Our time in Paris had ended and saying goodbye proved difficult. I would miss the poetic rain and inspiring architecture, the grooved and powdered cobblestones beneath building walls that spewed graffiti, and the cloaked alleyways with bottles of cheap wine dangling from our fingers. It was everything I hoped it would be, which meant it wasn’t a postcard or hopeful imagination. Beauty mixed with the tangible. Drug dealers peddled underneath the illuminated Eiffel Tower at night, angry drivers swore at each other as they circled the Arc de Triomphe, and the Place de la Concorde was covered in bird shit.
Adventures were on the horizon, Spain awaited with sangrias, tapas, sunlight, and white-walled promenades. The only obstacle was getting to the Eurostar terminal somewhere off Fayette. When traveling, I’m not the type of person that likes to know what the day will bring. Wandering and last minute decisions have always yielded more memorable experiences than schedules or crowded attractions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the ideal personality trait when we needed to catch a specific train and had no directions or general sense of where we were going. It also didn’t help that I drank three grand crèmes at a sidewalk bistro before leaving and had to stop every two blocks and find a washroom.
The three of us stumbled into a train station with the aid of blind luck and selective stupidity. Late and irritated, we hurried downstairs, rushing so we could blankly stare at the French metro lines for thirty minutes. Best bet memorized, we followed the crowd to the ticket kiosks.
Standing near the waiting commuters was a Parisian shouting about a deal in broken English. Naturally, being the thrifty travelers we were (beer money>comfort), we decided to investigate the bargain.
"How much for three?" I asked.
"You three I get for five Euros," he said.
Seemed like a good idea. Regular fare was five per ticket, so we would save ten Euros on all three.
“Guy probably has bulk tickets or something,” Jordan said.
“Let’s do it,” Paul said.
I handed him the money and we were off to the races. He weaved us through crowds of people or simply shoved them out of the way.
For those who haven’t backpacked, you’re essentially carrying an entire apartment somewhere on your person. To accomplish this, you jam everything in a bag the size of a bungalow’s chimney, and strap it to your back. Additionally, you need a smaller bag for passports and traveler’s cheques, which usually hangs from your chest like a cow’s udder. It is uncomfortable in large spaces, and downright treacherous in crowded train stations. Straps, locks, and polyester swatted a pleasant looking old lady, a bald headed man with an arm sized baguette, and a dreadlocked Jamaican with chicken-bouillon teeth. “Casse-toi!” the old lady hollered. I later discovered she wasn’t wishing us a safe and happy journey.
The ticket seller roughly forced us into the turnstile until we were sandwiched in front of the rotating bars. I thought it was strange he lined us up. We weren’t complete morons after all; we had seen these things in North America.
The guy looked at us and said “Ready?".
I looked at him quizzically. He sure had a peculiar way of handing out discount metro passes.
With that, he stretched toward the slot and inserted a ticket. The light on the display went green and the ticket ejected on the other side. Milliseconds passed before he shouted, “Here we go!"
He took three quick power steps and lowered his shoulder into Jordan’s backpack. My head snapped from the unexpected whiplash and our bodies freight-trained through the turnstile. It was like being shat out of a robot. We all turned around to say ‘what the fuck?’ to the guy; but he smiled and gave us a friendly wave goodbye.
As he walked back to the ticket line and we massaged our vertebrae, I couldn’t help but think how enjoyable his days must be.
Traveling makes me appreciate the weirdest things.
Travis Oltmann enjoys writing, reading, traveling, and talking about himself in the third person. He updates his published work on his website, travisoltmann.com.
[photo credit: by imagina (www.giuseppemoscato.com) via Flickr CCL]