. It's a pretty airport, with glass escalators heading in all directions under a huge glass roof in the middle. Just as we're now taking the first unhurried steps of our day and looking for a coffee shop, I hear someone yelling my (last) name from somewhere behind me. My first thought was, "Oh, lord, someone hit the rental car and they're out for blood". I have an Irish last name which is the name that everyone who knows me calls me by. It's not a common name in France and not something you can assume is meant for someone else. Reluctantly, all three of us turn and see a woman in a uniform coming toward us waving. It took a second to realize this was a friend! One of the officers that had been hired WITH me and we worked together at the jail for several years. She even knew the girls with me. Of all the places to run into someone you know! PARIS?!? 

(The many glass escalators going every which way at Charles de Gaulle Airport)

After the initial shock wore off, we hugged and chatted and said how great it was to see her, but what the hell was she doing there? She basically asked us the same question, although she knew I was a globe-trotter. A few months earlier, my friend had quit the police department to become a flight attendant for United Airlines. (Note: I later tried to do this and was even sent to Chicago for final interviews, but in the end was told I still had "too much cop mentality" and didn't get the job. A few months later, 9-11 happened and I wished they would have reconsidered that) She was on her one and only overseas training flight before being a full-fledged flight attendant. And guess who's flight she would be on? Oh, yeah. 

 She tried to see if she could get us bumped up to first class for free, but there were only 2 seats available and none of us three wanted to leave one person in coach, so we all stayed back. It was quite a full 10-hour flight. But determined to look after us, my personal flight attendant would bring us glasses of Dom Perignon, upgraded meals and specialty chocolates back in coach! Surprisingly, while we had several curious stares, only one couple across the row asked about the special treatment. My friend, who was always a quick thinker, says, "Oh well the redheaded lady is a famous American novelist and that's her entourage. There was some confusion about their seats in first class so we're trying to make amends." Coincidentally, there is a romance novelist with my name, but I am not she. We tried not to start giggling while my friend brought the couple each a glass of champagne as well, and they were happy. She was so funny...when we got off the plane, after catching up a bit more, she gave us each our own bottle of Dom to take home. Good stuff, that. 

 So the moral of the story: While there are now 7 billion people in the world, up more than 3 times what it was when I was born in 1971 (don't get me started on that...over-population is a big pet peeve and I don't have enough room left on my soap box today), it is still possible to find people you know in the least expected places! Had everything fallen into place that morning as it should have, we wouldn't have seen her at all, and it did make for a memorable experience!

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